New York City will spend $6 million to add more than 200 new school sports teams in the settlement of a class action lawsuit that claimed the Department of Education provided unequal access to sports for Black and Latino students.

The lawsuit, filed by the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest in 2018, claimed the DOE and the Public School Athletic League (PSAL) consistently failed to ensure that all kids in New York City had equal access to sports teams since smaller high schools, many of which are predominantly Black or Latino students, have fewer resources. 

“Black and Latino students are twice as likely as students of other races to lack access to any public high school sports team whatsoever,” the lawsuit said, with more than 17,000 Black and Latino students attending schools with no PSAL teams at all when the case was first filed. The lawsuit was first reported by City Limits.

In the settlement, finalized in state court in March, the DOE and the PSAL have agreed to expand Shared Access Programs for clusters of smaller high schools to create umbrella sports programs where students from different schools can play. PSAL staff will survey students at the target schools to identify which sports the students want to play.

From the NYLPI's lawsuit: "high schools with high proportions of Black and Latino students generally have fewer PSAL sports"

Since the Bloomberg administration closed dozens of under-performing large high schools and created smaller schools between 2002 and 2008, one result was that students at the smaller schools were under-resourced compared to larger schools, said Jenny Veloz, a community organizer for NYLPI.

The lawsuit grew out of a teen-led organization called Fair Play Coalition that was formed to address the unequal sports access. The class action case was to ensure that “students were not being punished because they went to a smaller school, or they went to a school that didn't have as many sports where they were not able to play the sport that they wanted to play, and had to find outside resources in order to play those sports,” Veloz said. “We wanted to make sure… they had the same equal access as everyone else in the New York City public school system.”

Suzan Sumer, an education department spokesperson, said the PSAL expansion will roll out across every borough so that “students from every zip code will have access to PSAL athletic programs that support their health and wellbeing.”

“We’re committed to providing equitable access to our incredible PSAL programs and putting the life-changing power of sports in our student’s hands. Currently, we have invested $6 million in a major PSAL expansion that will ultimately provide NYC Public Schools with over 200 new sports teams across the five boroughs,” Sumer said in a statement.

The city Parks Department said that school teams will continue to be prioritized for park permits.

“We are dedicated to supporting equitable field access for all children, including those who play on PSAL and Department of Education teams,” said parks spokesperson Dan Kastanis in a statement. “We are working with the PSAL and the Department of Education to assess upcoming field needs, and we’re confident we have the staff and parkie-power to ensure a successful upcoming season for our permit-holders.”