Just a few weeks before pre-season sports teams hit the fields and courts around New York City, WNYC invited a few student athletes to share their views on school sports.

We wanted to follow up on the news in June that the New York City Department of Education was being sued for the way it allocated funds for sports teams. According to a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of four students, the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) has denied black and Latino students the same opportunity to join sports teams as their White and Asian peers.

The unequal access is tied to a policy enacted over a decade ago by the Bloomberg administration to close large, low-performing schools and replace them with smaller ones, which largely served the same population of black and Latino students.

"As a result of that, the resources became really stretched," explained Sabrina DuQuesnay, who reported on the issue for Miseducation, a student-driven podcast about school segregation. "Rather than a bunch of different schools at these large schools, the sports became really [limited] at these small schools."

Matt Diaz is a rising senior at one of those small schools, the Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters. He's also one of the students named in the lawsuit. He told WNYC that playing on the school soccer team motivated him to show up on time in the morning and get on top of his school work.

But he really wanted to start a boys' volleyball team, something the PSAL denied. That's when Diaz pushed back with the help of the student-led education advocacy groups IntegrateNYC and the Fair Play Coalition. They allege that majority black and Latino student bodies are far more likely to see requests to the PSAL denied than schools where they are in the minority.

Across New York City, black and Latino students, on average, have 10 fewer PSAL sports at their school than students from other races, according to the lawsuit. Diaz told WNYC that being overlooked by the system was an everyday experience for people of color like him.

“We are unappreciated,” he said. “It’s kind of unfortunate that we live in a society like that and a school system that follows that rule as well.”

Maia Villalba, a student at Beacon High School, also found the disparity between schools troubling, especially since she gained so much from her own experience playing on the school volleyball team.

“For me, sports is a way to reset yourself,” she said. “You’re training yourself and disciplining yourself in a different way, and by doing that, you find a new vigor in yourself, a new motivation.”

Myles Model, a student at the High School of American Studies at Lehman college had a similar experience. "When I joined bowling I made a lot of friends that I wouldn't have made not being on a sports [team]," he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education, Miranda Barbot, agreed that sports teams can be a "transformative experience" for students and said that the agency will review the lawsuit.

"We are continuing to add more teams each year in districts across the city and work closely with schools to assess and address their individual needs in an equitable manner," she added.

Barbot also said that city education officials launched the Small Schools Athletic League, and added more than 200 teams.

But Diaz said that league was not on par with the PSAL, and there was still a long way to go.

Original article here.

This story was brought WNYC in collaboration with Miseducation, a podcast that all about the impact of segregation in New York City. Find their episode about equity in school sports, which includes more information about the Small Schools Athletic League, here.

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