Private NYC School Separates Students Based on Race for Cultural Reasons, Sparking Backlash from Angry Parents

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New York School Segregation
One parent whose child recently graduated from the school said her classes were segregated as long as she was enrolled there. (Image courtesy of PressForm)

An upscale New York City private school’s plans to continue segregating students by race has parents up in arms.

It was just last month that parents whose children attend the Little Red School House in Manhattan’s West Village, which charges upwards of $45,000 in yearly tuition, would put minority middle school students in the same homerooms this coming fall, The New York Post reported. Director Philip Kassen had reportedly already implemented the race-based policy for the 2017-18 school year for 7th and 8th-grade students and hoped to expand it to 6th-grade students in September.

The revelation has drawn outrage and disgust from concerned parents, who said they had no previous knowledge of the move.

“My daughter who is 11 was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy. They’re talking about separating by color,’ ” one father, who asked to remain unnamed, told The Post. “And I was thinking how antiquated is this? This is backwards. It’s almost like segregation now.”

The posh private school has approximately 40 students in each grade level, according to the newspaper. Students spend close to 30 percent of their school day in their respective homerooms, for which there are two in each grade. The children of A-list celebs including David Schwimmer, Christy Turlington-Burns and Sofia Coppola all attend the school.

Facing backlash, Kassen sent a message to parents last Wednesday explaining the school’s race-placement “initiative,” saying the policy was meant to “to better support our students of color,” In it, he cited a passage from the school handbook suggesting students perform better when placed with children from similar racial backgrounds.

“… Research points to the academic, social, and emotional benefits to being in a classroom with others who share racial, ethnic, linguistic, and/or cultural backgrounds,” the handbook states.

“I think that it’s essential to note that our groupings weren’t created to take away rights or opportunities from anyone, but rather to create the most supportive environment possible for all students, which is the very heart of our mission,” Kassen wrote in his letter.

Parents say this isn’t the first they’ve heard of the school relying on race to make decisions on student placement, however. According to one mother, all but one of the 10 non-white students in her child’s class were moved to the same class for the three years they were in low school. Another dad, whose daughter has since graduated from the school, alleged the classes were segregated as long as she was enrolled there.

“They weren’t very transparent about it,” said the father, noting that his daughter was separated from her friends and placed in the “minority” class.

“It was my daughter who immediately noticed that all the kids of color were in one class,” he added. ” … We realized she was placed with all the minority students, but none of her friends. It was peculiar that they didn’t spread everyone out.”

More parents learned of the policy in June, sparking increased outrage. Parents struggled to understand why their children, who “don’t see color,” were being separated from friends they’d known as early as kindergarten. However, a N.Y.-based education consultant whose background focuses on minority students described the Little Red School House’s plan as the “lesser of two evils.”

“…The intention is to make students of color feel that they are a critical mass and have a voice,” the consultant said, adding that other schools in the area have experimented with similar practices, though to a lesser degree. “If that results in clumping kids and creating some all-white classrooms, it’s a trade-off worth making.”

On June 12, Kassen emailed parents announcing the placement policy was being reviewed. He emailed again eight weeks later saying the initiative had been nixed altogether but said the school would continue to keep “race as a critical, but not primary, determinant,” the New York Post reported.

Parents are relieved the practice is finally gone, but noted the school’s good intentions.

“It’s almost like sometimes, in trying to do the right thing, they go too far,” one father said. “They’re trying so hard to equalize everything that they end up making some of those people in the groups more uncomfortable.”

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