Huffpost New York

New York Human Rights Law Doesn't Apply To Public School Students, Rules Court

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The New York State Court Of Appeals ruled last week that the state's students cannot use The New York Human Rights Law-- which prohibits discrimination based on “age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex or marital status”-- to get recognition of discrimination or get financial compensation for such discrimination.

The decision addressed two separate appeals in the high court. Gotham Schools details:

The decision reversed verdicts at midlevel courts concerning cases against the Ithaca and North Syracuse school districts. In both cases, the State Division of Human Rights had stepped in when middle school students complained about taunts from their classmates, including racial slurs like “gorilla” and “fat black b—,” according to court documents. In one case, the human rights division found the school district in violation of the human rights law because it had not tried to prevent the harassment, and had instead argued the insults were not about race, but hygiene. The districts in turn maintained that the division did not have the right to investigate them in the first place.

Both districts argued that the public schools aren't "an education corporation or association," as listed for protection under the Human Rights Law. Rather, they argued, public schools are classified as "public corporations," and are therefore exempt.

Students at New York private schools can still use the New York Human Rights Law.

Last year, 11 civil rights groups-- Advocates for Children of New York, the Anti-Defamation League, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Disability Advocates, Empire State Pride Agenda, GLSEN, the Ithaca Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Task Force, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, the NYCLU and PFLAG-- filed a friend-of-the-court brief describing the importance of protecting the state's public students with the Human Rights Law.

There are few other avenues for students to get redress for discrimination in New York state-- a chancellor's regulation, an appeal to the state's education commissioner, and the soon-to-be-implemented Dignity For All Students Act are all options-- and none of them provide financial compensation.

In a dissenting opinion last week, Judge Carmen Ciparick wrote:

It is antithetical to the purpose of the Human Rights Law to exempt public schools from its mandate... Discrimination is "all the more invidious" when practiced by state run entities. The clear and expressed intent of the Human Rights Law is to protect "every individual" in the State from the evils of discrimination.

The court's decision comes amidst increased concern over school bullying and the number of arrests in New York City schools. During the last three months of 2011, 5 students in NYC were arrested everyday, a staggering 90 perent of whom are black or Latino.