NEW YORK -- Hassamatou Sanake, who came to the U.S. less than three years ago from Mali, said after-school sports last year gave her a sense of community at International Community High School in the Bronx.
“When I play soccer, I play with everyone," said Sanake, now a senior. "We have each other’s back.”
But this year, Sanake lost that community. Her school trimmed some after-school sports after failing to secure necessary funding from the New York City Department of Education’s Public Schools Athletic League, she said. Now, instead of playing sports after school, Sanake said she “draws something or [goes] to work.”
“We are from the poorest countries in the world, but we still play sports in our schools there,” said Sanake. “How can we say we are in New York City and we don’t have access to sports?”
Sanake and other International Community High School students on Wednesday protested the way New York City distributes funding for sports teams by disrupting a city council meeting and rallying outside Education Department offices. The current system, protestors said, favors white students in large, affluent schools, at the expense of minority students in small schools.
Students and protest organizers said they will continue demonstrate daily at 5 p.m. until officials meet their demands, which include providing every high school with six sports teams of its choice.
The issue of funding for sports teams isn’t new for International Community High and other small schools unable to meet Public Schools Athletic League requirements for funding. Those requirements included the availability of coaches and students whose grades were good enough to make them academically eligible, according to The New York Times.
David Garcia-Rosen, dean at International High and a protest organizer, said he disagreed with the Public Schools Athletic League requirements when he took his job in 2011, so he founded the Small School Athletic League, which organized sports teams for small schools that funded them from school budgets. From 2011 to 2014, the small school league grew to include about 100 teams, according to the Times.
Responding to protests by Garcia-Rosen and his students last year, city council allocated $825,000 to fund sports programs in schools served by the Small School Athletic League.
“It was a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” said Garcia-Rosen of the Small School Athletic League.
Some of the funding was mishandled, he said, and there are fewer teams at small schools this year than last. Now, students from International Community High are back where they were last year -- protesting the Department of Education.
“It’s very clear to me that 17,000 students of color are at a high school with no sports,” said Garcia-Rosen. “Is this 2015 New York City, or 1958 Selma, Alabama?”
The city Department of Education disagreed with protestors’ claims. A spokesperson said in an email that all schools participating in the Small School Athletic League last year were offered teams this year. "We seek to increase access for female student athletes, for students at small schools, for overage and under-credited students and English Language Learners, and to meet diverse student interests through innovative sports offerings," the department said in a statement.
Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña reportedly said that many Small School Athletic League students come from small schools with "limited facilities," according to The New York Observer.
Garcia filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights in November over the way the city funds school sports. That complaint has not been resolved. In February, the U.S. Department of Education found New York City schools in violation of the gender-equity law Title IX for the lack of athletic opportunities for girls.