Parents Sue New York State Over Alleged Racially Discriminatory Education Program

The plaintiffs’ lawyers are hoping to expand the Supreme Court’s ban on the use of race in admissions to other aspects of education.
Parents Sue New York State Over Alleged Racially Discriminatory Education Program
Yiatin Chu, co-chair of the New York City chapter of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR), in an interview on Focus Talk, on May 18, 2021. (Screenshot via Focus Talk/Epoch Times)
Matthew Vadum

Parent groups are suing New York state in federal court over an educational program they say discriminates against Chinese American students.

The new civil rights lawsuit comes amidst of wave of alleged racial discrimination at the nation’s colleges and universities. Schools across the country are reportedly evading a Supreme Court ruling that struck down the use of racially discriminatory admissions policies in higher education.

The June 2023 decision in Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. Harvard College, ended the use of race-conscious admissions, a longtime goal of conservatives and civil libertarians.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that for too long, universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin.”

“Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice,” he wrote.

The legal complaint in Chu v. Rosa was filed (pdf) in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York last month. As of Feb. 22, the case had been assigned to Judge David Hurd, according to the court’s docket. Judge Hurd was appointed in 1999 by President Bill Clinton.

The state has yet to file a defense in the case. Assistant New York Attorney General Lela M. Gray asked the court on Feb. 13 to extend the deadline to respond to the legal complaint from Feb. 16 to March 18. The plaintiffs’ counsel consented to the request.

An individual parent and three Asian American organizations are suing to vindicate their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs are New York City parent Yiatin Chu, the Chinese Alliance of Greater New York, the Inclusive Education Advocacy Group, and Higher With Our Parent Engagement.

The defendant is Betty A. Rosa who is being sued in her official capacity as commissioner of education for New York state.

Ms. Rosa administers New York state’s Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP) through the Office of Postsecondary Access, Support, and Success.

By law, the commissioner of education establishes the criteria for awarding STEP grants to higher education institutions, selects grant recipients, approves amendments to grant recipients’ plans of instruction, approves additional criteria for measuring whether a student applicant exhibits “the potential for college-level study if provided with special services,” and is authorized to require periodic reporting by grant recipients on topics like compliance, curricula, and funding.

The story goes back to 1985, when New York lawmakers enacted legislation to foster interest in science, technology, and healthcare among low-income and underrepresented minority students, according to a summary by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF).

PLF, which is representing the plaintiffs, is a national public interest nonprofit that challenges government abuses. The Legal Insurrection Foundation is also on the plaintiffs’ legal team.

This legislation led to the creation of the STEP, which directed public funds to 56 colleges, universities, and medical schools statewide.

These institutions run STEP initiatives for 7th to 12th-grade students that include instruction, exam preparation, hands-on and research training, college admissions guidance, and career-focused activities such as field trips and college visits.

Under the STEP program, students are eligible if they are either economically disadvantaged or members of a minority group that is deemed historically underrepresented in the targeted fields. STEP regulations explicitly define underrepresented minorities only as black, Hispanic, Native American, or Alaskan natives.

For example, a child of billionaires who identifies as black is eligible for the STEP program, but a Chinese American student whose parents barely exceed the poverty level is not eligible, according to PLF.

The co-plaintiff, Ms. Chu, is an education advocate, co-founder of Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education (PLACE) NYC, and the Asian Wave Alliance, and co-leader of the New York City Chapter of the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR).

Ms. Chu’s daughter, N.C., is Asian American. N.C. is enrolled in the 7th grade and has an overall grade point average above 80 percent. She would like to apply for admission to the summer 2024 STEP program at New York University but cannot because she is subject to additional eligibility requirements because of her race.

PLF attorney David Hoffa said if you’re white or Asian, you have to prove that your family is under a certain specified income threshold to qualify for the program.

“That’s the unequal treatment that we’re challenging,” the lawyer told The Epoch Times.

Lawyers are asking the court to declare that the law is unconstitutional, and to enjoin the law to stop the state officials from implementing the racially discriminatory policy, he said.

“We see this case that we’re bringing out as a great opportunity to really try to continue to expand the scope of [the Students for Fair Admissions Inc. v. Harvard College] precedent to get it so that it’s not isolated to that university admissions context, to broaden it to as many contexts as possible.”

The Department of Education for the State of New York refused to comment on the case.

“The Department doesn’t comment on pending litigation,” spokesperson Erica Komoroske said by email.