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After moving to the Bronx from Georgia last year, Lisa Parks hoped to settle in by continuing to run on a track team at her new school, the Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters. But she ran into a frustrating reality.

“I was disappointed,” said Parks, “because I came to this school and they said they didn’t have track.”

The disappointment led Parks, who will be a junior in the fall, to join three other high school students in a class-action lawsuit filed in June against New York City’s Department of Education and the Public Schools Athletic League, charging them with depriving students – especially black and Latino students – of athletic opportunities in their schools, thus violating the city’s human rights law.

The complaint states that 17,323 black and Latino teens attend a school with no PSAL teams at all.  The P.S.A.L. funds teams for about 45,000 student-athletes citywide.

According to P.S.A.L. data cited in the lawsuit, between 2012 and 2017, only about half of requests for sports team from schools that had more than 90 percent black and Latino students were approved, whereas about three-quarters of such requests were approved for schools whose student bodies were 10 percent or less black and Latino students.

Matthew Diaz, who will be a senior in the fall at the same school as Lisa, is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. He grew up playing volleyball during summer vacations in Puerto Rico with his family.

After his request for a volleyball team was denied, Diaz also was left feeling discouraged. “I feel kind of like someone’s not giving me the opportunity,” he said.

To create more access for students of color, the lawsuit suggests the P.S.A.L. should prioritize an umbrella program, under which small schools in the same neighborhood could band together and offer a larger sports program. A few such combination sports programs already exist in the P.S.A.L.

City Council member Antonio Reynoso introduced a bill earlier this year that advocates more transparency in the process for selecting schools receiving new sports teams. The P.S.A.L. distributes funding to more than 400 schools in 25 sports; exactly how the organization justifies which teams to approve or deny is not usually made clear.

This story and video about school sports inequities was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.

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