Student Fires Back at de Blasio Over School Segregation

BROWNSVILLE — Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday for the second time on the radio dismissed a high school student from Brooklyn who called out his inaction on desegregating New York City’s public schools, telling her she didn’t understand his position.

Tiffani Torres, on the mayor’s weekly WNYC radio segment, asked why he was still sitting on his hands on the issue of the city’s segregated non-specialized public high schools.

“How much longer will it take before you make the choice to end the segregationist enrollment policies in our high schools and how much more time do you need to study the issue?”

Torres, an organizer with Teens Take Charge—a group fighting to desegregate the city’s public schools— asked. “And before you talk about District 15 or the SHSAT, understand that we’re not talking about middle schools or specialized high schools, we’re talking about the 480 public high schools in the city that 95 percent of students attend.”  

De Blasio— who often becomes cranky when his actions, or lack thereof, are called into question—after dishing out a few throat-clearing banalities, responded, “I really think you’re not hearing what we’re saying to you,” and went on to tell Torres he was waiting on the results from his task force before acting.

“[The task force] includes student members who I think are doing a great job,” he said. “We are moving a whole plan around addressing diversity, addressing segregation on many, many fronts. You may feel it’s not important to address the specialized high schools. I do feel it’s important.”

“No previous mayor has ever focused on these issues the way I am and my team is and we’re making a lot of changes already and many more to come,” he added.

The mayor went on to say that, since the admissions criteria for specialized high schools, for which he has a proposal that aims to desegregate them, are controlled by the state, he is currently focused on pushing his agenda in Albany before the legislative session there ends on June 19.

This was not the first time the two had a tense exchange. Indeed, a question from Torres on The Brian Lehrer Show on the same topic in March elicited a testy response.

Torres, who is a junior at Pace High School in Manhattan, did not have an opportunity to respond on the radio, as is common on the show, but in an interview with Bklyner countered the mayor’s aggrieved response.

“I’ve sat in a segregated classroom every single day and he doesn’t,” she said. “For him to have the audacity to say that I don’t get it and for him to tell me he’s working on it when he’s not is frustrating.”

Torres said de Blasio’s proposal to eliminate the SHSAT exam for specialized high schools, which have  over the decades increasingly not admitted black and Hispanic students (Stuyvesant High School admitted just seven black students this year, for example), and his task force were orchestrated to give the mayor “cover” on the rest of the city’s schools.

“I don’t think that he cares enough,” Torres, who lives in Brownsville, said of segregation in the vast majority of public schools, home to striking segregation. She also said the mayor had been reciting “recycled” talking points.

In addition, Torres suggested the more cordial response de Blasio gave to the LaGuardia parent’s complaint than the one delivered to her was part of a broader pattern—something that is reflected in his policy priorities.     

“I believe that he cares more about affluent parents than the desires of black and brown children to succeed in their high schools and to have a better high school experience,” she said. “In the end, based on his actions, it’s obvious he cares more about them than he cares about us.”

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Sam Raskin

Sam Raskin has reported for Politico New York, Gotham Gazette, Gothamist and Curbed New York.


  1. Segregation? Come now, there is no Southern Governor in NYC enforcing deliberate school segregation. That is a false scenario that divides & distracts us from tackling the real problems in our public school system. It’s not the color of the students that ultimately matters- it’s the opportunities provided to them. Given the size & demographics of the city (i.e. 15% white public school students), the best solution is to work towards genuinely equal quality public schools throughout the city , in terms of funding, infrastructure, resources and teachers. Our goal should be to lift everyone up instead of watering down standards to the lowest common denominator. This also means increasingly the number of specialized & magnet high schools for those students that can make the grade. And by the way, Mayor DeBlasio has done more to foster equality in the City across the board than his predecessors. He and his efforts should be supported and encouraged, instead of criticized as “not caring”. The progressive achievements of his administration show that he cares more –and about more of us– than most run of the mill politicians. That’s exactly why conservatives rail against him and his so-called catering to poor and minority residents. Don’t fall for their lies and deceptions.

  2. Totally agree with “lift everyone up instead of watering down standards to the lowest common denominator. This also means increasingly the number of specialized & magnet high schools for those students that can make the grade” However, other than kept playing identity politics, flame race relation and scapegoating specific race for the failure in our education system, Mayor DeBlasio and DOE chancellor have done nothing to improve our education system.

  3. de Blasio isn’t doing anything foster real equality in public schools. His plan will allow the current inequality in elementary schools to continue. Equality will be reduced in high schools only because de Blasio’s plan will ensure that the quality of high schools is reduced across the board. This is de Blasio’s “equality”.

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