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Delayed Hispanic-Focused School in N.Y.C. Target of Probe

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The New York City board of education has delayed the opening of a high school focusing on Hispanic culture that is the subject of a federal investigation into claims that the school would violate civil-rights laws.

The Leadership Secondary School, which was to be housed in an existing school building, will not open until next fall because the proposed site became unavailable and the project director stepped down during the planning of the school, Frank Sobrino, a spokesman for the board, said last week.

A community organizer involved with the project said the school was expected to share space in a junior high school in Community School District 1, on the lower east side of Manhattan, but the building has been closed for asbestos cleanup.

But Michael Meyers, the executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, which filed the civil-rights complaint about the school, said that he believes the opening was postponed because of the U.S. Education Department's inquiry.

Civil-rights and public-interest groups have protested proposed schools in other cities that would emphasize teaching about one culture or set up single-sex programs.

In Detroit, the school district's plan to open all-male academies for young African-American students was challenged in federal court and found to be discriminatory. (See Education Week, Sept. 4, 1991.)

Schools in Baltimore and Milwaukee went ahead with similar plans to create all-male classes or schools for African-American students. (See Education Week, Feb. 13 and Oct. 10, 1991.)

Public or Private School?

In the New York case, Mr. Meyers's group has filed a complaint about the Hispanic school with the Education Department's office for civil rights.

The group also filed a complaint about the Middle College High School, which is located on the campus of predominantly black Medgar Evers College and features instruction about black history and culture.

An Education Department source said there is no record of similar complaints being registered at the O.C.R..

But Mr. Meyers said that in 1991 he filed a complaint with the O.C.R.--which he said is still pending--about plans to create a class for African-American boys at a Brooklyn school.

Both schools being challenged by the coalition are part of an effort to create small, theme-oriented high schools around the city. Thirty such schools, including the Middle College High School, opened this fall.

Mr. Meyers charges that the proposed 500-student school focusing on Latin culture, which was devised by Hispanic groups, would be practicing illegal segregation and would preclude students from receiving a truly multicultural education.

"People who are recipients of federal funds cannot segregate,'' he said. "You can't turn public schools, in effect, into private academies.''

Anthony Lopez, the director of program operations for Aspira of New York, a Latino group concerned primarily with children's issues, said he does "not believe [the coalition] understands the specifics of what we're doing.''

He said the school would enroll bilingual, English-speaking, and Spanish-speaking students.

Because the school is not expected to open until 1994, it is unclear when the federal probe will conclude. Investigators would usually visit a school before issuing a report.

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