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Published in Print: January 9, 2002, as New York State Court Dismisses Student-Poverty Suit

New York State Court Dismisses Student-Poverty Suit

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A New York state appeals court has dismissed a class action brought on behalf of poor children in the Rochester public schools that contended students were denied a sound, basic education because the state had failed to alleviate concentrations of poverty in the 37,000-student district.

The court said in its Dec. 21 ruling that it was "sympathetic to the efforts of the parents of these students to secure the best education possible." But the New York State Appellate Court said the plaintiffs hadn't alleged a violation of the state constitution.

"No court so far has rejected the substance of our argument—that the concentration of poverty in the Rochester school district denies students a sound, basic education as guaranteed by the constitution," said Jonathan Feldman, a senior attorney with the Public Interest Law Office of Rochester.

The group, which filed the lawsuit in 1998 on behalf of 15 black and Hispanic students, said it would appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court. The suit also alleges that state laws governing the construction of low-income housing in the region and residency laws that direct where students attend school discriminate against poor minority students by creating pockets of poverty in the city. ("Rochester Students File Class Action Against New York," Oct. 14, 1998.)

Court records show that 90 percent of the Rochester district's students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and that 80 percent of its students are African-American or Hispanic.

Jane A. Conrad, an assistant state attorney general who handled the case, said she was pleased with the court's ruling. She contended that the suit was merely a guise for obtaining more school choice.

"This is a fairly radical attempt to create a change in education policy," Ms. Conrad said. "[The plaintiffs] argued that the state constitution requires some kind of school choice. But school choice is a political decision, one that will have to be made in the political arena."

—Scott Wright

Vol. 21, Issue 16, Page 5

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