Education Dept. to investigate racial affinity groups at New York City middle school

Racial segregation 'has no place in America's schools,' parents' group says

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The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation into racial affinity groups at a New York City public middle school on allegations of racial discrimination.

Parents Defending Education (PDE) filed a federal civil rights complaint in December alleging that the Lower Manhattan Community School was holding racially segregated affinity groups in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) sent a letter Wednesday to Parents Defending Education President Nicole Neily announcing it was investigating the allegation.

"You alleged that the NYCDOE discriminated on the basis of race, color or national origin by planning to hold racially segregated affinity groups at the Lower Manhattan Community School during the week of November 22, 2021," stated the letter, which PDE provided to Fox News Digital. "OCR is opening an investigation of your allegation."

The Placentia Yorba Linda School Board discusses a proposed resolution to ban teaching critical race theory in schools inYorba Linda, CA, on Tuesday, November 16, 2021.

The Placentia Yorba Linda School Board discusses a proposed resolution to ban teaching critical race theory in schools inYorba Linda, CA, on Tuesday, November 16, 2021. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

"Please understand that opening the allegation for investigation under Title VI does not mean that OCR has made a decision about your complaint," the letter continued. "During the investigation, OCR is neutral; OCR will collect and analyze the evidence it needs to make a decision about your complaint. OCR will ensure that its investigation is legally sufficient and addresses each allegation as required by OCR’s Case Processing Manual."

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PDE filed its complaint in December following a New York Post report that claimed the school had planned to create the affinity groups that would separate students according to their race.

According to a November 2021 email to families, obtained by PDE and provided to Fox News Digital, Principal Shanna Douglas announced that 7th and 8th graders would be joining affinity groups to explore the question, "How do our racial identities influence our experiences?"

Opponents of an academic doctrine known as Critical Race Theory attend a packed Loudoun County School board meeting until the meeting erupted into chaos and two people were detained, in Ashburn, Virginia, U.S. June 22, 2021.

Opponents of an academic doctrine known as Critical Race Theory attend a packed Loudoun County School board meeting until the meeting erupted into chaos and two people were detained, in Ashburn, Virginia, U.S. June 22, 2021. (REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

"Allowing students and staff to explore and share parts of their identity is essential because, through this exposure, we learn about each other and realize the true meaning of our belonging to a diverse community," Douglas said in the email.

"An affinity group is a group formed around a shared interest," she said.

The affinity groups, according to the email, were in fulfilling the school’s "race mission statement," which seeks to "undo the legacy of racism and oppression in this country that impacts our school community." 

DC PUBLIC SCHOOLS HOSTS RACIALLY SEGREGATED ‘AFFINITY GROUPS' FOR STAFF

According to Douglas’ email, White, Asian, and multi-racial students got their own affinity groups while Black and "Latinx" students were combined into one. Another affinity group was apparently for those questioning the purpose of the exercise, titled, "Why are we even talking about racial identity?"

PDE argued in its complaint that the latter category "has the effect of singling out those who object to sorting students by race, potentially stigmatizing them."

David Banks, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, speaks during a news conference on the first day of students returning from winter recess at a public elementary school in the Bronx borough of New York, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

David Banks, chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, speaks during a news conference on the first day of students returning from winter recess at a public elementary school in the Bronx borough of New York, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022.

The New York City Department of Education told Fox News Digital in an email Thursday that it will "review the suit."

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PDE on Thursday cheered the OCR’s investigation. 

"We are pleased that the Office of Civil Rights has opened an investigation into Lower Manhattan Community Schools," Neily said in a statement to Fox News Digital. "Racial segregation always has, and always will be, an intrinsically evil act that has no place in America's schools - regardless of the program's stated intent."