The New York State Division of Human Rights lacks jurisdiction to investigate students' civil rights complaints against their public school districts, the state's top court ruled Tuesday.
The Court of Appeals, divided 4-3, reversed two midlevel courts in complaints against the Ithaca City School District and the North Syracuse Central School District. In the Ithaca case, the division awarded $200,000 each to a girl and her mother after finding school officials failed to adequately respond to racial harassment.
The court majority said public school districts are not an "education corporation or association" under state law that the division can investigate, though that provision which originated in early tax law does apply to private schools.
"The vicious attacks to which these students were subjected are deplorable, and our holding is not to be interpreted as indifference to their plight, since the merits of their underlying discrimination claims are not at issue in these appeals," Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. wrote. "Nor does our holding leave public school students without a remedy. In addition to potential remedies under federal law, public school students may file a complaint with the commissioner of education."