City education officials are protesting a new federal policy that will force them to decide the race of students who refuse to pick one themselves. Every school in the city has to gather that information and submit it to Washington, D.C. this week. NY1's Education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following exclusive report.
Federal law says that every student in public school has to be classified by race -- white, black, Asian, Pacific Islander or American Indian. Families have to check these boxes, even if the categories don't really fit.
For the first time, "Hispanic" is not an option for race, since Hispanics can be of any race.
Officials have also removed the "multiracial" option, forcing children to be specific if they say they belong to more than one race.
Also for the first time, if students do not choose or do not want to choose a race, the school will have to choose for them.
"The minute that I saw the form, I was upset. I didn't believe that we, in the year 2010, would have such a form coming out of the federal government," said Deputy Schools Chancellor Santiago Taveras.
Internal memos show just how uncomfortable city Department of Education officials are with this new policy.
A recent memo from another deputy chancellor said: "The process will be sensitive and potentially difficult. In fact, I strongly expressed my disagreement... this process may not be considered appropriate by all of our communities."
NY1 has obtained a letter Chancellor Joel Klein sent U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in August, saying he had deep concerns about the new rules, which he said "may well be problematic and confusing for many of our community members, particularly Hispanics, and could create a difficult public debate about the collection of this information."
"Latinos like to identify themselves as Dominicanos [Dominicans], Puertorriqueños [Puerto Rican], Guatemaltecos [Guatemalans], and this form actually overlooks all of that," said Taveras. "So it was frustrating on a personal level and I can understand how parents would feel at home and I'd like them to understand it's a mandate."
Every school is now supposed to have a staff member in charge of selecting the race of students who do not select it themselves. The position is called "observer identification," and Klein also wanted that rule changed.
"We have serious concerns about the observer identification requirement, a process that is inherently flawed," said Klein.
Duncan assured NY1 that federal officials are acting thoughtfully.
"This is tied to the [2010 U.S.] Census, obviously, as you know, and we are working with our Office of Civil Rights to be as thoughtful in these areas as we can be," said Duncan.
Schools across the city are now collecting the data, which Klein said "risks alienating school staff, families, and community partners." The deadline is this Friday and there are still more than 11,000 students who need to choose -- or be assigned -- a race.