By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nearly a dozen students and their parents have filed a class-action lawsuit against New York City claiming public schools are so dangerous that it has deprived them of their constitutional right to an education.
The federal complaint, filed in Brooklyn on Wednesday against the U.S. Department of Education, asserted that the "staggering" level of violence in city schools disproportionately affected minority students.
"The violence knows few boundaries, except that, on average, white and Asian students encounter far fewer incidents of school violence than black and Hispanic students," the lawsuit said. It also claimed that younger students, disabled students and gay, lesbian and transgender students are targeted more frequently for abuse.
New York has the nation's largest public school system, with 1.1 million students in some 1,800 schools.
The children who are plaintiffs in the case suffered bullying or attacks by other students and in some cases by their teachers, the lawsuit said.
The parents and their children, who were not identified by name, accused the education department of failing to enforce regulations aimed at addressing violence between students or between teachers and students. Students who report such incidents often experience retaliation from their schools, the lawsuit said.
In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he shared the concerns of all students and parents about safety in New York City schools but maintained that conditions have improved in recent years.
"I was a public school parent as recently as last June, and we never want to see a weapon in schools. I view each incidents as obviously troubling. However, when we look at the facts, school safety is doing a very good job continuing a trend that started in the last administration and continues."
Major crime in schools is down more than 14 percent in 2016, and other crimes have been reduced by nearly 7 percent, he said.
The lawsuit seeks to mandate new anti-bullying and anti-violence regulations and to force the education department to enforce policies already on the books.
A spokesman for the city's law department said it was reviewing the complaint.
The plaintiffs also include Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter school organization.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)