By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A civil rights group filed a complaint on Thursday over the admissions test at New York City's specialized high schools, among the nation's most elite public schools, citing effective discrimination against black and Latino students, it said.
The complaint with the U.S. Department of Education focuses on eight schools, particularly Stuyvesant High and Bronx Science which boast stellar alumni including Nobel laureates, famed actors and musicians and Attorney General Eric Holder.
While more than half the city's population is black or Latino, black students made up only 1.2 percent of the Stuyvesant student body last year, while Latino students represented 2.4 percent, city data showed.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed the complaint, said the highly competitive, 2-1/2-hour multiple-choice admissions test was at fault for the disparity.
If the department investigates and finds New York is in breach of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it can sanction the city by withholding federal funding until the breach is resolved, the group said.
The city's Department of Education said in a statement on Wednesday it was bound by state law to admit students based "solely on an exam."
"We want all of our students to have opportunities to prepare for the test no matter their zip code," it said, adding more black and Hispanic students were offered specialized high school seats last year than in the previous two years.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and James Dalgleish)