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NYCLU Calls on Governor Hochul to Sign the SIGH Act

ALBANY – Today, the New York State Legislature passed the Schools Impacted by Gross Highways (SIGH) Act (S4550B/A8998B) — a bill co-authored by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) which would address environmental racism and protect students’ health by prohibiting the future construction of schools within 500 feet of major roadways.

In response, the NYCLU Director of the Racial Justice Center Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, Senator Rachel May, and Assembly Member Yudelka Tapia issued the following statements:

“No one should have to breathe polluted air,” said Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, Director of the Racial Justice Center at the NYCLU. “Right now, thousands of New York’s children attend schools that sit just a few hundred feet from major roadways — forcing mostly Black and Brown youth to breathe in toxic air every single day. Children have the right to attend school without exposure to pollution, which has devastating long-term effects on their health and their ability to learn. Governor Hochul must join the Legislature in standing up against environmental racism and taking steps to protect students’ air quality. She must quickly sign the SIGH Act into law.”

“New York State is taking a crucial step towards prioritizing the health of our school children with the passage of the SIGH Act,” said Senator Rachel May. “By situating schools away from highways, we can ensure a healthier and safer environment for our students. It’s a powerful message that shows how much we value their well-being. Let’s rally together to get this bill signed into law, securing a future where our school children can truly thrive in the classroom.”

“Today’s passage of the SIGH act is a critical step in addressing long-standing environmental injustices in New York State,” said Assemblymember Yudelka Tapia. “Every day, children across our communities spend their school days in close proximity to major highways. New York state has more students who attend schools near highways than any other state in the country. For years, we have known that these children suffer from asthma and other medical issues. In the Bronx, 17% of children ages 13 and younger had been diagnosed with asthma compared with 11% children state-wide. By prohibiting the construction of new schools within 500 feet of controlled-access highways, we are protecting our children’s health and ensuring they can learn in safe and clean environments.”

One-third of New York’s students attend school near a major highway, and 88 percent of those schools teach predominantly Black and Brown children. Children who attend schools near roadways have increased risk of asthma, chronic respiratory issues, cardiovascular effects, and neurobehavioral dysfunction. These are long-lasting effects that contribute to the overall performance of school-age children. The SIGH Act would improve the health, education, and economic outcomes of these vulnerable students who have been forced to endure the impacts of environmental racism for years.

The NYCLU has fought for the passage of this legislation for years by bolstering support amongst New York lawmakers, hosting statewide seminars, engaging with schools statewide, mobilizing supporters to contact their representatives, and rallying for its advocacy alongside students.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
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