Agreement Reached in 30-Year-Old School Desegregation Case

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Hartford, Conn.

An agreement reached Friday in a long-running school desegregation case in Connecticut's capital city will put the district on a path to ending 30 years of litigation, state officials said.

The settlement includes new measures to reach diversity goals and allows for judicial oversight to end once they are shown to produce opportunities in diverse school settings for all Hartford families.

"We are eager to do our part to shift the conversation from litigation to education,” Connecticut Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said.

The Sheff v. O'Neill case began in 1989 with a lawsuit challenging racial and economic segregation and inequalities between Hartford schools and suburban schools against then-Gov. William O'Neill. The plaintiffs were black, Latino and white families from Hartford.

The case was named after Milo Sheff, one of the main plaintiffs, and his mother, Elizabeth Horton Sheff.

In 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled the extreme racial isolation of Hartford students violated the state constitution.

"Today in this courtroom we took a step forward," said Horton Sheff. “We have an agreement that opens more doors for more students to get access to an education that they thoroughly—by constitution of the state—have privilege to.”

The state legislature created a network of magnet schools and school choice options to attract a mix of city and suburban children.

The new agreement calls for adding as many as 1,052 seats in magnet schools, with nearly 600 set aside for Hartford students, and dedicating more than $1 million to boost enrollment at certain magnet schools. The new agreement, the subject of a court hearing Friday, will last through June 2022.

“It's about 10,000 students overall have applied this year,” said Deuel Ross, senior counsel at the NAACP legal defense fund. “About 3,500 of those students are Hartford students.”

Suburban districts that increase the number of open choice seats by 20% for Hartford students will also receive additional funding. There will also be corrective action plans for schools that do not meet diversity goals and a revised lottery system for magnet schools aimed at ensuring socioeconomic diversity.

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