ACLU And Civil Rights Lawyers Strike Agreement To Desegregate Hartford Public Schools
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New Agreement In Decades-Old Lawsuit Mandates State To Meet Demand Of Minority Students For Integrated Education
HARTFORD – The American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), the Center for Children’s Advocacy and cooperating attorneys struck an agreement today with the state of Connecticut to implement compliance with a longstanding order from the state Supreme Court to desegregate Hartford public schools. The agreement, the latest stage in the case of Sheff v. O’Neill, for the first time requires the state to create a detailed roadmap to follow in its effort to end the racial segregation faced by Hartford’s minority schoolchildren.
“This is a watershed day in our ongoing efforts to ensure that all of Hartford’s children are afforded their constitutional right to a quality integrated education,” said Dennis Parker, Director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program and an attorney in the case. “For the first time in the 12 years since the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled Hartford’s schools to be unconstitutionally racially segregated, the state must adhere to a clear framework for ensuring that it meets its constitutional obligations.”
In 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that Hartford’s racially segregated schools violated minority students’ constitutional rights to an equal education. Although the court urged the legislature and governor to put school integration “at the top of their respective agendas,” the progress of integration has been glacial.
An agreement between the Sheff plaintiffs and Connecticut, reached in 2003, put forth a four-year plan by which the state would reduce the racial segregation within Hartford’s public schools. But over a decade after the state Supreme Court’s ruling, Hartford-area schools remain divided by race and class. Though inter-district magnet schools and other programs have provided some of the region’s children access to quality, integrated educational opportunities, fewer than one in 10 Hartford-resident students of color currently attend an integrated school.
The deal reached today, once approved by both houses of the Connecticut General Assembly, will result in a system that will seek to meet the demand of Hartford-resident minority students for integrated education. The state will be required to meet a variety of benchmarks to ensure that opportunities for integrated education increase steadily over time, with the ultimate goal of making integrated education available to any student who seeks it.
The settlement also requires the state to create a comprehensive management plan that will outline goals and ways for the state to meet those goals – for the first time allowing the state to be held accountable for taking clearly defined steps toward achieving integrated education.
“Nothing less than the future of Hartford’s children is at stake,” Parker said. “Equal opportunity to a quality, integrated education is a fundamental right and for the first time there is a clear structure in place for the state to follow to ensure that no child is denied that right.”
Attorneys in the case are Matthew Colangelo of LDF, Parker and Larry Schwartztol of the ACLU Racial Justice Program Martha Stone, Executive Director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy and cooperating attorney Wesley Horton.
More information on Sheff v. O’Neill is available at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/edu/28310res20070209.html
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