Sheff Plaintiffs Return to Court to Declare the State of Connecticut in Violation of Agreement to Reduce Racial, Ethnic and Economic Segregation in Hartford Region Schools

Affiliate: ACLU of Connecticut
August 3, 2004 12:00 am

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HARTFORD, CT – Elizabeth Horton Sheff and a coalition of parents, students and legal experts announced today that they were returning to court to force the state of Connecticut to comply with an historic January 2003 agreement aimed at reducing the racial and ethnic isolation in Hartford public schools.

The agreement established initial timetables and goals that the State must satisfy in order to comply with a 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court decision declaring the intensely segregated Hartford schools in violation of the state constitution.

“In 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court said that our children’s constitutional rights are being violated. Eight years later, our children’s constitutional rights are still being violated,” said lead plaintiff Elizabeth Horton Sheff, whose son was ten years old when the case was first filed. “Every citizen in Connecticut should be outraged at the State’s blatant disregard of our Constitution. Whose rights will be sacrificed next?”

At issue is Connecticut’s failure to fulfill its obligation to create at least two new magnet schools with a total enrollment of 1,200 students for each year of the agreement. In the 2003-2004 school year, two new magnet schools were opened, but they were housed in existing Hartford public school facilities and enrolled a combined total of 532 students. This fall, the state projects that three new magnet schools will open with a planned total enrollment of 330 students. This brings Connecticut’s enrollment total for the first two years of the agreement to 862, far short of the 2,400 that the State made a commitment to reach.

“As a parent, I have been very frustrated by the state’s apathy in honoring the enrollment goals it just agreed to less than two years ago,” said Mayra Esquilin, a co-plaintiff in the case. “Our children deserve more educational opportunities, and schools with better resources capable of providing them the best chance of achieving academic excellence.”

Earlier this year, Dr. Leonard B. Stevens, an expert for the plaintiffs who has worked on desegregation cases in Cleveland and Milwaukee, issued a report on the state’s progress towards reducing racial, ethnic and economic segregation in the Hartford region schools. The report found that Connecticut was not in compliance with the agreement for the 2003-2004 school year, and would fail to meet planned enrollment for the upcoming year.

“What is at stake is the future of our nation, the future of our state and the souls of our children,” said Horton Sheff. “We are willing to press on, no matter how long it takes, until our children receive their constitutional rights – equal educational opportunity to quality, integrated education.”

A coalition of civil rights law organizations and African-American and Latino plaintiffs in Connecticut have been in engaged in a legal tug of war with the state for 14 years to improve educational access and distribution of resources to schools throughout the Hartford region. The legal team representing the plaintiffs include the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., American Civil Liberties Union, Connecticut Civil Liberties Union, Center for Children’s Advocacy, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Greater Hartford Legal Assistance, and private attorneys from Horton, Shields & Knox and Wiggin & Dana.

The report to the plaintiffs, Progress Toward Desegregation in Metropolitan Hartford, is online at: /node/23706

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