Judge Approves Agreement Struck By ACLU And Civil Rights Lawyers To Desegregate Hartford Public Schools

June 11, 2008 12:00 am

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Agreement In Decades-Old Lawsuit Mandates State To Meet Demand Of Minority Students For Integrated Education

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HARTFORD – A Superior Court judge today approved an agreement mandating the state of Connecticut to implement compliance with a longstanding order from the state Supreme Court to desegregate the Hartford Public Schools.

Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall K. Berger signed off on the agreement, which was reached in April by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), the Center for Children’s Advocacy and cooperating attorneys. The agreement is the latest stage in the case of Sheff v. O’Neill and 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 significant step forward 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. “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 definitive framework for ensuring that it meets its constitutional obligations.”

Judge Berger’s approval paves the way for the agreement’s implementation after it was approved by the Connecticut state legislature last month.

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 students of color currently attend an integrated school.

The deal approved today will result in a system that seeks 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 agreement 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,” said Matthew Colangelo, an attorney with LDF. “Equal opportunity to a quality, integrated education is a fundamental right and for the first time there now is a clear structure in place for the state to follow to ensure that no child is denied that right. We hope the state will now redouble its efforts to comply with the 1996 decision by the state Supreme Court.”

Attorneys in the case are Parker and Larry Schwartztol of the ACLU Racial Justice Program, Colangelo of LDF, Martha Stone, Executive Director of the Center for Children’s Advocacy and cooperating attorney Wesley Horton.

Additional information about <i>Sheff v. O’Neill</i> is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/edu/28310res20070209.html

Additional information about the ACLU Racial Justice Program is available online at: www.aclu.org/racialjustice/index.htm

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