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Agreement Reached in Ongoing Efforts to Integrate Schools in Hartford, Connecticut

Thursday, February 26, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. — A Superior Court judge has approved an agreement mandating the state of Connecticut and city of Hartford implement new initiatives aimed at eradicating the racial and ethnic segregation faced by Hartford students.

The plan, which stems from the landmark Connecticut school desegregation case Sheff v. O’Neill, builds upon previous agreements that resulted in half of Hartford students attending high-quality, integrated schools.

"We're making progress, but we're not there yet," said Dennis Parker, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Racial Justice Program. "All children should have equal access to a good education. This agreement moves us closer to that goal."

The Sheff litigation originated with a 1989 lawsuit filed on behalf of Hartford students by the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the Center for Children’s Advocacy, and local cooperating attorney Wesley Horton. In 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered the state to take the remedial measures necessary to integrate schools.

Those measures — stipulated through agreements in 2003, 2008 and 2013 — included new quality inter-district magnet schools, funding for Open Choice programs allowing Hartford students to attend schools in suburban districts, and other educational programs, accountability measures, and a significant monitoring component.

"We're frustrated at the pace of the implementation of the Sheff court mandate, but are pleased that this latest agreement moves the needle forward in terms of expanding the educational opportunities for hundreds more Hartford students who would otherwise be relegated to racially and ethnically isolated poor performing schools," said Martha Stone, executive director of the Center for Children's Advocacy.

The new agreement adds 1,000 new magnet school seats and 325 new Open Choice seats for Hartford students; requires new buildings, renovations, or relocations for three Hartford magnet schools; and seeks to fill incoming classes in Sheff magnets with 50 percent Hartford students. It also provides for mediation for the plaintiffs, state and city to produce the next agreement by August 1.

"This agreement takes another step forward in the ongoing and unceasing effort to ensure that Hartford schoolchildren get the high-quality educational opportunities that they deserve," said LDF senior counsel Vincent Southerland.

It was approved by Judge Marshall K. Berger of the Superior Court and now goes to the state Legislature for consideration.

"This agreement preserves Connecticut’s leadership role in state constitutional litigation concerning equal educational opportunity," said Wesley Horton of Horton, Shields, & Knox, P.C.

View a copy of the agreement here.