This MLK weekend in Hartford, Connecticut local and national education advocates hosted the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Sheff v. O’Neill. The Sheff decision is a landmark school desegregation case that continues to offer important opportunities for students in the Hartford area to receive an integrated, quality education. On Saturday, January 19th, LDF and the Sheff Movement Coalition gathered with 150 supporters of the case not only to commemorate the anniversary but discuss the next steps in improving education for Hartford’s students of color. Two of these supporters were lead plaintiffs Elizabeth Horton Sheff and her son Milo Sheff, among others who helped put together the original lawsuit. Students who attend magnet schools created by the lawsuit honored Ms. Horton Sheff with an award, recognizing that her tireless advocacy has directly improved their educational experiences. The first Black Congresswoman from Connecticut and 2016 National Teacher of the Year, Jahana Hayes, was the keynote speaker and touched on the importance of equity in education and integration efforts.
The Sheff case began in 1989, when a group of parents from Hartford and surrounding towns came together to demand that the State of Connecticut correct the extreme segregation and inequity in the region’s schools. In 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the state was obligated to provide all Connecticut students with equal opportunities. Since that ruling, the state has made important strides to diversify Hartford’s schools.
However, a new case threatens to reverse these gains. The plaintiffs of Robinson v. Wentzell, a lawsuit brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a conservative legal organization, claim that the Sheff programs designed to integrate schools discriminate on the basis of race. This is false. The Sheff desegregation standard does not determine who is admitted to magnet schools and the lottery that assigns students to schools does not discriminate based on race. Rather, the lottery contains many preferences that give students of color in the Hartford area a better chance of getting into magnet schools.
LDF is working hard to expand and continue the efforts previously made through Sheff, including fighting for school integration in Robinson.