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Courant: Another Step In Hartford In Sheff Desegregation Case

Thursday June 12, 2008

Another Step In Hartford In Sheff Desegregation Case
by Arielle Levin Becker
Courant Staff Writer
June 12, 2008
©The Hartford Courant

A state judge on Wednesday approved the latest settlement in the long-standing Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation lawsuit, clearing the way for renewed efforts to educate more Hartford children in racially diverse settings.

Officials already have been working on plans to implement the settlement, which the state and plaintiffs agreed to in April. It outlines measures that include building magnet schools in Hartford-area suburbs and expanding the number of spots for Hartford children in suburban public schools. The settlement calls for adding positions for Hartford students in racially diverse preschools and in technical and agricultural high schools.

It also calls for creating a single marketing office for magnet schools, intended to provide one-stop shopping for families and to give the plaintiffs a role in overseeing the desegregation efforts.

The latest settlement establishes new goals and a new way of measuring the integration efforts, focused on meeting student demand. By the time the settlement expires, in 2013, 80 percent of Hartford students who seek places in racially integrated schools should have them, according to the settlement. But if that is not reached, the state could still comply with the settlement if at least 41 percent of Hartford minority students attend schools considered integrated under the terms of the lawsuit.

The settlement, approved by Judge Marshall K. Berger Jr., is the second adopted since a 1996 court order to desegregate Hartford schools. The first settlement, in 2003, expired last summer, far short of it goal of having 30 percent of Hartford students attending racially integrated schools by 2007. Only 9 percent did, according to a report by Trinity College researchers.

The state must come up with a management plan for carrying out the settlement’s terms by Nov. 30.

Representatives for both the state and the plaintiffs, who filed the original lawsuit nearly 20 years ago, have praised the settlement and expressed optimism that its goals can be achieved.

Contact Arielle Levin Becker at alevinbecker@courant.com.