Hartford Courant Op-Ed: Lawsuit Threatens Sheff Desegregation Gains
In July 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court issued Sheff v. O’Neill, a landmark school desegregation ruling. Based on the principles established in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision, the state Supreme Court ordered the state to remove the barriers that denied students of all races in Hartford and its suburbs the opportunity to attend integrated schools.
Because of Sheff, education in Hartford looks very different today than it did 20 years ago. At the center of the transformation is a regional school system established after the Sheff ruling that serves thousands of students in 41 racially and economically integrated magnet schools. Those students — a population that includes almost half of Hartford’s black and Latino students — now benefit from studying in a diverse and academically stimulating environment. Students at Sheff-related schools not only outperform their counterparts in Hartford public schools, but also perform extremely well in relation to all students across Connecticut.
Sadly, the hard-won progress that has arisen from Sheff is now being threatened by a lawsuit brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative California law firm that has challenged racial integration policies, bilingual education and other programs that help students of color. Pacific Legal Foundation has come to Connecticut to challenge the lottery system that determines enrollment in the magnet schools; arguments begin today. If the suit succeeds, the region’s magnet schools would re-segregate, erasing years of progress.