Six reasons not to ‘end’ the Sheff desegregation case

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The state of Connecticut is once again trying to avoid its constitutional obligation to provide every Hartford child with a high-quality, integrated education.

Just days before kids returned from their summer breaks, the state’s lawyers suggested that the court should withdraw from oversight of the implementation of Sheff v. O’Neill, the case that has created Connecticut’s award-winning two-way voluntary integration system.

According to an article in the Connecticut Mirror, Superior Court Judge Marshall K. Berger was “surprised” by the state lawyer’s remarks and encouraged the parties to continue talking. But he noted that “If I have to hold a hearing, I will.”

Here are six reasons why Judge Berger should never agree to end court supervision of the case:

  1. We don’t have to guess what a lack of court supervision looks like: For the first seven years after the 1996 state supreme court’s ruling, there was no court involvement, and what happened? Essentially nothing – the plaintiffs had to go to court twice to demand court oversight.
  1. More than 14,000 students, from both Hartford and the surrounding suburbs were left on the waiting list after this year’s magnet school lottery. The state is not moving quickly enough to meet the high demand for quality, integrated education.
  1. Continuing magnet and Open Choice expansion makes economic sense: The cost of renovating and running an integrated magnet school is not much different from the cost of renovating and maintaining a high-poverty, segregated school. While we support strengthening and improving neighborhood schools, we also believe that expensive investments in new infrastructure should be used to support high-performing integrated schools. Why does the state want to invest in segregation?
  1. Are magnet schools “unfair?” No! They are specifically designed to erase the unfairness and inequity between the education available to low-income Hartford children and higher income suburban children.  We have erased that inequity for almost half of Hartford children!  The only thing that is “unfair” about this system is that the state has been so slow in meeting the demand among Hartford families for these high quality schools.
  1. Sheff schools provide both racial and economic integration for Hartford children. The Sheff case was brought because of the severe levels of poverty concentration and racial isolation in the Hartford public schools, compounded by gross resource and achievement disparities between Hartford and predominantly white, higher income suburban districts, and a crumbling educational infrastructure. The Sheff remedy is addressing all of these issues — low income Hartford children are now finally receiving high quality, equally resourced education in beautiful schools that are no longer racially isolated or concentrated in poverty. Why would the state want to stop supporting and growing a system that has met all these goals?
  1. Nearly two decades have passed since the state supreme court’s decision – and its urgent admonition:

“Every passing day denies these children their constitutional right to a substantially equal educational opportunity…..We are confident that with energy and good will, appropriate remedies can be found and implemented in time to make a difference before another generation of children suffers the consequences of a segregated public school education.”

Yes, it has been a long time since that decision came down, but it’s only been 12 years since meaningful implementation of the decision began, with court oversight.  There are many years left on the Sheff clock before we reach full implementation, and generations of children who still need to receive the benefits of quality integrated education.

This is not an “either/or” choice.  The state has a responsibility to improve all the schools in Hartford, at the same time as it continues to rapidly expand school integration opportunities for Hartford children.

It is folly to think that this will happen without continuing court oversight.  We must continue to move forward and we cannot be satisfied while Hartford students remain in high-poverty, segregated schools that are both separate and unequal.

We’re only half-way there. More than ever, we need the court to ensure that all our children receive the education they deserve.  And the education they are legally entitled to.

Philip Tegeler is staff coordinator for the Sheff Movement coalition. He lives in West Hartford. 

What do you think?

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