Connecticut Education Law May be Affected by New Supreme Court Ruling

HARTFORD Conn.

A new U.S. Supreme Court ruling could affect a decades-old Connecticut law requiring individual schools to reflect the demographics of their communities, state officials said Thursday.

The high court rejected integration plans in the Louisville, Ky., and Seattle school districts Thursday. The 5-4 ruling also curtails the practice of taking students’ race into account when deciding which schools they will attend.

Connecticut officials said Thursday they were reviewing whether the ruling will affect a 1969 state law that requires districts to correct racial imbalances at schools within their borders.

“This ruling raises as many questions as it answers in terms of its effect on our state laws,” Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said. “We’re continuing our review intensively and in depth, because there may be other ramifications for this law and other legal issues.”

The Supreme Court’s decision Thursday said that taking students’ race into account when assigning them to particular schools violates Constitutional guarantees of equal protection.

However, the ruling leaves the door open for the limited use of race to achieve diversity in schools an important codicil under which Connecticut’s racial imbalance law might be remain acceptable, the state officials said.

Thomas Murphy, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said its attorneys are reviewing the 180-page decision to determine what, if any, effect it would have here.

“It’s too early to tell,” he said. “We have to look carefully at it before we make any decisions or take any actions.”

The 1969 Connecticut law says the proportion of minority students in any school must not be more than 25 percentage points above or below a district’s overall average.

Six schools received warning letters this spring that their minority enrollments far exceeded the average minority enrollment in their districts. Twelve other districts also were cautioned that several schools in their borders were inching toward the tipping point.

The law primarily affects towns that have racially mixed populations.

Because it affects only individual districts and does not require regional desegregation efforts, it does not affect districts that have nearly all-white or all-minority enrollments.

In most cases, districts voluntarily comply through redistricting and other measures to correct school-by-school imbalances. The state has gone to court only once, seeking enforcement of a racial balance plan for a school in Waterbury.

Blumenthal said Thursday that it remained to be seen whether any Connecticut districts could cite the new Supreme Court ruling to defend themselves if they are ordered to shift their student populations to better balance their schools’ racial makeup.

However, the ruling will not affect the voluntary desegregation measures included in the Sheff v. O’Neill court case settlement, he said.

Those measures include the establishment of magnet schools, programs in which city children fill open seats in suburban districts, and other programs.

The desegregation strategies were part of a 2003 settlement after the state Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools in Connecticut are unconstitutional under state law.

The settlement called for a target in which at least 30 percent of Hartford’s children would attend racially integrated schools by 2007.

Those goals were not met. A report by Trinity College researchers found that only 9 percent of Hartford’s students who are primarily black and Hispanic attend schools that have enough white students to qualify as racially integrated under terms of the Sheff settlement.

Officials are currently working on updates to the settlement agreement.

–Associated Press



© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com