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Connecticut School Desegregation Case Back in Court


Connecticut’s landmark school desegregation case, Sheff v. O’Neill, is back in court in the form of a legal motion citing the failure of the legislature to approve a tentative agreement.

Plaintiffs in the case filed the motion in superior court Thursday saying they can wait no longer for the Legislature to act on a plan that would require the state to take aggressive new steps to reduce racial isolation in Hartford’s public schools.

“Time is wasting, and kids are not being properly educated,” Wesley W. Horton, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said after filing the motion.

A four-year-old settlement in the case failed to reach its goals and expired last week. The state and the Sheff plaintiffs reached a tentative agreement in late May that would establish new goals and extend the settlement.

The proposed extension calls on the state to spend millions of dollars more over the next five years to subsidize magnet schools, charter schools and other programs aiming at increasing integration.

The legal motion filed Thursday would have little effect if the Legislature approves the tentative settlement, but lawmakers say they will need more time to review the proposed settlement before voting later this month.

“We received this settlement … less than 48 hours before the adjournment of the regular session,” says state Sen. Thomas Gaffey, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee. “To expect the General Assembly to take this up when we’re grappling with the state budget in that short a time frame is absolutely unreasonable.”

Gaffey says that among the concerns of lawmakers is the poor track record of the original settlement.

“There has been very little progress at reducing racial isolation in Hartford’s schools,” he says. “What is the evidence we’re going to be any better off?”

The state Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that racial, ethnic and economic isolation in Hartford schools was unconstitutional.

The original case was brought in 1989 on behalf of Milo Sheff, who was then a 10-year-old student in Hartford’s Annie Fisher School.

–Associated Press

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