CT enters settlement in Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation case

Hartford

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — There’s a new agreement in the landmark Sheff versus O’Neill school desegregation case.

The deal looks to improve the education disparities and racial imbalance within the Hartford School System.

In 1989, the Sheff family sued the state and then-Governor Bill O’Neill. Their son, Milo, was in fourth grade and his parents said he was learning in a segregated classroom and did not have equal educational opportunities.   

Milo Sheff is now 41 and a college graduate. His mother, Elizabeth Horton, said she saw his childhood dissipate.

“He was certain we put on a case that would bring some justice,” Horton said. “And when that didn’t happen it took something away from him.”

In 1996, a judge agreed with the family and said the state had to fix the disparities.

For years programs and parent involvement were beefed up in Hartford-area schools. More state funding and more seats at magnet and charter schools were made available to Hartford kids.

“There are thousands of kids both in Hartford and suburban kids that want access to a quality integrated education,” said Martha Stone, an attorney with the Center for Children’s Advocacy.

But to date, only 49% of Hartford minority students attend schools that are diverse. Friday’s settlement will now create a new path for the end of 30 years of litigation, but all involved said more work will need to be done.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong believes this deal will “begin to resolve one of the most significant desegregation and civil rights cases anywhere.”

The State Education Commissioner, Dr. Miguel Cardona wanted everyone to remember how the case got started.

“We want to mitigate racial isolation in Connecticut; that is still our goal.”

The settlement agreement includes more seats at a number of area schools in Hartford and requires the lottery program to get into those schools to be based solely on socioeconomic status — meaning where a child lives and how much money the family has.

Additionally, already existing funding from the State Department of Education will be given to districts who take more “choice program” kids – those who take a bus to a suburban school.

Funding will also be provided for support services and academic support in addition recruitment videos and lottery system software, including text updates for parents who are in the application process.

All of the new seats open to students in the magnet schools will not be subject to quota based on race.

A long term master plan will be crafted by June 2021 and the court and legislature will need to approve it because it will involve millions of state dollars.

Meantime, the city of Hartford wants to make sure the students remaining at the local neighborhood schools are not forgotten in all of this. They are pushing for equal educational outcomes there as well.

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