State Says Hartford Schools Making Progress On Desegregation
GRACE E. MERRITT
November 19, 2009
HARTFORD — - The state Department of Education said Wednesday that it has made progress desegregating Hartford public schools, meeting an incremental requirement of a court order in the Sheff v. O'Neill ruling.
But lawyers representing the Sheff plaintiffs said they will reserve judgment until they have had a chance to review the state's numbers.
"We're still evaluating the data," said Martha Stone, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs. "While the state is saying the enrollment figures have improved over last year, it's not clear that the state has met the required target in the settlement."
State education leaders said that 27 percent of Hartford's minority students now learn in racially diverse settings, largely thanks to the construction of 24 inter-district magnet schools built in Hartford and the region.
"We're on a steady course but we have more to do," state Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said.
The state was required to meet the 27 percent goal this year as part of a stipulated agreement in the Sheff decision. In the 1996 desegregation ruling, the state Supreme Court held that students in Hartford attended public schools that were racially, ethnically and economically isolated in violation of the state constitution.
The court urged the state to remedy the violation promptly and the Superior Court followed up with two different orders to force the state to act.
Hartford's school population is currently 96 percent minority, Murphy said.
The state said that more than 5,200 Hartford minority students are now getting their educations in a variety of places, including magnet schools, a charter school, technical high schools and school choice programs.
The state says that more than 3,200 of those students are enrolled in magnet schools, while another 1,200 attend suburban schools through the public school choice program.
Deputy Education Commissioner George Coleman said he was pleased by the trend.
"Not only are Hartford kids going out to suburbs, but also suburban families are deciding to participate in Hartford magnet schools. It gives us optimism that we can make a desegregated setting available to all of Hartford's children by 2012," Coleman said.
"If the numbers check out, it is good news," added Philip Tegeler, staff coordinator for the Sheff Movement Coalition, a regional coalition of parents and other supporters of integrated education. "I think we have a recognition that the regional magnet schools have an excellent reputation, and these numbers show that magnet schools continue to attract suburban parents and children as well as Hartford children."
Tegeler noted that there are still long waiting lists for Hartford children trying to get into those programs.
"There is a pressing need to expand the open choice program," Tegeler said. "We can't rely so much on magnet schools. We have to open more suburban schools to the program."
State education officials estimate that the state has spent more than $1 billion since 2003 on Sheff-related matters, including the cost of building magnet schools, transportation and other subsidies.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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