Sheff Plaintiffs File Motion To Have Special Master Take Over From State
December 12, 2009
HARTFORD — - The plaintiffs in the Sheff desegregation lawsuit are alleging that the state is out of compliance with the court-ordered agreement and are seeking to appoint a special master to take over its administration.
In a motion filed in Superior Court Friday, attorneys representing the plaintiffs say the state has failed to reach a court-ordered benchmark of teaching 27 percent of the city's minority students in a racially diverse setting this school year.
The stipulation was part of a 2008 agreement between the plaintiffs and the state in the landmark Sheff decision. The state Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that city children attending Hartford public schools were racially, ethnically and economically isolated in violation of the state's constitution.
The motion filed Friday contends that the state Department of Education's claim that it has met the 27 percent goal depends, in part, on improperly counting 521 Hartford minority students who attend Naylor Elementary School as learning in a diverse setting.
If those students are counted, the percentage of city minority students learning in more diverse classrooms is 27.3 percent. But the plaintiffs claim that those students shouldn't count toward the goal, resulting in a compliance rate of 24.9 percent.
At issue is whether the state can classify Naylor as an Open Choice school and take advantage of a 5 percentage point variance that would put the district in compliance with the Sheff agreement. Open Choice allows city students to enroll in suburban schools.
The state has claimed that Naylor can qualify as an Open Choice school by counting 11 suburban students who have chosen to attend the school. But 10 of those 11 students are minorities, which the complaint argues actually increases racial isolation at the school rather than decreases it.
The complaint also claims that only those 11 students coming from the suburbs could be classified as Open Choice students, not the 521 minority students who live in the city.
The motion seeks the appointment of a special master who would oversee and ensure compliance with the Sheff decision.
A special master could also compel the state legislature to increase funding for programs that reduce racial and ethnic isolation, such as increased funding for Hartford-run magnet schools and more money to suburban districts participating in the Open Choice program.
State Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said Friday that, as was the case initially with Hartford-run magnet schools, Naylor experienced an increase in minority enrollment from the suburbs.
But Murphy said that through marketing and showing that Hartford neighborhood schools such as Naylor provide a quality education, he expected future enrollment to bring in more non-minority students from the suburbs and reduce racial isolation further.
"We think the plaintiffs need to be flexible on this issue," Murphy said. "If we don't have money, we need flexibility."
Wesley Horton, an attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to comment Friday, pending a hearing on the motion.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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