Elizabeth Horton Sheff describes her experiences, and her civic minded journey with her son, the Plaintiff, Milo Sheff.
The suit named the State of Connecticut, elected officials including Governor William O’Neill, and other state commissions and agencies as defendants. The plaintiffs alleged “significant constitutional violations under applicable sections of the State constitution which they believe constituted a denial of their fundamental rights to an education and rights to equal protection under the law.”
In 1995, Judge Harry Hammer ruled in favor of the State in the case.
This decision was appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court. In July of 1996, the court overturned Hammer’s ruling, in a split 4-3 decision authored by Chief Justice Ellen Ash Peters.
“The court ruled that the state had an obligation to provide Connecticut’s school children with an equal educational opportunity and that this constitutionally guaranteed right encompasses the access to a public education which is not substantially and materially impaired by racial and ethnic isolation. The Court further concluded that school districting based upon town and city boundary lines are unconstitutional, and cited a statute that bounds school districts by town lines as a key factor in the high concentrations of racial and ethnic minorities in Hartford.”
Elizabeth was fighting not just for her son. Milo and Elizabeth were fighting for the integrity of America’s schools.
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238 Conn. at 40-41.
The Court’s decision also contains the following language concerning the importance of remedying racial, ethnic and economic segregation in the schools:
“[S]chools are an important socializing institution, imparting those shared values through which social order and stability are maintained.” Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 222 n. 20, 102 S. Ct. 2382, 72 L. Ed. 2d 786 (1982). Schools bear central responsibility for “inculcating [the] fundamental values necessary to the maintenance of a democratic political system . . . .” Ambach v. Norwick, 441 U.S. 68, 77, 99 S. Ct. 1589, 60 L. Ed. 2d 49 (1979). When children attend racially and ethnically isolated schools, these “shared values” are jeopardized: “If children of different races and economic and social groups have no opportunity to know each other and to live together in school, they cannot be expected to gain the understanding and mutual respect necessary for the cohesion of our society.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Jenkins v. Township of Morris School District, 58 N.J. 483, 498, 279 A.2d 619 (1971). “[T]he elimination of racial isolation in the schools promotes the attainment of equal educational opportunity and is beneficial to all students, both black and white.” Lee v. Nyquist, 318 F. Sup. 710, 714 (W.D.N.Y. 1970), aff’d without opinion, 402 U.S. 935, 91 S. Ct. 1618, 29 L. Ed. 2d 105 (1971).