Following the State’s Effort to Undermine School Desegregation in CT

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Over the last few weeks, the State of Connecticut, represented by the Attorney General’s Office, took another step in its effort to undermine racial desegregation of schools in Connecticut. The key part of this recent step has been to attack the specific reduced-isolation goals in the Sheff v. O’Neill case’s stipulated agreement and order.

Under the Sheff agreement, school desegregation is accomplished through voluntary school choice programs (e.g. Open Choice, interdistrict magnet schools) and a controlled lottery to produce schools that have not more than 75% Black and Latino students. The idea is to carefully create racially diverse schools and to do this without explicitly taking individual students’ race into account in school assignment in order to avoid violating past U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

As WNPR reported, the State wanted to raise the percentage of Black and Latino students in a program (e.g. magnet school) to be considered desegregated, or in a “reduced isolation” setting. The Sheff plaintiffs fought back, asking the Court to put a stop to this plan.

In particular, the State wanted to change the desegregation goal to be 80% Black and Latino on the grounds that the previous goal of 75% was numerically unreasonable. As Dr. Bilal Sekou wrote in his blog, the State wanted to change the definition of a desegregated school from 7 out of 10 Black and Latino students in a school to 8 out of 10, This change would have the effect of further concentrating Black and Latino students in choice programs like interdistrict magnet schools rather than using these choice programs as way to reduce racial isolation.

As I mentioned in the WNPR piece above, the Governor and State increasingly favor interventions such as segregated charter schools and education funding reforms, rather than choice programs for the purpose of racial desegregation. Thus, the attack on desegregation programs and the Sheff case in particular. In its effort to undermine desegregation, the State has listed a number of complaints about desegregation that get  close to being “dog-whistle” politics. (To learn about “dog-whistle” politics, read Ian Haney López’s, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.)

But on June 16, the Court balked at the State’s argument for greater racial segregation of magnet schools that were designed to assist desegregation. The State’s attempt to turn back the clock on desegregation is over for now. Matt Kauffman at the Hartford Courant and Jacqueline Rabe Thomas at the CTMirror covered the story and Judge Berger’s ruling (check out the links for their coverage). Still, the episode raises key questions about the State’s effort to undermine desegregation that I hope to tackle over the next few weeks.

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Robert Cotto Jr.

Robert Cotto, Jr. is currently the Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College and a Lecturer in the Educational Studies department. Before his work at Trinity, he was a Senior Policy Fellow in K-12 Education for CT Voices for Children where he published reports on Connecticut’s testing system, public school choice, and K-12 education data and policy. He taught for seven years as a social studies teacher at the Metropolitan Learning Center for Global and International Studies (MLC), an interdistrict magnet school intended to provide a high-quality education and promote racial, ethnic, and economic integration. Born and raised in Connecticut, Mr. Cotto was the first in his family to go to college and he earned his B.A. degree in sociology at Dartmouth College, his Ed.M. at Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and an M.A. in American Studies at Trinity College. He is serving his second term on the Hartford Board of Education and in the past has served as Secretary and Policy Committee Chair. Since returning back home to CT from college, Robert has lived in the Frog Hollow neighborhood and he recently moved to the Forster Heights area of the Southwest neighborhood.

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