Sheff 1995 Conn. LEXIS 1995 Ruling/Opinion

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This text is an opinion written by Harry Hammer, the trial judge of Sheff v. O’Neill. In his opinion, Judge Hammer utilizes the facts of the case, testimonies, and the history of Connecticut in order to back the decision of the case. The opinion begins by providing a brief summary of the case, concluding that the outcome of the case was not in favor of the plaintiffs, but rather for the defendants; namely due to the fact that the findings discovered by the courts procedures were not in “support of the citizens’ request for desegregation of a metropolitan area school system” (LEXIS, 249).

This opinion backs the findings of the court, stating that the plans outlined and suggested by the plaintiffs “are ineffective methods of achieving integration, weather they are mandated  by racial imbalance laws or by court order (NEXIS, 249, 158). Furthermore, Hammer offered his own opinion, that the only way to achieve the integration the plaintiff’s were seeking is by creating affordable housing in the suburbs so that “inner city ghettos” are broken up. Furthermore, Hammer argues that the city should work on making city schools more attractive for suburban families.

Hammer’s opinion and Eaton’s book, “The Children in Room E4,” circle around the same topic: an injustice in “the system.” However, the “systems” within which Hammer and Eaton seek a problem differ. Hammer argues that the issues of racially segregated schools lie within the educational system, and the re-drawing of city boundaries to compensate for the injustice would be irrational. Therefore, though Hammer notes the injustices the “system” has “indirectly” created, he points the blame mainly at the education system as well as the development of the inner city ghettos. In contrast, Eaton points to another system. She states,  “The problem was then, and remained, the system – the separate, unequal, overwhelmed, isolated system. The system itself” (Eaton, 245). The system in which Eaton refers to is greater than just the educational system or the drawing of city-lines and limits; Eaton believes that the system that is failing is society. Society and the injustices and inequalities which plague individuals of low-economic backgrounds have created and perpetuated a vicious cycle wherein urban schools now pay the price.


Questions to consider:

Who is Harry Hammer? What personal ties may he have to Hartford or the community? To the urban community? To the suburban community?

What are some of the ways in which the socio-economic barriers of the urban poor directly affect students’ abilities to succeed in school? What resources do the parents of these students have in order to help their children succeed, in comparison to parents in the suburbs?

Hammer’s opinion states,

“The problems of the Hartford schools are compounded by the fact that minorities in the inner cities are disproportionately poor and the real correlation with academic achievement is socioeconomic class rather than race, and being poor in and of itself is a significant problem in the schools. (PX 494, pp. 11-12)” (NEXIS, 249, 93).

Is this true? Does race play any role in this correlation?



Sheff v. O’Neill, 1995 Conn. LEXIS 249 (Conn. June 27 1995).

Eaton, Susan E. The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2007. Print.

Sheff 1996 Majority Opinion

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I analyzed the Sheff vs. O’Neill 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court case legal document for the majority opinion led by Chief Justice Ellen Ash Peters. The ruling was split 4-3 with the court ruling that the state had an affirmative obligation to provide school children in Connecticut with equal educational opportunity and that this right also meant that access to such an education cannot be substantially impaired by racial and ethnic isolation. Lastly, the majority opinion concluded that school districting is unconstitutional because it bounds schools by town lines, which is one of the leading causes of the high concentrations of racial and ethnic minorities in Hartford.

This legal document makes it clear that even though the legislature may not have intended to create the conditions that have led to the racial and ethnic isolation in the Hartford public school system, the defendants still have an obligation to provide a solution for this constitutional injustice.

Furthermore, the majority opinion makes clear their belief that schools are important not simply just as an educational institution but also as a socializing institution. The argument is that if children of different races and socioeconomic groups never have an opportunity to know each other and go to school together then there is no expectation that these children will gain understanding and mutual respect for one another, which is key for a unified society.

The majority opinion gives evidence that students in the Hartford schools are racially isolated and that it is very likely that they will become more isolated in the future and that this segregation can have a devastating impact on a minority student’s education. Segregation of white and minority children in public schools is usually interpreted as signifying the inferiority of minorities, which affects the motivation of a child to learn. In a racially integrated school system, minority children would not be deprived of such educational and mental developments, but in fact such a school system would benefit both white and minority children.

In Susan Eaton’s book Children in Room E4, she summarizes the court ruling on the Sheff vs. O’neill 1996 case. In addition to this Eaton explains how in one sense Ellen Peter’s majority had gone very far by saying that the school districting scheme was unconstitutional, but on the other hand the court had not directed the state very clearly in what to do about the problem. It seems that Eaton is trying to say that although Peters did a great job in convincing the legislature of her case she did not leave a clear path to what should be done next (Eaton 179).

Discussion Questions:

1) Do you agree with Eaton that after the Sheff 1996 settlement was made the court did a poor job of directing the state what to do?

2) What is the most convincing argument made in the majority opinion? Why do you think so?

3) Although this seems to be a clear victory for racial and ethnic minorities in Hartford does it appear that this ruling would lead to immediate progress toward equal educational opportunities? Why or why not?

Sheff v. O’Neill 2013

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On April 20, 2013, the defendants and plaintiffs of the Sheff v. O’Neill met to discuss a year extension to the previous goals created because the goals of the Phase II Stipulation were not met this year by the defendant. Since both the defendants and plaintiffs have an interest in “reducing racial, ethnic, and economic isolation in Hartford Public Schools”, there can be a one-year extension to achieve “either 81% demand benchmark or 41% integration standard by June 2014” (1). Although there is an extension to aid in the efforts to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation, both the plaintiffs and defendants are aware that this effort is going to go beyond June 2014 to rectify it.

Because of the failure to meet the goals previously set in the Sheff v. O’Neill case 2008, there was changes made to Section I of the Phase II Stipulation. In order to meet the new goals created by both parties, school districts outside of the “Sheff-region” are to participate in Scheff-related school choice programs and the students who attend or take part in the programs will be included in the data collected for the Phase II Stipulation. Moreover, existing magnet schools are not inter-district magnet schools for the 2013-2014 school year (2).  In order to meet the new goals set forth from the Phase II Stipulation, the defendants have to come up with the right resources to plan, reorganize, restructure, develop, and operate schools so that they can meet the requirements set forth, “80% or the overall of Hartford resident minorities in reduced isolation settings”(2-6). Throughout pages 2-6, the document goes over the plans for specific areas (New/Expansion of Magnet Schools, Designation of Magnet Status to Already Existing Schools, Extending Capacity of Existing Magnet Schools, Extending Capacity of Technical Schools, Charter Schools, Enrollment Management Plans, Modifications to Open Choice, and Interdistrict Cooperative Grants) that will help in accomplishing the goal for the Phase II Stipulation.

In moving forward, both parties had to come to an agreement with creating a plan for a Phase III Stipulation by May 8, 2013. The documents largely discusses the SDE and its plans to implement the Phase II Stipulation and making the data of the progress being made available to those who want to use the information through a marketing campaign with Hartford Public Schools and CREC. The SDE then would have to provide reports on the performance of both Hartford Public School Students and non-Hartford Public School students participating in Sheff related school choice programs or in the “Sheff-region”.

Discussion Questions:

1.  Do you believe that the plan set forth will be able to accomplish the goals in the year extension given? Why or why not?

2. Is there anything else in the reports for the plaintiffs made by the SDE that should be included to ensure that the Phase II Stipulation is met?

3. Are there any other changes or goals that should be added to the Phase II Stipulation that would aid in raising student academic performance?

Sheff: 2013 Settlement

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The legal document that I analyzed was the 2013 Sheff settlement, the most recent settlement in a case that dates back to 1989. The document begins by acknowledging the original Sheff v. O’Neill decision. It briefly describes the 2003 and 2008 settlements pertaining to the case. The document notes that this new settlement pertains to the 2013-14 school year, although all parties are aware that efforts will need to continue beyond this date (June 30, 2014) to further reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation in Hartford public schools.

Next, the document highlights two changes in definition from the phase II stipulation:

1) Existing Magnet Schools are inter-district Magnet Schools that are in operation during the 2012-13 school year.

2) School districts outside Sheff region will participate in Sheff-related school choice programming through the Regional School Choice Office and students attending such schools/programs are to be counted towards the compliance goal.

Section III deals with new changes to goals and performance. When the goals of the 2003 settlement weren’t met, the parties renegotiated in 2008. They created two new goals:

1) Accommodate at least 80% of Hartford minority students wishing to attend reduced-isolation schools.

2) Enroll at least 41% of minority students from Hartford in a reduced-isolation school.

The 2013 settlement maintains these two goals, stating that one or the other (80% demand 0r 41% overall) must be achieved during this one year extension period. The rest of the document is dedicated to highlighting the steps that are being taken to ensure that the benchmark is met. I Will briefly outline this plan.

A) CT State Dept. Of Ed (SDE) is to provide funding for the creation of four new magnet schools and the expansion of one magnet school (Montessori)

B) Global Experience Magnet School, Wintonbury Each Childhood Magnet School and CT International Baccalaureate Academy will be turned into “Sheff” magnets and expand their enrollment of Hartford minority students.

C) Some existing Sheff magnet schools will improve their capacity to enroll Hartford resident students.

D) Participating technical high schools will  expand their seat capacity

E) SDE will promote applications for new charter schools in the Sheff region and make the Charter Schools Operations report readily available to the plaintiffs. Basically, SDE is saying they’ll make it easier to apply for the creation of new Sheff charter schools.

F) “Enrollment Management Plans” must now be submitted for schools that SDE anticipates might be in non-compliance with the desegregation standard for the 2013-14 school year. Also, the plaintiffs will be provided with copies of the EMP.

G) There are some major modifications to Open Choice. First, the per pupil operating grant for Open Choice school districts that exceed 4% participation is increased to $8,000. $750,000 is to be allocated to provide grants to local or regional boards of education for costs related to Open Choice Enrollment. SDE states that they’re willing to work with regions whose participation rate is lower than their capability. SDE is also willing to conduct a study on Open Choice retention rates. Finally, when Open Choice seats are unfilled, Hartford residents on the waiting list for magnet schools will be offered a placement.

A good portion of the rest of the document deals with SDE taking steps to make sure the plan is carried out. They want to hire someone full time to act as a director and oversee the implementation of the Phase II Stipulation. SDE is also seeking to make all this information more readily available to those who could take advantage of it through a new marketing campaign with HPS and CREC.

The conclusion of the settlement basically states that SDE must provide the plaintiffs with reports on the academic performance of HPS and non-HPS students participating in Open Choice.

Interestingly, it states that the plaintiffs reserve the right to contest the defendants method of calculating “demand”. Also, the defendants must pay the cost of the plaintiffs experts that they hire to convene to study the demographics of the Sheff region and the socio-economic make up of the suburban population.

Discussion Questions:

1. Which aspects of the 2013 settlement will be most effective at increasing the number of Hartford-resident minority students attending reduced-isolation schools?

2. Is the settlement specific enough to engender progress leading to reaching the benchmark in the next year or is the plan too vague to be truly effective?

3.  What aspects do you feel are missing from the 2013 settlement?

Sheff vs. O’Neill Stipulation and Proposed Order (Phase II, 2008)

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On April 4, 2008 the Sheff v. O’Neill Stipulation and Proposed Order was discussed in order to meet the goals that would decrease racial, ethnic, and economic isolation in Hartford public schools. Originally these goals were set in Phase 1 of the stipulation, however failed in June of 2007. As new ideas were set in order to change Hartford Public Schools, the first goal was to “increase the number of Hartford resident minority students in a reduced isolation education setting” (5). Starting from the 2008-2009 school year continuing through the 2013-2014 year, it was goal that at least 80% of the demand of minority students were placed into those settings. In order to reach those specific goals Voluntary Interdistrict Programs were designed to reduce desegregation. Such programs include magnet, charter, vocational, technical and open choice schools that “Hartford minority students shall have readily available opportunities to submit an approved application for placement” (6).

The state had set up a goal measurement plan by reviewing the requests of seats in Voluntary Interdistrict Programs by minority students of Hartford in April of the third year then again in November of the fourth year. If less than 65% of seats for minority students are not met then the State along with the Regional School Choice Office will make slight changes to the Comprehensive Management Plan. The CMP itself contains many goals, which include academic and social support services for participating students, summer programs, and most importantly the opportunity for students to enjoy their education in nonracially isolated schools (10-12). Established by the State, the Sheff Office was responsible to create, develop and oversee the CMP as well as monitor and strategize for the progress of reducing isolation of the Hartford minority students; also known as “Sheff programing”, which include opening and expanding new inter-district and magnet schools (12-13). In order to recognize the status of Phase II both parties agreed upon quarterly meetings and annual conferences to discuss any updates, obstacles or achievements that have been made.

Discussion Questions

  1. How is Phase II different from the previous stipulations that have failed in the past?
  2. How can reduction in racial isolation effect student performance?
  3. Is a five year plan enough time to implement all of the stipulations goals?