Quality Integrated Education – Next Steps for School Desegregation in Hartford, CT

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Here is a summary of steps I would take moving forward on school desegregation in CT. This is based on my reading of history and research in schools and communities now. These are some ideas of how we can build on the historic investment in racially diverse schools in Hartford, CT area prompted by the Sheff v. O’Neill case. This is not a retreat from pursuing racial diversity (numerical desegregation), but an addition and broadening of goals (qualitative integration). These are my own thoughts, not of any particular group or plaintiffs. 


• All Hartford schools will provide high-quality and effective education for its students.
• All Hartford schools will have the resources that students need to be successful.
• Support high-quality Latinx and Black schools where they exist. (e.g. definition)


• Understand the difference between numerical desegregation and qualitative integration.
• Support positive racial development of Black, Latinx, & Asian students in desegregated schools.
• Multicultural and multilingual education (e.g. ethnic studies, dual language programs).


• Share accomplishments of quality and integration education (e.g. web, in-person, testimonies).
• Every “Sheff” school should have a plaque and website explaining Sheff v. O’Neill history.
• Listen and gather feedback from magnet and non-magnet students & families. (e.g. survey)
• Confront and campaign against school segregation, privatization, and dispossession.

Views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Trinity College.

Recap of Moral Monday CT Event on (Ideology of) White Supremacy in Education & Upcoming Sheff Event (11/17)

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Yesterday, Moral Monday CT convened a discussion that examined the ideology of white supremacy in education at the Trinity College Liberal Arts Action Lab in downtown Hartford. Put simply, panelists and attendees critiqued the pervasive belief that white people are superior and should dominate all aspects of society.

Panelists included Richard de Meij, a Hartford Public Schools teacher, Michelle McKnight, a Manchester Public Schools teacher, and me. The conversation with audience members ranged from racial segregation, lack of Black and Latina/o teachers, lack of culturally relevant curriculum and pedagogy for Black and Latino/a students, problems of educational testing and school choice, and a number of other areas. An especially spirited thread of the discussion focused on magnet schools in Hartford.

As one of panelists, I led the audience through a very, very brief history of magnet schools in Hartford. I brought up the challenges faced by Black and Latino leaders in getting resources for Hartford students in the post-Civil Rights Movement era. As a possible way of thinking about this challenge, I brought up the idea of interest convergence (Bell, 1980), or the idea that Black and Brown progress in civil rights tends to happen when white interests are also served. Well into the 1980s, Hartford was largely on its own when it came to state politics and school funding. Magnets were seen as way to bring white, black, and Puerto Rican interests together across city-town lines, confronting racial isolation of white students as much or more as Black and Puerto Rican students. Magnet had the potential to break the political divisions sustained by town-city lines.

When we got to the open discussion, that’s when things got interesting. Joining our discussion was one of the plaintiffs in the Robinson v. Wentzell case seeking to undue the “race-conscious” magnet system as currently designed. The leadership plaintiff Ms. LaShawn Robinson asked me, “why do you like magnet schools so much? And what would you do if you kid didn’t get into a magnet school?” I only had time to answer the first question, but here was my response as best as I remember it!

First, I clarified that I don’t believe that magnet schools as the only way of delivering equal educational opportunity. But I see magnets as an important tool from a historical lens.

Second, the people that thought to make magnet schools believed that kids of difference races would one day work together and they thought schools would be the place to practice racial integration. I admitted that this might seem a bit “polly-ann-ish,” but it was also the 60s. In other words, magnet schools in Hartford began at a time when people arguably had more hope for this country than they might do now.

Third, by bringing together kids from different towns and cities, magnets can be a tool for bringing white, black, Latino, and Asian interests together. If you believe in the permanence of racism as current Critical Race Theorists and many past leaders of color did, then you view little reason for whites do anything for Black and Latinas/os for greater educational opportunity beyond their own self-interests.

Indeed, whites (and some people of color) in the suburbs can go to their well-resourced and responsive schools, in their neighborhoods, and go to their jobs, then look over at city neighborhoods and underresourced and culturally irrelevant schools as “dysfunctional” or “low-performing” without having to question how things got to be the way they are. As other scholars have noted such Gary Orfield (2013), racial segregation in housing and schools sustains these beliefs of white superiority and limits any interest in doing much about racial inequality.

There might be people that believe in the idea of racial equality, but there needs to be some mechanism for making that reality. The Sheff case made the State of Connecticut spend money on magnet schools and they play a role in bringing disparate interests together in the region. Magnets succeed along some lines, but not others. (For an example of things gone tragically wrong, see the dispossession by the State and Hartford Board of Education of local Batchelder School to give the building to the Montessori Magnet School.)

Finally, I explained that there is nothing stopping the State of Connecticut from making non-magnet schools well-funded, fantastic places for kids and adults to learn and grow. There’s nothing stopping the State from making public schools more culturally relevant and responsive places to kids of color. If the State wants to make all schools fantastic, well-funded, and responsive to people of color, then do it! The Sheff plaintiffs aren’t stopping the State from improve all schools in the cities.

But the State simply won’t do more than the bare minimum as evidenced in the recent Supreme Court decision in the CCJEF case. In addition, recent school reforms such as school turnarounds, “Alliance” District funding, and Common Core have fallen flat. And right now, the current leadership wants to expand privately-managed, publicly-funded, also hyper-segregated charter schools rather than racially-diverse, magnet public schools.

To close the discussion, I raised the question of what will make white people, including the State, interested in Black and Latino progress in schools? If it’s not magnet schools under Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation, then what? If it’s not a lawsuit like the CCJEF school funding case, then what? Right now, the hot, monied interest is in school privatization through charter schools that takes money away from the public school system and even diverts money from charter school students through fees to management companies.

I wondered whether there was an over-emphasis on just changing “hearts and minds”, which may be necessary, but not sufficient for change. What protest, political force, direct action, or legal challenge will force the State and white people in the suburbs and cities into doing anything than the bare minimum offered to many urban schools today?

Notes: The event was organized by Moral Monday CT which is led by Pamela Moore Selders and Bishop John Selders. Jesse Turner, CCSU Professor, also contributed to organization of the event. I’m sorry if I missed other collaborators! Thanks to Moral Monday CT for the forum. Thanks to the audience for sharing their stories and ideas.

Upcoming Event:

This Saturday, 11/17/18, the Sheff Movement will host a conversation on school desegregation entitled, “Integration Matters.” The panel and discussion starts at 10 a.m. and goes until noon. Join us at the 75 Charter Oak Avenue. RSVP here because space is limited.

Views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Trinity College.

What is the Robinson et al case and why do its supporters want to end school desegregation and civil rights policies in Connecticut?

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Source: Sheff plaintiffs memo, 2018.

Over the last few days, I have discussed a number of aspects of the State of Connecticut’s efforts to racially desegregate schools. In short, the State uses voluntary school choice programs, such as magnet schools to create racially diverse educational settings. But over the past several years, a number of groups have launched a campaign against school desegregation. This post will break down the new Robinson case attempting to undo the civil rights gains made by the Sheff v. O’Neill case.

Earlier this year, parents that reside in Hartford, CT filed a federal lawsuit against the State of CT and Hartford Public Schools claiming that the State’s magnet lottery and reduced isolation definition were racially discriminatory and violated the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The parents and their lawyers allege that because their children have not been accepted to any of the State’s magnet schools, the State has discriminated against their children. To be clear, these are allegations and there is no actual evidence of racial discrimination in the documents, only a certain interpretation of State law. The parents are represented by the right-wing Pacific Legal Foundation that works to protect, “private property,” “economic liberty,” and “individual rights” (990 tax form).

This Robinson et al v. Wentzell case has been a focal point in the discussion about the State’s effort to desegregate schools. Through their lawyers, they are asking the federal court to stop the State magnet school lottery as currently designed and stop the use of a definition of reduced isolation used to deem magnet schools racially diverse or not. In other words, the Robinson case seeks to ultimately end the Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation remedy as we currently know it in Hartford, Connecticut.

In response, the plaintiffs in the Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation state case filed a motion to intervene in the Robinson federal case. Basically, the Sheff plaintiffs want to intervene because the Robinson case, poorly handled, could gravely impact the Sheff lawsuit. Also, the Sheff team believes that the State is a poor defendant of school desegregation remedies given that Governor and Legislature do not and did not want school desegregation in 1996 or in 2018.

The Sheff plaintiffs are represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is a wing of the oldest civil rights organization in the U.S. that defends educational, economic, and racial justice (990 tax form). The Sheff plaintiffs argue that the Robinson case should be dismissed based on many incorrect facts and poor interpretation of the law. Furthermore, the Sheff plaintiffs believe that some of the issues raised in the Robinson case should be resolved in the Connecticut court in February 2019 when it takes up the State’s failure to comply.

Here it’s important to separate the people from the goals and arguments. As far as I can tell, the parents in the Robinson case are sincere in their concern for their children. They also show concern that magnet schools have limited enrollment. They aren’t alone in feeling frustration with the State’s efforts to deliver equal educational opportunity in all schools in Hartford and elsewhere.

However, the Sheff lawyers make a strong argument that the Robinson case argument is wrong on the facts and the law. The lottery for magnet schools is race-neutral and the State defines a racially diverse school through a benchmark rather than direct mandates or limits of students of any particular race. These facts about the system make sure that the State develops racially diverse schools to counteract the effects of school and residential segregation without specifically using racial categories to make that happen. There are no “racial quotas” and children aren’t being denied magnet school enrollment on the basis of race.

So if the magnet lottery is race-neutral and the State only has a benchmark for racially diverse schools, then why is the Robinson group suing the State in federal court over the magnet system?

In the past, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) that represents the Robinson parents has promoted charter schools and the elimination of school desegregation orders that are “race-conscious.” The PLF group has submitted court briefs defending private charter schools use of public facilities in California and other states and it was heavily involved in dismantling school desegregation in places likes Seattle in the Parents Involved case, for example (Sandberg, 2011).

In addition, the CT Parent Union has facilitated Pacific Legal Foundation’s work in Connecticut over the past weeks. In the past, the CT Parent Union has lobbied for a “parent trigger” bill that would allow parents to vote to turn their school into a charter or other privately-managed school.

As the New Haven Independent recently reported, Pacific Legal Foundation is still trying to find other clients beside the Robinson group to help them dismantle school desegregation in Connecticut. As the Independent reported, Pacific Legal wants to find parents in New Haven, ‘”in order to file a suit that could bring down the entire magnet program statewide.” According to the article, CT Parent Union is assisting that effort.

As a side note, it is helpful to look at where these organizations get revenue using public tax form data. It’s unclear where Pacific Legal Foundation gets its funding, but there are some hints that their money from corporations and foundation related to fossil fuel industries, plus other big businesses (No sources listed on 990 tax form). Similarly, it’s unclear how CT Parent Union is funded (no 990 tax form, might not be a 501(c)3 non-profit). The NAACP Legal Defense funds primarily obtains revenue through fundraising, investments, and grants from other civil rights organization. (990 tax form, 2017). The Shelf Movement is a 501(c)3, but does not yet have a 990 tax form.

So how does the Robinson case fit into the Pacific Legal Foundation and CT Parent Union agenda?

The Shelf plaintiffs have advocated  “race-conscious” school choice policies as a means towards numerical school desegregation. Or, put another way, Sheff plaintiffs have advocated for school choice as a means towards a broader societal goal of racial integration. On the other hand, both Pacific Legal Foundation and CT Parent Union advocate for “school choice” as a goal by itself. They believe in “colorblind” choice that doesn’t specifically promote school diversity.  The Robinson case would not require or guarantee the State to place more students in racially diverse magnet schools, but it could open the door for more charter schools, the “colorblind” version of school choice that PLF and CPU like more.

So, here’s a hypothesis.

In Hartford, the Sheff case has used magnet schools as a way towards voluntary school desegregation. Connecticut’s magnet schools are racially diverse through a regional lottery, funding incentives and supports, plus their regional design. Diverse magnet schools in Hartford have thwarted racially segregated and privately-managed charter school growth in the city.

These privately-managed charter schools have grown in Hartford, but not as fast as in places such as New Haven and Bridgeport that do not have a court-ordered desegregation plans. Today, nearly all of the publicly-funded, privately-managed charter schools in Connecticut are racially segregated, lacking the rules and standards for racial diversity used as benchmarks for magnet schools.

If the Robinson case can dismantle the regional magnet school lottery and the reduced isolation definition in Hartford and New Haven, then that paves the way for more “school choice” without racial equity and other safeguards (UCLA Civil Rights Project, 2010). Down the road, that could mean more charter schools in Hartford. In other words, if the State doesn’t have to keep making racially diverse magnet schools in Hartford because of the Sheff remedies, then it would be free to open more racially-segregated, privately-managed charter schools.

Labor rules and public funds are in the background, but important issues too. Magnet schools are public schools that also have unionized teachers. Charter schools typically do not have unionized staff and teachers. Pacific Legal loves charter schools and is not too fond of unionized employees. For example, PLF submitted a supporting brief to undermine unions and working people in the Janus case. Without teachers unions and the same stringent rules for spending public funds as magnet and public schools, there is money to be made in segregated, privately-managed charter schools in a way that is not possible in public schools.

And, while it could just be a coincidence, it’s important to note that one of the plaintiffs in the Robinson case was a founding member of the Board of Directors for a charter school in Hartford that attempted to obtain state approval last year. The State of Connecticut rejected the application, for now (See the Community First Charter School Application to CT SDE, 2017).

This Robinson case is not happening in isolation. There is a broader campaign to dismantle school desegregation in Connecticut that has been brewing for a number of years. To be sure, this campaign exploits frustration by parents with poor implementation of school desegregation by the State of Connecticut and counter-productive education reforms over the last decade. Next, we will take a look at this campaign.

Views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Trinity College.

How does the State of CT define a racially diverse school for the purpose of school desegregation? And what’s the confusion?

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Source: Sheff memo to intervene in Robinson v. Wentzell case, 2018.


Yesterday, I provided some background on the Sheff v. O’Neill case and an introduction to how the race-blind regional school choice lottery works in the Hartford, CT region. Today, I’ll focus in on the definition that the Connecticut Court uses to determine whether a school has met the status of a “reduced isolation setting” in the Shelf v. O’Neill case. Put another way, I’ll explain how the Court judges whether a school is considered numerically desegregated.

So how does the State decide when a school is racially diverse school that has reduced racial isolation for Black and Latina/o students?

Over the years, the Sheff plaintiffs, Court, and State of Connecticut have agreed to  define a “reduced isolation” setting to judge whether the latter is fulfilling the Court-ordered settlement of the case. This definition is used to decide whether any magnet, charter, or technical school can be considered a reduced isolation setting. It is not a firm requirement or mandate, but a benchmark to identify schools as a “reduced isolation” setting after the separate race-neutral lottery and enrollment of students.

The most recent Sheff case settlement definition of a reduced isolation setting is a school that has no more than 75% Black and Latina/o students. For the math nerds, this means a school that is within one standard deviation of the region’s racial composition. Here’s what the 2013 settlement states:

A Voluntary Interdistrict Program, as identified herein, shall be deemed to provide a reduced-isolation setting if its enrollment is such that the percentage of enrolled students who identify themselves as any part Black/African American, or any part Hispanic, does not exceed 75% of the school’s total enrollment. (Sheff et al, 2013, p. 5)

Language matters here. As you can see, this is a definition of how schools are “deemed” to provide a reduced isolation setting. It’s not a firm goal, requirement, or limit on Black and Latina/o students at any particular school.

What happens if a magnet school is deemed to be considered “reduced isolation” setting? These schools can continue to receive magnet operating grants from the State of Connecticut. They also provide evidence to the Court and plaintiffs that the State is fulfilling its agreement to reduce racial isolation of Hartford area students.

What happens if a magnet school is deemed to not be a “reduced isolation” school?

A variety of things can happen.

A district can ask for a waiver from the State saying that the magnet school got close to the definition of reduce isolation and should be counted towards the State’s efforts to reduce racial isolation. A school would then have to submit an “Enrollment Management Plan” to the State showing efforts to attract a racially diverse group of students. (There’s a bit more to, but that’s the gist.)

Also, the State could eventually withhold magnet school grants from a District like Hartford or CREC if they are not even showing good faith efforts to attract a diverse group of students to a particular school. In this case, a magnet school could simply return to being a traditional public school for the Hartford district.   For example, this scenario happened in the case of the Journalism and Media Academy and the Breakthrough 2 School that were magnets and then became traditional public schools again. A district could even operate a non-magnet school as a regional school if it chose to do that, but it wouldn’t get additional State magnet funding.

So what’s the confusion?

The recent Robinson v. Wentzell lawsuit in federal court argues that the reduced isolation setting is a “racial quota.” In addition to the fact that the term “racial quota” is often used as racial “dog-whistle” to undermine civil rights, they are wrong.

The reduced isolation setting is not a requirement, it’s not a limit, and it’s not a quota. Sheff, the State, or Districts aren’t denying students into magnet schools on the basis of their individual or group racial identity.

So what is actually happening?

The State has capped student enrollment at magnet students to that of previous years. So if a hypothetical magnet school enrolled 600 students last year, the State will only provide magnet funds for that amount of students. So after the race-neutral lottery runs, students get their placements and they may accept or not. A few kids might get an placement offer from the wait list or not. Then this hypothetical magnet school might end up with 575 students that accept their placements. At that point, the magnet school might also be considered a “reduced isolation” setting with the students currently enrolled.

So the State and Districts decide that the final enrollment will be 575 students at this magnet school. This way, the State doesn’t have to spend more on magnet funding and the magnet school already meets the definition of reduced-isolation setting.

The Robinson case claims that this is a quota, but in reality, it’s an enrollment cap on students of ALL races from attending magnet school seats. However, the enrollment cap is not discriminatory because it’s simply maintaining an enrollment cap from any students attending regardless of race. Similarly, charter schools have enrollment limits set by the legislature for students of all races. But, as Wendy Lecker writes, a recent federal court judge reaffirmed that there is no federal right to education or an unlimited charter or magnet school expansion in Connecticut.

In closing, the Sheff lottery is a race-neutral way to enroll a diverse group of students in magnet schools and Open Choice. There is a reduced-isolation definition to deem a school racially diverse, but not firm limits or quotas on students by race. And there is a State-imposed cap on any additional students attending magnet schools, regardless of race. If this is so clear, then why is there a lawsuit arguing that the Sheff civil rights remedies are racially discriminatory? Next I’ll talk about the Robinson case trying to undermine the Sheff remedies to school segregation and what is behind the campaign to crush school desegregation in Connecticut.

Post any questions in the comments.

Views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Trinity College.