On the coming 26th of April, Sheff Movement leaders and supporters will join to reflect on 25 years of successful advocacy and to look forward to their future efforts of scholastic integration. Since their triumph in the landmark case, Sheff v. O’Neill, the Sheff community has worked tirelessly in an effort to promote a mission of “Quality Integrated Education for All Children.” This coming anniversary will not only serve as a celebration of the Movement’s success thus far, but as a reminder and promoter of future goals for the organization. This past Saturday, February 8th, Sheff movement leaders met with representatives from Hartford Public Schools, the Capitol Regional Education Council, and several allied groups as they do monthly, to discuss their upcoming education and advocacy agenda. Two major topics of discussion: the newly proposed Parent Organizing Plan and the proposed agenda for the current Connecticut Legislative session.
With the planning of the Movement’s 25-year Anniversary celebration underway, the day’s agenda focused largely on the goals for the event. One objective taking primary importance was the promotion of the Parent Organizing Plan. The first intention of the plan was to create the initial awareness among Hartford parents surrounding the level of education their children were receiving. It expanded upon this by then educating parents on the racial disparity within Connecticut school districts, most notably, the class and racial imbalance between city and suburb school zones, and the fundamental role this plays in a child’s educational opportunities. With this information in mind, parents would be better equipped to draw the connection between the goals of the Sheff Movement and the realization of equal educational opportunities for their children. As founder and co-chair (as well as mother of the historic case’s lead plaintiff Milo) Elizabeth Horton Sheff describes it, “People need to realize the connection between public policy advocacy and their children receiving a quality education.” Hopefully their outreach efforts will also help people realize, as we now do role the Sheff Movement plays in making this quality education a reality.
In addition to the Sheff Movement’s reflective and educational missions, policy advocacy remains an integral part of the Sheff Movement’s operations. With the Connecticut General Assembly’s 2014 Regular Session now in its first week, Sheff leaders are ready to make their voices heard by Connecticut policymakers. “We’re looking to organize for this legislative session,” said Mrs. Sheff. The Movement’s organization was evidenced by their Legislative and Advocacy Agenda, which clearly outlined nine major points on which the Movement will seek to affect change towards equal access to education in the state legislature. A particular focus of Sheff leaders during this legislative session is emphasizing high degrees of access and integration in magnet schools, with the agenda specifically including the creation of “dual language immersion magnet schools in the Sheff region” because, according to the Movement’s printed agenda, “studies indicate the dual-immersion model is strongly associated with closing the achievement gap between native and non-native English speakers.” Other magnet school policy interests of the Sheff Movement include the continuation of state funding for free Pre-K magnet school tuition, and the development of the interdistrict magnet schools outside of the Hartford Area. Another key point of emphasis is the opening of more Open Choice seats in suburban districts. Sheff leader Phil Tegeler said that “the Commissioner [of Education] should be given authority to require districts to open seats,” although acknowledging it to be an uphill battle. This is the sixth consecutive year that Sheff has asked this of the legislature, and they show no intention of easing off of this pressure.
John Humphries, the Movement’s Outreach Coordinator who recently met with several state legislators, raised an alarming statistic during the meeting. Representative Doug McCrory told Mr. Humphries that over 100 of 169 school districts in Connecticut currently employ no teachers of color. While not all attendees were ready to accept this shocking statistic without further research, and while it was noted that this statistic did not include minority individuals in school administrations and other leadership positions, it was agreed upon that, given the Movement’s position of the forefront of educational integration, the Movement would look further into this statistic and work towards increased diversity among educators.
The lesson to be gained from the Sheff Movement’s passionate, thorough, and organized advocacy was summed up well by Janée Woods-Weber, a representative from Everyday Democracy who attended the meeting: “We want [people] to not only reflect of the past 25 years, but look forward to the next 25. People need to understand that Sheff [v. O’Neill] was not a static moment in time.” Given the outstanding level of organization, work ethic, and persistence that were evident among the ranks of the Sheff Movement, we are confident that the next 25 years of Sheff will be as remarkable as the last 25 have been.
Madison Starr is a student at Trinity College (Class of 2016) studying French and American Studies
Evan Turiano is a student at Trinity College (Class of 2016) studying American Studies