Top-10 Courant Stories Of 2017 No. 10: Hartford Students Left Behind As Sheff Integration Efforts Falter

More than 20 years after the state Supreme Court declared that Hartford’s segregated schools violated the constitutional rights of children, most city students still sit in under-resourced, illegally segregated classrooms, The Courant reported in its series: Hartford Schools: More Separate, Still Unequal.

The landmark 1996 Sheff v. O’Neill desegregation ruling led to billions in spending to create a vast network of interdistrict magnet schools that serve thousands of city children. But thousands more are left on wait lists each year, with lawyers for the state and the Sheff plaintiffs each blaming the other side for the failure to accommodate more Hartford kids. The plaintiffs say the state needs to lift caps on the number of magnet seats it will pay for. The state says changing suburban demographics have made it difficult for some schools to attract enough white and Asian students to meet racial quotas mandated by Sheff, forcing schools to limit enrollment.

As The Courant revealed, that has compelled some schools to check the race and ethnicity of students on wait lists, filling open seats if the next students on the list are white or Asian, but leaving the seats empty if the students are black or Latino.

In The Courant's ranking of the top-10 stories of the year, the state of school desegregation in Hartford ranked No. 10.

Following years of progress, the number of Hartford minority students counted as attending integrated schools has begun to decline, with the figure dropping by more than 800 this year as once-integrated schools failed to meet the Sheff standard. And now, with negotiations at a standstill, the Sheff case appears headed back to court.

Last June, for the first time since the state and the Sheff plaintiffs signed a desegregation plan in 2003, talks collapsed, with a judge eventually stepping in to enforce a one-year extension of the expired agreement. The Sheff plaintiffs say the state is in breach of that agreement, and have asked the judge to schedule a new round of hearings in the case, nearly three decades after the suit was first filed.

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