VOLUNTARY DESEGREGATION BILL PASSES IN CONNECTICUT

* In the middle of the Sheff v. O'Neil school-desegregation trial early this year, Gov. Lowell Weicker (Ind.) of Connecticut devoted his State of the State address to the issue of educational equity.

He introduced legislation calling for full integration of urban and suburban school districts by the year 2000 and warned the legislature: ``If we fail to act, the courts, sooner or later, will do that which by election was entrusted to us.''

This summer the General Assembly passed a voluntary desegregation bill that will divide the state into 11 regions and require localities to discuss plans to make their schools reflect the diversity of the area. The new law goes into effect in January.

John Brittain, lead lawyer for the Sheff plaintiffs, says the governor's speech and the ``watered-down legislation'' that resulted hurt the state's case. But Attorney General Richard Blumenthal says the legislation is a ``sign that the political branches of government are capable and willing of coming forward without the courts intervening.''

Since the law does not require communities to participate in a desegregation plan, however, those supporting the plaintiffs in the Sheff case say court involvement will still be required.

``The public act says you have to plan, but it doesn't say you have to act,'' says Elizabeth Horton Sheff, a Hartford City Council member and mother of Milo Sheff, one of the plaintiff students. ``I'm a politician, and I think somebody has to take it out of the politicians' hands. Most politicians govern to get elected.''

Donald Carso, principal of Thomas J. McDonough School in Hartford, says the legislation alone does not provide a solution. But it is a beginning.

``The legislative process has its purpose,'' Mr. Carso says. ``It gets people talking and feeling involved. If they're spinning their wheels, at least their wheels are moving. When an outside source provides traction to those wheels, then they will start to move forward.''

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