Court Tells Hartford to Desegregate Schools

In Connecticut, state officials are scrambling for solutions after the State Supreme Court ruled that Hartford must desegregate its public schools to comply with the state Constitution.

The decision, handed down Tuesday, comes at a time when federal courts have overturned school integration plans in other states.

But the case "sets an agenda for plaintiffs who wish to achieve equity in other states," says Charles Willie, an education professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. "The state is the ultimate educational authority," he says. "No state should require a student to go to an inadequate school."

The NAACP, which led the case, argued that segregation, even if it is unintentional, violates Connecticut's law. Since the decision is based on a state constitutional issue, it cannot be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Like New Jersey and Hawaii, Connecticut's Constitution explicitly bars segregation.

"We do not wish to be misunderstood about the urgency of finding an appropriate remedy for the plight of Hartford's schoolchildren," Chief Justice Ellen Peters wrote in the majority decision.

Connecticut has no county governments, so most school districts follow the border of towns and cities. The result is that Hartford public schools have a 94 percent minority population, while schools in neighboring suburbs have less than a 10 percent minority population.

The state will comply with the decision, says Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, but he adds, "There will be many who are disappointed by this decision."

It is now up to the state legislature and Gov. John Rowland to come up with a remedy. The legislature is likely to look at, for example, setting up magnet schools that attract students from other districts, or creating larger regional school districts that include urban and suburban areas.

"Some cities [in the state] are already integrating their schools ... and it is not clear what school districts this ruling will affect," says Webster Brooks, board administrator for the Hartford Public Schools.

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