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With Sheff Back in Court, A Look At School Integration In Hartford

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In the 1996 landmark Sheff v. O’Neill case, the Connecticut Supreme Court found that minority students in Hartford's public schools “suffered daily” due to racial and economic segregation.

Now, 22 years later -- Connecticut’s magnet school solution to Sheff’s desegregation mandate has been held up as a model for integration around the country. Yet many minority students in Hartford still attend struggling and highly segregated schools.

This hour we take another look at Sheff v. O’Neill as new lawsuits ask -- is Connecticut’s solution to school integration fair to students?

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.


  • Jacqueline Rabe Thomas - Reporter for  the CT Mirror (@jacquelinerabe)
  • LaShawn Robinson - Lead Plaintiff in federal Robinson v. Wentzell case
  • Rachel (Gary) Martin -  Interim Executive Director of the Sheff Movement Coalition


CT Mirror: Do Magnet Schools Need White Students To Be Great? (Jackie Rabe Thomas, October 2018) – “In the Hartford case, a difference in philosophies about whether segregation contributes to poor educational outcomes divides parents, educators and lawmakers. While the bulk of the region’s magnet schools have no problem attracting enough white students from the suburbs to go to school with city kids, some struggle. This means seats in some schools are left open to maintain diversity – a reality that is causing a rift among neighbors about what should happen next.”

Hartford Courant series: More Separate, Still Unequal(March 2017) – “The landmark Sheff v. O'Neill decision found that racial isolation in Hartford schools violated children's constitutional rights to an equal education. But the progress toward ending that isolation over the last two decades has not been shared by all. The Sheff system of voluntary magnet schools has won praise and awards, but has also allowed neighborhood schools in Hartford to sink into even deeper segregation. In this series, The Courant examines in depth the unintended consequences of the Sheff case, and tell the stories of the children left behind.”

This American Life: The Problem We All Live With, Part Two(August 2015) – “Chana Joffe-Walt reports on the Hartford, CT school system, which actively seeks to integrate. The results have been impressive. It used to be that 11% of Hartford students were in integrated schools. Now it’s nearly half. But the trick to the whole thing is: convince white families it’s in their self- interest to go to integrated schools. This requires the kind of marketing skills and savvy we’re more used to seeing at Apple and Pepsi than we are at a public school district.”

Chion Wolf contributed to this show.

Lucy leads Connecticut Public's strategies to deeply connect and build collaborations with community-focused organizations across the state.
Carmen Baskauf was a producer for Connecticut Public Radio's news-talk show Where We Live, hosted by Lucy Nalpathanchil from 2017-2021. She has also contributed to The Colin McEnroe Show.

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