On January 10, Judge Marshall Berger of the Hartford Superior Court approved a major settlement agreement reached by the parties in the historic Sheff v. O’Neill case. The case had originally been filed to challenge both funding inequities and racial segregation in the Hartford schools. In 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld plaintiffs’ claims that the extreme racial segregation between the predominately Black, Latinx, and low-income schools in Hartford and the overwhelmingly white high- or middle-income schools in the surrounding suburbs violated the Connecticut State Constitution.
Since the early 2000s, a series of agreements between the plaintiffs and the State have established nearly 40 inter-district magnet schools and an Open Choice program that allows Hartford students to transfer to suburban schools. Today, over 44% of Hartford students attend a magnet or Open Choice school, compared to 11% of Hartford students who attended integrated schools 30 years ago. The new agreement seeks to place 47.5% of Hartford students in integrated schools.
The settlement adds up to 1,052 new magnet school seats in suburban schools. Nearly 600 of these seats are reserved for Hartford students. Additionally, Connecticut is furnishing $1.1 million for magnet schools to develop new themes to recruit more diverse student bodies, $800,000 to provide academic and social support for Hartford students participating in the Open Choice program, and an additional $300,000 as incentives for suburbs that agree to accept more Hartford students. To meet federal constitutional requirements, the settlement also changes the eligibility criteria for the Open Choice program from race to socioeconomic factors.
The new agreement will last until June 2022. Before it expires, the plaintiffs and the State, with the help of an advisory committee of experienced educators, will attempt to develop a long-term plan to take effect in 2022 that will ensure that every Hartford student has the option of attending a quality, integrated school. If such a plan is agreed to by the parties, the Court has indicated that it will terminate jurisdiction of the long-pending case at that time.