Judge says state is meeting school integration targets

A Superior Court judge has rejected a claim that the state failed to meet its quotas under a school desegregation court order in the long-running Sheff vs. O’Neill case.

Plaintiffs argued that the state fell short of its goals to enroll sufficient numbers of Hartford schoolchildren in racially integrated schools, but Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall K. Berger Jr. disagreed.

At issue was a technicality involving Hartford’s Naylor School, where 20 percent of the students are white. State officials contended the school should count toward the goals in a stipulated agreement signed two years ago with the Sheff plaintiffs. The plaintiffs said Naylor should not count.

Counting Naylor, the state met a goal calling for 27 percent of Hartford’s 21,730  minority children to be enrolled in integrated magnet schools, charter schools, regional technical and agricultural schools or suburban schools. Without Naylor, the number would have fallen short.

Berger ruled that Naylor’s 531 minority students qualify for the Sheff goals under a program known as “reverse choice,” which allows the school to enroll children from the suburbs. The judge ruled that the program is “an appropriate voluntary interdistrict program” and is intended to be part of the Open Choice program under which hundreds of Hartford children enroll in suburban schools.

“Obviously we’re disappointed” in the ruling, said Wesley Horton, a lawyer for the Sheff plaintiffs.

Under terms of the Sheff settlement, the state must significantly increase the number of Hartford children in integrated schools by the 2012-2012 school year.

“We just received word” of the latest court ruling, said Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the State Department of Education. “It’s very good news, and we look forward to pushing forward.”