We were taken aback by Governor Malloy’s recent comments at a back-to-school event for magnet school teachers and staff, where he reportedly expressed satisfaction with this year’s interim benchmark in Sheff v. O’Neill requiring that 41 percent of Hartford resident children be placed in desegregated school settings (see CT Mirror story here).

The governor’s reported comments imply that he thinks the progress we have made to date is sufficient, and that he does not support any further integration efforts for the 59 percent of Hartford children still attending high poverty, racially isolated schools.

We strongly disagree and urge the governor to rethink his position. 

Not only is school integration a legal mandate under the Connecticut Constitution, but Hartford’s innovative two-way voluntary integration program has given low-income, racially isolated students in Hartford access to some of the best schools in the region, and has become a national model of the benefits and possibilities of school integration in the 21st century.

In the Connecticut Supreme Court’s 1996 decision recognizing the constitutional right of Hartford students to attend desegregated schools, the Court wrote that “every passing day denies these children their constitutional right to a substantially equal educational opportunity.” The Sheff decision was based on the constitutional right to equal educational opportunity. 

Imagine if the governor’s logic were applied to the First Amendment: It would be unthinkable to declare that only 41 percent of Connecticut’s population is entitled to freedom of speech!

The 41 percent goal is an interim benchmark–a way of holding ourselves accountable as we continue building a system that guarantees every child in Hartford access to a quality, integrated education. The Sheff Movement coalition wants to see the 41 percent benchmark at least doubled in five years, with a goal of 100 percent as soon as possible. This goal is clearly achievable, and is a much better expenditure of limited federal, state and local funds than spending the same money to maintain the system of school segregation for 59 percent of Hartford students.  Ultimately, every Hartford student should have the opportunity to attend an integrated school.

It is particularly noteworthy that this issue should be raised at the same time that we are observing the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.  We urge the Governor to take a strong leadership position and help us expand what has become the most successful education reform in Connecticut’s history. Sheff v O’Neill, and the growing two-way interdistrict school integration system the state has built (in cooperation with Hartford, CREC and the suburban school districts) is something that every Connecticut resident should be proud of!

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