Connecticut is the lone success story among states in the Northeast, bucking a national trend toward more racially segregated schools, a new report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA found.

For those of us who have worked on integrating our state’s educational institutions for years, this report represents a significant triumph.

Put simply, Connecticut has had better results because we have fought harder and won more.

The racial isolation and unequal conditions in our urban schools had become so extreme by the late 1980s that it was clear something had to be done.  The landmark Connecticut school desegregation case Sheff v. O’Neill was the response of a group of courageous families and their lawyers to try to reverse course.

“Connecticut has made real progress since the Sheff decision and developed effectively methods to foster significant integration across school district lines in marked contrast to its major neighboring states,” the Civil Rights Project report states.

UCLA report
Arielle Levin Becker / The CT Mirror

This legal victory started to chart a course for Hartford students to get a high-quality education in integrated public schools. This was to be accomplished through a voluntary two-way integration program of inter-district magnet schools and suburban Open Choice placements that enable Hartford students to study with their suburban counterparts.

This is a winning formula.

The new report finds that magnet schools successfully enroll a more diverse balance of students from different racial groups compared to non-magnet schools. The report also finds that magnet schools attract more balanced student bodies economically.

The pace of change has been frustratingly slow and occasionally fraught with controversy. However, this study shows the continuing benefits of the Sheff decision and its implementation.

Despite this success, almost 55 percent of Hartford schoolchildren are still attending racially and economically segregated schools. And some of these children are attending extremely isolated schools.  The Civil Rights Project report states that “nearly one-eighth of schools in the Hartford school district were apartheid schools (99-100 percent minority schools).”

The latest one-year agreement forged in February provides Hartford students with 1,000 new magnet school seats and 325 new Open Choice seats. This is progress, but we need a stronger, multi-year plan for expanding this successful system to reach more children.  The report from UCLA shows us how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.

Click here or the cover image to read the full report.

Stephen Glassman is the executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, and Phil Tegeler is staff director for the Sheff Movement Coalition.

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