Robinson v. Wentzell
All LaShawn Robinson wanted to do was get her son Jarod out of the neighborhood public school, where bullies had drained his enthusiasm for learning. So year after year, LaShawn entered Jarod in the lottery for a coveted seat in one of Hartford, Connecticut’s world-class magnet schools. And year after year, he was denied admission, even when the school had room for him.
LaShawn was stunned when she learned the reason—her son is Black.
“I wouldn’t have even imagined there would be a lottery for education, period. Education should not be a gamble,” she says, adding that at 19, Jarod is now seeking a high school diploma through adult ed.
Jarod fell victim to a race-based quota enacted following a 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court decision. In Sheff v. O’Neill, the Court held that racial segregation in Hartford schools violated the state constitution.
In response, the state passed a law that required Connecticut school boards to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation by various methods—including creating magnet schools. To ensure these schools remained diverse, the law required magnet schools’ enrollment to be at least 25% white or Asian. In other words, magnet schools cannot have more than 75% Black or Hispanic students.
When too few white or Asian students apply for Hartford magnet schools, Black and Hispanic students are denied admission—only because letting them in would upset a school’s 25/75 ratio. When this happens, available seats remain empty, and these schools run at less-than-full capacity.
In short, rather than allow Black and other minority children to fill available seats in Hartford’s magnet schools, the state’s arbitrary and unconstitutional racial quotas require these schools to close their doors to minority students. Hartford’s Black and Hispanic students don’t have the same opportunity to attend magnet schools because of their race.
This race-based student quota violates the Equal Protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment and violates the civil rights of Hartford’s Black and Hispanic students.
While it’s too late for Jarod, LaShawn is fighting for her four other children who are currently subject to the same unfair lottery system and unconstitutional enrollment quota. Representing LaShawn and six other Hartford families, PLF is suing to restore the constitutional rights of these students to have the same educational opportunities as all children in Connecticut.