Robinson v. Wentzell; Connecticut Parents Union v. Wentzell

Race-based quotas in Connecticut schools are unconstitutional and hurt Black and Hispanic students

Cases > Equality Under the Law > Robinson v. Wentzell; Connecticut Parents Union v. Wentzell
Case Status: Active: Federal lawsuits filed February 15, 2018 and February 20, 2019

Connecticut runs a number of world-class magnet schools. However, under a state-mandated racial quota, enrollment must be at least 25 percent White or Asian. This means Black and Hispanic students are turned away if their admission would push minority enrollment above 75 percent—even if seats remain empty. A law passed in 2017 expanded these quotas, statewide. Because this race-based quota violates the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee, the state now faces two federal lawsuits. One lawsuit filed in 2018 by seven families aims to end unconstitutional magnet school quotas in Hartford. Another lawsuit, filed in February 2019 by the Connecticut Parents Union, aims to end this discriminatory practice throughout the state.


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. Thus, year after year, LaShawn entered Jarod in the lottery for a coveted seat in one of Hartford, Connecticut’s world-class magnet schools. 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 the magnet schools. To ensure these schools remained diverse, the law required interdistrict magnet schools’ enrollment to be at least 25 percent White or Asian. In other words, magnet schools cannot have more than 75 percent 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.

The quota originally applied only to the Hartford area, but a law, passed in 2017, expanded the practice statewide. Schools failing to meet the quotas face funding cuts, or even closure.

This race-based student quota violates the Equal Protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment, and it violates the civil rights of Hartford’s Black and Hispanic students.

Representing LaShawn and six other Hartford families free of charge, PLF filed a federal lawsuit in February 2018 to restore the students’ constitutional rights.

Then, on February 20, 2019, the Connecticut Parents Union followed with a separate federal lawsuit to end the discriminatory practice that now applies throughout the state. A win in both cases will ensure all children in Connecticut have access to the same educational opportunities offered by the state’s interdistrict magnet schools.

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What’s at stake?

  • Connecticut denies Black and Hispanic children the same educational opportunities available to their White and Asian peers. Eligible Black and Hispanic students deserve access to the state’s world-class magnet schools when seats would otherwise remain empty.
  • In order to meet state-mandated quotas at Hartford, Connecticut’s interdistrict magnet schools, the city and state have to rig the student lottery. Denying a fair magnet school lottery also violates the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

Case Timeline

Combined Response to Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

July 13, 2018 Download

Robinson - Complaint

February 21, 2018 Download

Connecticut Parents Union - Complaint

February 20, 2019 Download

Case Attorneys

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