May 18, 2018

Government is blocking Black kids from great schools while seats sit empty

By Joshua P. Thompson Senior Attorney

In February, eight Black and Hispanic families filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Connecticut State Department of Education’s race-based enrollment quotas for Hartford’s magnet schools. This policy mandates that 25% of a magnet school’s seats be reserved for white and Asian students. This quota is so inflexible and rigid that schools are required to leave seats empty if enrolling an additional Black or Hispanic child would upset the 25% quota. As a result of this policy, thousands of Black and Hispanic kids are denied admission to Hartford’s world-class magnet schools—seats that are available today—simply because they have the wrong skin color.

This policy stems from a now twenty-plus year effort to integrate Hartford’s public schools. The effort began with a decision from the Connecticut Supreme Court in Sheff v. O’Neill, where the court held that the de facto segregation of Hartford’s public schools violated the Connecticut Constitution. There is no doubt that the Sheff decision was designed to help Hartford’s Black and Hispanic children, and many of the remedies undertaken to comply with Sheff have been successful. After all, the very existence of magnet schools in Hartford is due, in part, to the Sheff decision. But it’s absurd to deny Black and Hispanic children the opportunity to attend good schools—schools that are sometimes only half full—because the vacant seats are reserved for whites only.

Unfortunately, the Sheff plaintiffs disagree. They believe that maintaining racial diversity is worth denying thousands of Black and Hispanic children the opportunity to enroll in one of Hartford’s elite magnet schools. Two weeks ago those same plaintiffs moved to intervene in the lawsuit challenging Hartford’s quota system. Represented by the NAACP and the ACLU, those plaintiffs seek to defend the 25% quota in federal court.

Pacific Legal Foundation represents the eight Black and Hispanic families whose children have been denied admission to Hartford’s elite magnet schools because of their race. The ACLU claims the quota is important for continuing the legacy of desegregation. We disagree: what matters most is better educational opportunities for more Black and Hispanic children, who have been left behind for decades because of Hartford’s race-based magnet school lottery. We are confident that we stand on the side of justice, that we stand on the side of the Constitution, and that we will prevail.

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Robinson v. Wentzell

Hartford, Connecticut, runs a number of world-class magnet schools. Their success has led to the use of a lottery to decide who can attend. But under a state-mandated racial quota, enrollment must be at least 25% white or Asian. This means Black and Hispanic students are turned away if their admission would push minority enrollment above 75%—even if seats remain empty. Representing seven Hartford families, PLF sued to restore the constitutional rights of Black and Hispanic students to have the same educational opportunities as all children in Connecticut.

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