February 15, 2018

Hartford magnet schools’ race-based student quotas challenged

Hartford, Connecticut; February 15, 2018: Eight Hartford parents filed a federal lawsuit today challenging the Connecticut State Department of Education’s race-based enrollment quotas and lottery for the city’s magnet schools. The parents are represented free of charge by Pacific Legal Foundation, which defends individual liberty nationwide.

Magnet schools are public schools that offer special instruction and opportunities to attract a more diverse student body. In Hartford, magnet schools far outpace traditional public schools in terms of student achievement.

By law, Hartford’s magnet schools must reserve 25 percent of admissions for white or Asian students, and limit African-American or Hispanic enrollment to 75 percent. While the intent is to ensure racial diversity, the reality is hundreds of classroom seats sit empty each year. Magnet schools not meeting the white or Asian quotas cannot fill those seats with students of other races, and worthy kids are denied the opportunity for an exceptional education for no reason other than skin color.

One parent challenging the law is LaShawn Robinson. Hartford’s magnet schools denied admission for her son, Jarod, despite having space for him.

“Those seats just stay empty, no matter what,” Robinson said. “Even if I want Jarod to have a seat, he can’t get in unless kids from the suburbs come in too. It’s like Connecticut says, ‘You have to have a white kid in a classroom for a black kid to be educated.’”

Created in response to a 1996 Connecticut Supreme Court ruling that found de facto segregation in Hartford’s schools unconstitutional, the magnet schools were expected to draw suburban white and Asian students to end “racial isolation” in the city’s neighborhood schools. Over twenty years later, Hartford’s failing neighborhood schools remain heavily segregated and the high performing magnet schools are forced to turn away black and Latino students—based only on their race.

“Connecticut’s race-based admissions process violates students’ constitutional rights,” PLF attorney Joshua Thompson explained. “We are fighting for their right to get the best education possible, and their race shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to attend an excellent school.”

Robinson v. Wentzell, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, challenges the racial quotas and lottery as violations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.  More information is available at pacificlegal.org/Hartford.

About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is the nation’s leading public interest legal organization devoted to preserving individual rights and economic freedom. Since 1973, donor-supported PLF has successfully litigated for limited government, private property rights, and free enterprise in the nation’s highest courts.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Collin Callahan at ccallahan@pacificlegal.org.




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