Putting an end to a new era of school segregation
It’s a shameful and heartbreaking mental image from the past: minority children being turned away at the schoolhouse door, denied an opportunity for a quality education for no other reason than the color of their skin.
Yet that painful image of injustice is not as far in the past as you might think. In fact, it’s happening today in Hartford, Connecticut, where African-American and Hispanic children are told they cannot attend the city’s world-class magnet schools, even when there is available space.
The reason? A rigid racial quota system, enshrined in state law, governs magnet school enrollment. Fortunately, a group of local parents have banded together to fight this unfair and unconstitutional policy in federal court.
First, the background: Magnet schools are public schools with a specialized curricular focus, such as arts education or science education, open to all students in the district regardless of where they live. The Hartford Public School District boasts several dozen magnet schools, serving some 19,000 students. Because of high demand from families seeking the best educational opportunities for their children, applicants are selected through a lottery system.
According to Connecticut law, magnet schools must reserve 25 percent of admissions to white or Asian students, while African-American and Hispanic enrollment is capped at 75 percent. This racial quota system, arising from the 1996 desegregation case Sheff v. O’Neill, was ostensibly intended to promote integration and increase diversity in the schools.
But the unfortunate effect is that, where there are too few white or Asian applicants, school administrators turn away African-American and Hispanic students since their enrollment would disrupt the court-ordered balance of races in the school. In many cases, desks sit empty in classrooms if they can’t be filled with students of the “right” skin color.