Attorney General Tong, Governor Lamont Announce Breakthrough Sheff v. O'Neill Settlement
Settlement Creates More Opportunities for More Students to Attend Diverse Schools, Greatly Expands Opportunities for Hartford Students
Attorney General William Tong and Governor Ned Lamont today announced a breakthrough settlement in the Sheff v. O'Neill case, placing the state on a pathway to end 30 years of litigation over how best to reduce racial isolation of Hartford students. The landmark settlement will bring more opportunities to Connecticut students to attend diverse schools, and greatly expands opportunities for Hartford students.
The settlement agreement, signed by all parties and approved today by Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger, will remain in effect through June 30, 2022. Once the agreed-upon terms are shown to produce a sustainable availability of desegregated education opportunities for all Hartford families who want them, the settlement provides a pathway to permanently end judicial oversight under the Sheff case.
"This settlement places Connecticut on a pathway to end 30 years of litigation. Most importantly, it greatly expands opportunities for Hartford students to attend excellent schools in diverse settings," said Attorney General Tong. "This significant breakthrough is the result of tireless effort on behalf of all parties, united by a strong, shared desire to place the best interest of students first. I want to thank the attorneys in my office—Joe Rubin, Erik Lohr, Henry Salton, Ralph Urban, and Darren Cunningham—who worked tirelessly, collaboratively and creatively to craft this agreement."
“Every child in our great state is entitled to and should be provided with a quality education—regardless of race or socioeconomic circumstances,” said Governor Ned Lamont. “Today’s settlement provides that opportunity for more Hartford students, building on the significant progress made since the Supreme Court’s decision in this case. Today’s agreement will make school choice programs for families in the Hartford region more accessible and transparent as we continue our work to improve quality and equity for students in all schools. Education advocates, parents, and students have fought persistently to improve these programs and help students access educational opportunities that would have otherwise never been available to them. Because of the hard work of those advocates, dedicated professionals in the State Department of Education, and attorneys in my office and the Office of the Attorney General, students will have a greater chance to succeed.”
“The state Department of Education stands committed to supporting the settlement which promotes learning in a more diverse setting. Thank you to the Attorney General and the Assistant AG’s, the Governor, OPM, my CSDE team and all of the dedicated staff whose hard work and dedication over the years got us to this point. We are now closer to our shared goal of reaching a long-term sustainable solution that ensures improved outcomes and equity for every one of our kids. Let’s remember this case started with the recognition of the need to provide diverse learning environments for students who were being educated in a segregated environment. While we should acknowledge that there is a broader conversation needed in Connecticut about the existence of racially segregated communities, today, our focus is educational policy. We are eager to do our part to shift the conversation from litigation to education,” said Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona.
Key terms of the agreement include:
- Substantially increases the number of seats available to Hartford students in more diverse educational settings;
- Provides a path towards ensuring all Hartford students will have the opportunity to attend school in more diverse educational settings if their parents desire;
- Continues to support Hartford in providing the best quality education in its neighborhood schools;
- Commits to developing a long-term plan with the input of experienced educators and other key stakeholders to ensure a sustainable and equitable Hartford-area voluntary choice school program for the future;
- Provides additional support to help Sheff magnet schools attract more diverse applicant pools;
- Makes the Regional School Choice application process more user-friendly and transparent so that families from all backgrounds can more easily understand the opportunities available to them, make informed choices about those opportunities, and more easily complete the student lottery application;
- Changes the Regional School Choice student assignment protocols going forward so that student lottery selection is based solely on socioeconomic status, thereby providing diverse school populations while protecting present and planned successful voluntary school desegregation progress from legal challenges, without materially changing desegregation goals.
Further detail is available upon request. A copy of the signed settlement.
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that the racial and ethnic isolation of Hartford school children violated the state's constitutional obligation to provide a substantially equal educational opportunity and access to an unsegregated education environment. The court directed the legislature and executive branch to implement remedial measures. Since then, the parties in the case have entered into a series of agreements, with a further court order issued in 2017. Since 1996, the legislature and executive branch have created an extensive interdistrict magnet school system, as well as additional voluntary school desegregation measures that have resulted in a major reduction in the racial isolation of Hartford students. Since 2007, the number of minority Hartford students attending school in integrated settings has increased from 11 percent to between 43.9 and 49 percent over the last six years.
The current settlement does not require legislative approval. A final settlement pathway, to be negotiated in 2022, is expected to require legislative approval.