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Second Lawsuit Targets Connecticut Magnet School Racial Quotas

The Connecticut Parents Union filed a lawsuit in federal court on February 20 against the state of Connecticut alleging racial quotas meant to keep the state’s magnet schools diverse are actually preventing minority students from gaining access to those schools.

The lawsuit is the second of its kind making its way through the court system in a challenge to the 1996 Sheff v. O’Neill ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

The Sheff ruling said that even unintentional racial segregation in Hartford’s school system was unconstitutional.

CTPU President Gwen Samuel speaking in support of the Robinson lawsuit.

In response, Connecticut created a series of magnet schools to which minority students could apply for admission.

In order to maintain racial diversity, however, at least 25 percent of the student population must be white. This provision has led to some minority students being denied access to the magnet schools because the school was not able to enroll enough white students.

In February of 2018, seven Hartford families filed a lawsuit alleging the race-based enrollment system violated their Constitutional rights. That case – Robinson v. Wentzell – challenges the so-called “Sheff mandate” which established racial enrollment quotas in the Hartford school district.

Now a second lawsuit – CT Parents Union v. Wentzell — seeks to make the same argument, but at a more state-wide level, challenging Connecticut state law which applied the same Sheff mandate to magnet schools throughout the state.

There should never be a law in the state of Connecticut or anywhere in the country that denies a child access to a safe and quality education because of the color of their skin or income level – period.

President of CT Parents Union Gwen Samuel said in a press release “There should never be a law in the state of Connecticut or anywhere in the country that denies a child access to a safe and quality education because of the color of their skin or income level – period.”

Connecticut magnet schools created in response to the Sheff ruling have consistently outperformed their public-school counterparts in urban areas. Enrollment for students is based on a lottery system.

However, a Hartford Courant article in 2017 reported empty seats were left unfilled in magnet schools due to the racial quota system, even for students at the top of the lottery list.

A follow up investigation and audit by the State of Connecticut found that some magnet schools were bypassing the lottery system for particular students.

“Incredibly, the state incentivizes public schools to deny black and Hispanic children opportunities for an exceptional education for no reason other than skin color,” said Oliver Dunford, the attorney representing CT Parents Union.

Incredibly, the state incentivizes public schools to deny black and Hispanic children opportunities for an exceptional education for no reason other than skin color.

Dunford is part of the Pacific Legal Foundation, a non-profit legal team which is also representing LaShawn Robinson in the Robinson v. Wentzell case.

“This lawsuit aims to protect equal access to education for all children in Connecticut,” Dunford said.

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Hartford parents who say their children were denied entry into Connecticut’s magnet schools because of state-mandated racial quotas won a legal victory on March 15, when a U.S. District Court judge ruled their lawsuit, Robinson v. Wentzell, should proceed in federal court rather than through the state’s court system. “This ...

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Marc E. Fitch

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