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Sheff v. O'Neill at 20: Why Integrate Only Hartford?

By James E Ryan on June 8, 2016 4:32 PM
This article originally appeared in "Education Week."

We are quickly approaching the 20th anniversary of Sheff v. O'Neill, a watershed desegregation case from Connecticut decided in July 1996.  In that case, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the State is obligated by the Connecticut Constitution to reduce school segregation in the Hartford metropolitan region.  Importantly, the Court ruled that the state legislature had an affirmative constitutional duty to remedy segregation, whether de facto or de jure.  It also ruled that the current school districting scheme, which makes school boundaries coterminous with city and town boundaries, was unconstitutional with respect to the plaintiffs, all of whom were from the Hartford area.

The decision went far beyond what the United States Supreme Court has ever required of states.  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that only intentional, de jure segregation violates the U.S. Constitution, and it has defined intent narrowly.  It is not enough for plaintiffs to show, for example, that states or school districts knew that their policies or practices would cause segregation.  Plaintiffs have to show that states or school districts enacted those policies or practices precisely because they wanted to segregate schools--which is a difficult showing to make in the absence of some sort of admission from school officials.  In Connecticut, by contrast, the simple existence of segregation imposes a duty on the state legislature to address it and reduce it...

Read more at Education Week.