A judge has temporarily halted the state’s plan to allow more minority students into Hartford-area magnet schools. The decision came after a three-day court hearing in the ongoing Sheff vs. O’Neill case.
The court heard from four witnesses and examined over a dozen exhibits before concluding that the integration standard at area magnet schools should remain the same.
Currently, a school is considered integrated if no more than 75 percent of the students are black or Latino. The state wanted to raise that to 80 percent for some schools, but Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger sided with the plaintiffs on Friday, who had argued this would deepen school segregation.
“Our Supreme Court noted that if children of different races and economic and social groups have no opportunity to know each other and live together in school, they cannot be expected to gain the understanding and mutual respect necessary for the cohesion of society," Berger said. "It also noted the elimination of racial isolation in schools promotes the attainment of equal educational opportunity, and is beneficial to all students, both black and white.”
The state had argued that magnet school seats remain empty and many Hartford students aren’t able to get in because it would increase the number of minority students. However, the plaintiffs pointed out that other barriers, such as state-imposed funding caps, are responsible for the empty seats.
The capacity of the magnet schools has been restricted because the State Department of Education only provides money for a certain number of students per school, rather than provide enough money to fill all empty seats. For example, Classical Magnet School in Hartford has capacity to hold 707 students, but the state only pays for 663 students.
The judge’s decision is temporary, as the parties still need to agree to a long-term stipulation. The last stipulation agreement happened in 2013 and expires at the end of June. These agreements lay-out the region's desegregation plans and include goals that the schools need to meet, and timelines for meeting them. Judge Berger's expected to make an additional ruling sometime in the near future.