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The great state of Connecticut is making sure that a certain percentage of kids in Hartford attend a quality, integrated school: In 1989, it was 5 percent. In 1996, when the state supreme court ruled that racial and ethnic segregation in the Hartford area deprived schoolchildren of their fundamental rights to an equal educational opportunity, it was 5 percent. Today, it is still 5 percent. The court has failed to enforce its own order: “To make a difference before another generation of children suffers the consequences of a segregated public school education.” Those consequences include a deep disparity in resources. Can’t anyone around here count? Maybe no one wants to. The plaintiffs in Sheff v. O’Neill are back in court. Some of them have an abiding love for the Connecticut Constitution, which theoretically gives citizens a better deal than the U.S. Constitution in areas such as free speech and access to equal educational opportunity. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t even mention education. The Connecticut Constitution makes education a fundamental right — at least on paper. Connecticut’s first major desegregation lawsuit was filed in 1974. Now we have a few magnet schools. The Metropolitan Learning Center in Bloomfield has more than 240 black and Hispanic students from Hartford on a waiting list. The Breakthrough Charter School in Hartford has a waiting list of 240. The University of Hartford Magnet School has about 1,700 applicants for fewer than 50 openings. Proponents of a free market should note that these are voluntary devices for integration and the demand is high. The demand is so high that many of the students attending the magnet schools are from the suburbs. The plaintiffs have proposed a four-year plan that would give Hartford’s minority students priority in attending the region’s magnet schools. They would raise the integration bar from 5 percent to 30 percent. George Wallace blocked the schoolhouse doors in Alabama with the National Guard. Connecticut’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, and its education commissioner, Theodore Sergi, are blocking the schoolhouse door with bogus arguments. The mantra is that the Legislature, rather than the courts, should act, and that we are moving forward at a reasonable pace. Let’s see, how long does it take to count to infinity? Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, by his comparative silence on the matter, is making former Gov. Lowell Weicker look good. As the Sheff trial progressed in 1993, Weicker said: “The racial and economic isolation in Connecticut’s school system is indisputable.” “How are kids in a town like Canton — where I grew up — ever going to know what the real world is about if they never interact with a minority person at all?” asks Wesley Horton, who brought the first desegregation case in 1974. “You become insular — if you’ve never actually met a minority or never developed a friendship with a minority, you tend to have prejudices. Staying in your own little world, you don’t know what the larger world is about. “To have a group of kids from Hartford come to your suburban school system, or to have a group of suburban kids come to a school in Hartford, heaven forbid that it actually works out,” Horton continued. “Both can see that the other can walk and talk and think and do anything that the other kids can do, if you just give them a chance. There’s no question it works both ways.” Is voluntary integration too much to ask? Let’s give this generation a chance. Andy Thibault is a regular contributor to The Connecticut Law Tribune .

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