Sheff vs. O’Neill is considered one of the most groundbreaking court decisions concerning civil rights and the education system in Connecticut’s history.
Twenty years ago, when her son, Milo, was a fourth grader at Hartford’s Annie Fisher Elementary School, Elizabeth Horton Sheff spearheaded a milestone journey that took her deep into the socioeconomic and racial issues in Hartford’s public schools.
On April 27, 1989, the concerned mother filed a lawsuit against former Governor William O'Neill, claiming the state’s isolated city and suburban schools paved the way for racially segregated school districts to emerge.
In 1996, the court ruled that this segregation was a clear-cut violation of a child’s equal rights.
Over the next decade, the state complied with the settlement by opening two magnet schools per year. However, Ms. Sheff and her fellow plaintiffs were not satisfied. They demanded more from the state.
Early last year, a new settlement was prepared that requires expanded regional magnet schools and an innovative new program known as Project Choice to provide a valuable integrated education system. Ideally, with this plan, 80 percent of the parents looking to send their children to an integrated school will be accommodated.
“We have a constitutional, as well as a moral obligation to meet that goal and are moving forward with key components of that settlement: magnet schools; open choice programs and inter-district cooperative grant programs” Rell stated in a press release.
On Thursday, there was a press conference at which where parents urged Rell to support two-way integration programs like Program Choice, which enables urban students to attend suburban schools thus bettering the social and academic lives of Connecticut’s youth. They also planned to talk about how to do so while meeting the requirements set up by Sheff.
Rep. Andy Fleischman of West Hartford and Elizabeth Horton Sheff herself were scheduled to speak and topics were to include how the Department of Education can work alongside the Capitol Region Education Council to have an active role in the implementation of these programs.