A state audit of Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut found the district had been illegally recruiting white students to fulfill state-imposed race quotas.
The district, which is 81 percent black and Hispanic, has been accused of allowing white students to skip ahead of black students in the highly competitive Hartford magnet school lottery. According to legal briefs, the district rigged the lottery due to pressure from lawmakers for Hartford Public Schools to “integrate” its mostly minority school population.
In 1989, a Connecticut state court ruling called Sheff v. O’Neill mandated that public-school officials correct educational “inequities” determined by race. In response to this order, the state passed a law requiring that every public magnet school—schools designed to facilitate experimental curricula—admit students partially according to race, including a minimum 25 percent white population per magnet school. The goals were racial “integration” and “diversity.”
Now the myriad magnet school programs in Hartford, designed specifically to allow randomly selected students from poor neighborhoods to get a good education, have been going out of their way to attract white students. Some of these magnet school administrators have resorted to illegal measures to bring white students into their schools, so they could meet the state’s minimum 25 percent white quota.
The independent audit of Hartford Public Schools concluded that 15 white students were enrolled in a magnet school from outside the Hartford region, usually from a predominately white suburb. These students were enrolled illegally because of pressure on school administrators to attract white students to meet the state diversity quota.
The problem gets worse. Even with these illegal recruiting practices (after all, admission to Hartford magnet schools is ostensibly determined by lottery), these magnet schools were still not attracting enough white children to fulfill the state-mandated quota. After all, why would a white parent send his or her kid far away from home, into an economically depressed city, when a higher-quality public or private school typically exists nearby?
So these magnet schools are having to deliberately hold spots for white students who never come. In a district where more than 87 percent of Hartford’s mostly-minority population applies to a magnet school, local black and Hispanic families are literally staring at empty chairs where their sons or daughters could be sitting, had a racial quota not reserved those spots for white children.
Members of the Hartford black community are taking action against the state, claiming unfair treatment and discrimination. Gwen Samuel, an African-American parent and founder of the Connecticut Parents Union, portrayed the withheld spots at the magnet schools, which remain empty due to forced compliance with the 75/25 ratio, as an insult to her community.
“You can’t punish children because other parents don’t want to send theirs [to the magnet school],” she said in an interview. She mentioned that the state’s “compelling interest” to create a diverse student body “doesn’t trump the Constitution,” which mandates equal treatment by the law.
Instead, according to Samuel, black students from her Hartford community are being punished on the basis of their race alone, “perpetuating fear and hate” between the white and non-white communities in Hartford. When white students are allowed to illegally circumvent the magnet school lottery while black kids are denied entry due to an arbitrary race ratio, many in Samuel’s community conclude their children’s educations are considered to be worth less than that of the children of other races.
The Connecticut Parents Union is fighting to change this racial quota. They have filed a lawsuit against the state, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, alleging that the race-based quotas in Connecticut are unconstitutional and hurt black and Hispanic students.
The case is Robinson v. Wentzell, and will move to trial within the next year.