Connecticut · School Talk

Seats Sit Empty While Black and Brown Students Are Turned Away

Children in the state of Connecticut are being denied access to schools that have plenty of room for them because of the color of their skin. Yup, that’s right. Available seats in the magnet schools of Hartford—and beyond— sit empty despite long waitlists for admission.

And this denial of opportunity is happening in the name of integration.

“Those seats just stay empty, no matter what,” Robinson said. “Even if I want Jarod to have a seat, he can’t get in unless kids from the suburbs come in too. It’s like Connecticut says, ‘You have to have a white kid in a classroom for a black kid to be educated.’”

LaShawn Robinson and her son, Jarod.

Year after year, LaShawn Robinson entered her son Jarod’s name into the lottery for one of Hartford’s magnet schools and year after year, he was been denied admission even though the the school had room for him. Now Ms. Robinson and six other plaintiffs are taking their case to federal court.

After a 1996 supreme court ruling in Sheff v. O’Neill that held that racial segregation in Hartford schools violated the state constitution, lawmakers responded by passing a racial quota law. The law required Connecticut school boards to reduce racial, ethnic, and economic isolation by various methods—including creating magnet schools. To ensure these schools remained diverse, the law required magnet schools’ enrollment to be at least 25% white or Asian. In other words, magnet schools cannot have more than 75% Black or Hispanic students.

That’s right. A law was passed that requires at least 25% of the student body in Connecticut magnet schools to be white or Asian. But as it turns out, white and Asian families are not choosing to send their children to Hartford’s magnet schools, largely because they already have high quality schools in their neighborhoods. This dearth of white and Asian applicants leaves huge numbers of seats vacant, despite tremendous demand from from black and brown families. And consider this: a family with children of different races can gain admission for the white (or Asian) child but not the black or Latino one. Two children, one family, and the siblings can’t attend school together because they don’t both have the “right” skin color.

The Pacific legal defense foundation has taken up the case and is suing on behalf of LaShawn Robinson and six other Hartford families who believe that their children’s constitutional rights are being denied. The lawyers working on the case are also adamant that the law is unconstitutional.

The Connecticut Parents’ Union is raising its voice as well with a call for “No Empty Seats” and will be part of a press conference at 9 am Wednesday at the State Department of Education; the board is set to to hold its regularly scheduled meeting at 9:30.


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