Somewhere along the way, Sheff vs. O'Neill became "the landmark Sheff vs. O'Neill". The landmark desegregation decision, the landmark civil rights case. But we wondered how landmark the case seems to the people meant to benefit from it ... among them, the minority parents of Hartford school children. So we asked some of them.
"I actually don't know too much about it. I've heard the name several times, Sheff vs O'Neill. It's pertaining to a lawsuit, I believe."
"I really don't know nothing about that lawsuit."
'I have no idea about that case."
"I honestly don't know anything about it. I don't know what it is. What is it?"
That last voice was Brenda Rodriguez who grew up in Hartford's public schools. We also heard from Isaac Starling, Melissa Cardozo, and Azza Yarborough. Hardly a scientific survey -- just a sample of watchful-eyed parents dropping off or picking up their kids from local elementary schools. Still, no one knew Sheff.
Isaac Starling was fetching his five year old from West Middle Elementary when we spoke. Though not familiar with Sheff,
in a way, he's already lived its vision. Starling was part of a program that began in the 60s called Project Concern.
"I lived in the ghetto and I went to school in the suburbs. I felt uncomfortable in the fifth grade being the only black child in the classroom, but I've learned a great deal from that."
The program's current incarnation, CREC's Open Choice program, is now central to the implementation of Sheff.
Of course the goal of Sheff was never name recognition -- it was to reduce educational inequality fostered by racial isolation and concentrated poverty. But some parents we spoke with disputed the notion that their children are racially isolated. Brenda Rodriguez described her daughter's first grade class at Dwight Elementary as predominantly Latino and African American, with a couple of white kids. That, she says, is racial diversity.