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Sheff @ 20: Plaintiffs See Progress
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In 1989, 17 children sued the state, seeking to end racial isolation and extreme segregation in Hartford schools.

John Brittain is the Chief Council of the Lawyers Committee for Civil rights Under Law, and one of the original filing attorneys for the Sheff plaintiffs. 

Brittain told WNPR's Where We Live that their goal was, and still is, to promote ethnic, racial and economic diversity and integration to improve education. "We're generally pleased to say that 20 years later, using that well-know political phrase 'are you better off now than you were 20 years ago?' We say emphatically, the answer is yes."

Brittain said although all of goals haven't been met yet, two good results have come out of the case:

First, he cited the state's supreme court original ruling that finds that extreme isolation and unequal educational opportunities is a violation of the state constitution.   

Second, he praised the a comprehensive five-year agreement reached last year. It calls for expanded magnet school programs and includes a goal of accommodating 80 percent of parents who wish to send their children to an integrated school.  

But critics say some integration mandates have sometimes been at odds with the quality of the education, and parents won't want to send their kids to under-performing schools.

On the same program, Representative Andy Fleichmann, House chair of the education committee, said quality and diversity can be achieved simultaneously.

"The truth is that, as a school starts to achieve excellence academically, it becomes easier to address the isolation issues because parents want in."

Fleichman said he hopes the state's final budget will restore some of the funding that was taken away in Governor Rell's Budget proposal. He said this fiscal crisis doesn't give the state the option of walking away from the Sheff agreement.