June 16, 2008
2008 SHEFF V. O'NEILL STIPULATED AGREEMENT
By: Soncia Coleman, Associate Legislative Analyst
You asked for a summary of the most recent stipulated agreement in the Sheff v. O'Neill school desegregation case.
The stipulated agreement establishes a new timetable for the state to make reasonable progress reducing racial, ethnic, and economic isolation in the Hartford Public Schools pursuant to the Connecticut Supreme Court's 1996 ruling in Sheff v. O'Neill, from the date of execution through June 30, 2013. As with the previous Sheff settlement, the new agreement relies on voluntary desegregation methods to achieve its goals. The agreement covers five years, although it allows the parties to extend it to include the 2013-14 school year (see below). The first settlement agreement expired on June 30, 2007 with its goals unmet.
As in the first Sheff agreement, the new agreement defines “minority students” as students who are Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and Pacific Islander. For the first two years, the agreement sets specific targets for the percentage of Hartford minority students to be educated in reduced isolation settings. In Year 1 (2008-09 school year), that percentage is set at 19% and in Year 2 (2009-10 school year), at 27%. These “interim goals” must be met using voluntary interdistrict programs, which the agreement defines to include host and regional interdistrict magnet schools; state technical schools; charter schools; regional vocational agriculture centers; the Open Choice program interdistrict transfer program; and, to a lesser extent, part-time interdistrict cooperative programs. A host magnet school is an interdistrict magnet school operated by the local school district where it is located; regional magnets can also be operated by third parties or consortia or school districts.
The Open Choice program is automatically deemed to provide a reduced isolation setting, while the other programs meet this requirement if their minority student enrollment does not exceed the “desegregation standard” set in the agreement. The desegregation standard is the lesser of (1) the Sheff Region's aggregate minority percentage enrollment plus 30% or (2) 75%. The Sheff region consists of the following 22 towns: Avon, Bloomfield, Canton, East Granby, East Hartford, East Windsor, Ellington, Farmington, Glastonbury, Granby, Hartford, Manchester, Newington, Rocky Hill, Simsbury, South Windsor, Suffield, Vernon, West Hartford, Wethersfield, Windsor, and Windsor Locks.
The agreement allows students in the following programs to count towards interim goals: existing and new interdistrict magnet schools within 5% of the desegregation standard and, for Year 1, incubator interdistrict magnet schools (new schools with temporary sites) within 10% of the standard. Additionally, the agreement allows up to a 3% credit for Hartford minority students' participation in meaningful and substantial interdistrict cooperative programs (1% for each 500 Hartford students). Interdistrict cooperative programs are defined as multi-district, part-time programs that provide a diverse educational experience.
After the first two years, the agreement moves to a demand model, with the ultimate goal of meeting at least 80% of the Hartford students' demand for an education in a reduced isolation setting. During Years 1 and 2, the agreement envisions a centralization and enhancement of marketing, outreach, and information. In Year 3 (2010-11), there must be an assessment of Hartford minority students' demand for an education in a reduced isolation setting, as determined by their applications to participate in the Open Choice program or at least three schools meeting the desegregation standard at the time of application. In Year 4 (2011-2012), there must be an assessment of the demand met, using a comprehensive waiting list. The waiting list will only include Hartford minority students who (1) applied for Open Choice or three programs that met the desegregation standard, (2) were not offered a seat in any of those programs, (3) meet the applicable admissions requirements, and (4) asked to be placed on the waiting list. If the met demand is less than 65%, the state must plan additional capacity for seats in reduced isolation settings. If, in November of Year 5 (2012-13), the state has not met 80% of the demand, the parties must meet to determine steps necessary to meet the demand in the next year. Any agreement reached must be incorporated into a one-year extension of the agreement.
The failure to meet the goal of 80% of demand in Year 5 does not constitute a material breach of the agreement if at least 41% of Hartford minority students are in a reduced isolation setting.
The agreement establishes an administrative structure to implement its provisions. It requires the state to provide sufficient resources to plan, develop, open, and operate the schools and programs necessary to achieve its goals. It requires the creation of a Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) and a Sheff Office within the State Department of Education to create, develop, and oversee the plan's implementation. The state must also create and fund a Regional School Choice Office to support the collaborative effort between the state and stakeholders, including the Capital Region Education Council, to support Sheff initiatives. The Regional School Choice Office will be responsible for supporting and coordinating marketing, recruitment, transportation, and information services and facilitating best practices. The office must specifically develop the application process discussed above. The office must engage in all of these activities by May 30, 2008. It must include a plaintiffs' representative funded by the state up to $ 50,000 per year.
The Sheff Office, with input from the Regional School Choice Office, must develop the CMP's major components by September 30, 2008. The final CMP must be developed by November 30, 2008.