May 28, 2010
THE RACIAL IMBALANCE LAW
By: Judith Lohman, Assistant Director
You asked if the racial imbalance law (CGS §§ 10-226a-10-226e) and its implementing regulations allow an exception for a school that “serves as a vital link within the neighborhood it serves.” The question relates to the Alcorn School in Thompsonville, which was cited by the State Board of Education (SBE) in April 2010 as having a racial imbalance.
The Office of Legislative Research is not authorized to give opinions on the specific issues raised by a school district plan to address racial imbalance at a particular school. Instead, this report summarizes the state law and its regulations.
The racial imbalance law contains no exception from its requirements for a school that has deep local roots or provides vital neighborhood services. Neither does the law require that students throughout the district be reassigned to address a racially imbalanced school or that the affected school be closed.
The racial imbalance law has four main parts:
1. required annual school district data reports to the SBE on the numbers of minority teachers and students and the number of low-income students in each school;
2. a requirement that the SBE notify a district when it finds that any of its schools has a minority enrollment that is “substantially” above or below the level of that of the district overall;
3. requirements that (a) the district submit a plan to correct the imbalance, (b) the plan contain certain elements, (c) SBE review and approve the district plan, and (d) the district report annually on the plan's implementation; and
4. SBE's authority to adopt regulations to implement the law along with certain requirements for what the regulations must include.
SBE regulations to implement the law establish a standard for racial imbalance at a school. Under those regulations, a school is considered imbalanced if its minority enrollment is more than 25 percentage points above or below that of the district as a whole.
Once the standard is reached, both the law and the regulations require the district in charge of the school to formulate a plan to address the imbalance and to have the plan approved by the SBE. Within certain parameters, the local board of education shapes the plan.
ANNUAL RACIAL BALANCE DATA REPORTS (§ 10-226a)
State law requires each local and regional school board to submit annual data to SBE so it may determine (1) the number of students enrolled, and minority teachers employed, in each of its schools and (2) the number of students in each school whose family incomes are low enough to make them eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches. If SBE determines it necessary, a district must also report the numbers of minority students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.
Under the law, a minority student or teacher is any person whose race is defined as “other than white” or whose ethnicity is defined as Hispanic or Latino for purposes of the U.S. Census.
RACIAL IMBALANCE STANDARD (§ 10-226b)
The law requires the SBE, when it finds a racial imbalance at a public school, to notify the school's board of education in writing. It defines a “racial imbalance” as a proportion of minorities enrolled in all grades in a
public school that substantially exceeds, or falls substantially short of, the proportion of minority students in the same grades in all the district's public schools.
SBE regulations further define as “racially imbalanced” any school in which the percentage of minority students enrolled falls outside the range of 25 percentage points more or less than the district-wide percentage. For example, in a school district that, as a whole, has a minority enrollment of 50%, any school that is less than 25% or more than 75% minority would be considered racially imbalanced.
In addition, the regulations require the SBE to notify a school board in writing of an “impending racial imbalance,” which, for school not previously cited for racial imbalance, is one whose minority enrollment falls outside the range of 15 percentage points more or less than that of the district as a whole (Conn. State Agency Reg., §§ 10-226e-3 and 10-226e-4).
PLAN TO CORRECT THE IMBALANCE (§ 10-226c)
The law requires a board of education notified of a racial imbalance to “forthwith” prepare a plan to correct it and file a copy of the plan with SBE. It expressly allows the local board to submit a plan limited to the affected school and specifies that the plan need not be district-wide or require district-wide student reassignments. If the number of students causing the imbalance is fewer than five at a school, the school district may ask for an extension of time. SBE regulations to implement the law specify that this extension can be no longer than 90 days (Conn. State Agency Reg., § 10-226e-5 (b)(4)).
The law requires the district plan to include:
1. proposed changes in existing school attendance districts,
2. the location of any school building sites related to the problem,
3. any proposed additions to existing school buildings,
4. all other means proposed to correct the imbalance, and
5. a projection of the expected racial composition of all the district's public schools.
The plan may also include provisions to cooperate with other school districts to help correct the balance.
SBE regulations specify how the local school board must prepare the plan. The regulations:
1. require the local board to prepare a policy statement that addresses the racial imbalance in the school district;
2. allow the board to make a written request for technical assistance from the education commissioner to develop a plan and require the commissioner to grant the request, within available resources;
3. require the board, after giving adequate notice, to hold a public hearing on the plan and keep a complete record of the hearing; and
4. require the board to submit the plan to SBE within 120 days after receiving the racial imbalance notice (Conn. State Agency Reg., § 10-226e-5 (b)).
In addition to the statutory requirements for the plan's contents, the regulations require the plan to:
1. describe the board's process in preparing the plan;
2. provide relevant data and analysis, including (a) a projection of the racial composition of the schools for the next five years under the proposed plan, (b) an analysis of any conditions causing or contributing to the racial imbalance, and (c) an analysis of student achievement in the cited school compared to other schools in the district;
3. propose ways to eliminate the racial imbalance and prevent it from recurring, which can include voluntary inter- and intra-district enrollment plans acceptable to SBE as an alternative to mandatory student re-assignment, as long as the voluntary plan addresses ways to increase student achievement;
4. describe any proposed school construction and closings and explain their impact on the plan;
5. make specific proposals for minimizing any disruptive effects of implementing the plan;
6. provide for monitoring and evaluating the plan's results including provisions to revise and update it, if necessary;
7. include a timetable for completing each step and the plan as a whole;
8. demonstrate equitable allocation of school district resources among all schools in the district; and
9. demonstrate that any disparities in student achievement are being addressed and in what ways (Conn. State Agency Reg., § 10-226e-5 (c)).
The regulations also require that:
1. any inconvenience from plan implementation not be bourne disproportionately by minority students,
2. the plan not result in segregation within schools or within or among programs,
3. any substantially disproportionate minority representation within classes or programs (a) be justified solely by educational need and (b) occur less than a majority of the time during the school day except for students enrolled in a bilingual education program; and
4. the plan not include reassignment of students with a non-English dominant language or whose English proficiency is limited if the reassignment denies them existing participation in a bilingual education program.
The regulations allow a board, when it submits its plan, to ask for an exception to these requirements. SBE (1) may grant an exception if it determines it otherwise contributes to the goals of the law and (2) must grant it if the plan complies with a state or federal court order addressing the racial imbalance (Conn. State Agency Reg., § 10-226e-5 (c)).
SBE REVIEW AND APPROVAL (§ 10-226d)
The law requires the SBE to review the school district's plan and, if it finds the plan satisfactory, approve it. SBE must also give the school district any available assistance and services. The local board must submit annual reports on the plan's implementation as the SBE requires.
The regulations require the SBE to approve, conditionally approve, or reject a plan within 60 days and notify the local board. They specify procedures for (1) revising plans that are not approved, (2) the SBE to review revised plans, and (3) a school board to ask SBE to review any plan disapproval. If no revised plan is approved within one year after SBE notifies a board of the existence of racial imbalance, the regulations specify that SBE may take any steps authorized by law to bring the school district into compliance with the racial imbalance law.
The regulations require SBE to continually review and monitor plan implementation and take steps necessary to keep implementation on track. They also allow local school boards to submit plan amendments and require amendments to take effect after being reviewed and approved by SBE (Conn. State Agency Reg., §§ 10-226e-6 through 8).
IMPLEMENTING REGULATIONS (§ 10-226e)
The law gives SBE the authority to adopt regulations to implement the racial imbalance law. It specifically allows the regulations to establish the (1) times and procedures for filing required reports, (2) criteria for approving plans to correct racial imbalance, and (3) standards for determining the existence of racial imbalance. The law also requires the regulations to:
1. include voluntary enrollment plans as an alternative to mandatory student reassignment,
2. allow for diverse schools existing in school districts with minority enrollments of 50% or more, and
3. require equitable allocation of resources among schools in any cited district.
SBE regulations extend certain parts of the racial imbalance law to “unique” schools. The regulations define such schools as (1) inter- or intra-district magnet schools; (2) local or state charter, lighthouse, regional vocational-technical or vocational agriculture, alternative, or special education schools; or (3) any other school the education commissioner designates that offers specialized programs or allows students to enroll voluntarily.
The regulations require such schools to report (1) the same student and teacher data as school districts and (2) on all activities they undertake to provide educational opportunities for students to interact with students and teachers from other racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds.
The regulations authorize the education commissioner to require a unique school's responsible authority to appear before him or her to respond to questions concerning the racial, ethnic, and economic diversity of its students and teachers and their activities to provide opportunities for students to interact with students and teachers from other racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds (Conn State Agency Reg., § 10-226e-9).