September 29, 2022

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The Legal System

A CT law requires racial balance in public schools. Why are some suburban districts segregated anyway?

15 min read

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On a Wednesday night in early May, officials from the Fairfield school district appeared before the State Board of Education to explain why McKinley Elementary School was out of compliance with the state’s racial balance law for the 15th time in 16 years, with a student body that was 56 percent minority in a district that was nearly three-quarters white.

They blamed the pandemic for distracting them from the issue. They protested that they couldn’t control where families chose to live. They acknowledged redistricting as an option to better balance the district but described that as a “last step” that would “tear apart” the community.

Eventually, as a Fairfield official argued students and families are happy with McKinley the way it is, despite lagging academic performance at the school, State Board chair Karen Dubois-Walton seemed to have had enough.

“I’m sitting here almost needing to check what date we’re in because I feel like I’m hearing an argument for ‘separate but equal’ being made in front of me,” Dubois-Walton said. “And I remember that being struck down quite solidly.”

By the end of the meeting, Fairfield officials had agreed to submit a revised racial balance plan within the next three months, while Dubois-Walton had seen up close why integration has proven persistently elusive for certain Connecticut school districts.

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