Town saluted for its success with Open Choice

By LISA CAPOBIANCO
STAFF WRITER
Parents, students, educators and state leaders honored Plainville Community Schools last week in Hartford during the Sheff Movement coalition’s Advocacy Day, recognizing the district for the success of its Open Choice Program.
The Sheff Movement, a group of parents, educators and citizens who honored Plainville’s Open Choice program, which has more than doubled the number of participating Hartford students in the last five years. Currently, the district has over 100 Hartford students in the Open Choice Program, which it started offering over 20 years ago, said Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Maureen Brummett.
“We’ve been an active participant for man years,” said Dr. Brummett, adding that students accepted through the Open Choice program are thriving in Plainville schools. “The students are part of the fabric of the school.”
David Daye, Managing Director of the Hartford Region Open Choice Program for the Capitol Region (CREC) said Plainville Community Schools stands out through its commitment to supporting Hartford students, recognizing the level of support that administrators and faculty members provide.
“They bridge the divide,” said Daye, adding that the district recognizes all students as learners of Plainville Community Schools despite being chosen through the Open Choice Program. “Everyone is involved with the children—[Plainville] stands out as a partner.”
John Humphries, the outreach coordinator of the Sheff Movement, said Plainville Community Schools has stood out by expanding the number of seats in its Open Choice Program, creating an effective support system to help new students transition into a new school district. He added the district has also made accommodations for Hartford families looking to send more than one child living in the same household to the school district.
“Plainville has been doing tremendous work,” said Humphries.
“The commitment level of Plainville to accommodate these requests has been remarkable,” added Daye.
Plainville has qualified for the highest level of per pupil state reimbursement for agreeing to accept over 4 percent of its total enrollment, stated a press release from the Sheff Movement. The state makes a per-pupil payment to towns accepting Open Choice students from Hartford based on the number of seats they have opened as a percentage of their overall student enrollment, the Movement’s website stated.
“To achieve full integration in the Hartford region, we need the help of all our suburban districts, and Plainville is really stepping up and showing how it’s done,” said Sheff Movement Staff Director Phil Tegeler in the release, who presented an Exemplary Service Award to Plainville Superintendent Jeffrey Kitching and Dr. Brummett.
Recent data released in 2013 shows that Hartford students who attend regional magnet schools and the suburban Open Choice program have outperformed students who attend traditional, segregated schools, reported Humphries. Currently, the Hartford regional integration program now serves over 20,000 students, including nearly 9,000 students from Hartford, and now includes over 50 different magnet schools and 28 towns accepting Hartford students into regular suburban schools through the Open Choice Program. Students who attend the Sheff magnet schools and the Open Choice Program are selected by a “blind lottery” run by the State Department of Education.
“We have achieved a lot,” said Humphries. “Those students in Sheff programs are outperforming their peers in schools here in Hartford.”
After Plainville accepted the award, participants divided into groups based on legislative districts to meet with legislators, sharing how the Sheff programs have made an impact on their families and communities, the release stated. They also encouraged lawmakers to support the expansion of the system to offer opportunities to more students.
The Sheff Movement will celebrate its 25th anniversary event Saturday, April 26 at the University of Connecticut Law School. For more information, visit www.sheffmovement.org

What was Sheff v. O’Neill

 The Sheff movement started after a 1989 court case filed in Hartford called “Sheff v. O’Neill.” The lawsuit was filed by Elizabeth Horton Sheff and other parents of the Hartford area on behalf of their children against Gov. William O’Neill. During the trial, parents argued that racial segregation in Hartford schools violated the state’s obligation to provide all Connecticut equal educational opportunities under the state constitution. Suburban plaintiffs also argued that white students were denied access to diverse schools. Although the parents lost after an 11-week trial in 1992, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed it in 1996, ruling the extent of racial segregation in Hartford schools “deprived students of their right to equal educational opportunity under the Connecticut Constitution,” and requested immediate action. In 1997, the legislature established a two-way integration system that continues today: interdistrict magnet schools that attract suburban students into Hartford and the city-to-suburb transfer program.