A Groton School Board member said he won’t support a redistricting plan that buses minority students across town and he believes the state’s racial balance requirement violates federal law.
Board Member Bob Peruzzotti wrote a letter Tuesday to three state lawmakers after hearing about a proposed redistricting plan for Groton.
The plan would move 20 percent of the town’s elementary school students and split the federally-subsidized housing complex Branford Manor between two schools, sending about half of the students to Mary Morrisson Elementary and half to Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School. Branford Manor has mostly minority students.
“I sat there fuming,” Peruzzotti said. The Branford consulting firm Milone & MacBroom outlined the plan on Monday, which would send students living on Branford Avenue to Mary Morrisson Elementary and those living on Mather Avenue to Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School.
Peruzzotti wrote to State Sen. Andrew Maynard, State Rep. Elissa Wright and State Rep. Edward Moukawsher, saying the plan would effectively bus students who now attend Kolnaski, a new school, to an “old and decaying” school at Mary Morrisson.
“We are taking students from the newest elementary school with some of the best teachers in the district and busing them based solely on the color of their skin,’" he wrote. "Do you think this is going to benefit their education?”
The letter asks what authorizes the state to mandate racial balance, if it violates a federal law and where the money will come from to make the needed changes.
Maynard said he received Peruzzotti’s letter and was following up on his questions.
Racial Balance And The Court
Laura Anastasio, the lawyer who handles racial imbalance cases for the state department of education, said the law has never been challenged, but she does not believe it would be ruled unconstitutional. She said it does not tell a district how to achieve racial balance but rather says, “you must achieve it, you find a way.”
If Groton refused to comply, she said the state would take the district to court and obtain an order requiring it to develop a racial balance plan.
Anastasio said does not know how the federal courts would react to the remedy Groton chooses. Although a district may redraw attendance zones, there there was a case in which the court ruled districts could not assign students based on race and this was not a compelling state interest.
In "Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1," The Supreme Court ruled that a district could not favor students for admission to a school or deny them admission to achieve diversity.
Groton is expected to meet with state officials in early November to discuss its progress in developing a racial balance plan. Anastasio said this is more a discussion than a deadline.
Connection to Branford Manor
Peruzzotti lived for 10 years on Mather Avenue in Branford Manor, from 1946 to 1956. Navy families lived in the low-income housing for the most part in those days; his father was in the Marines. Nearly everyone around him had a parent in the military, he said.
“So you’re living next door to a kid, and you’re going to put me on a bus and send me 10 miles across town to a school where I don’t know anybody, while the kids across the street are going to another school? How is that going to better educate me?” he said.
He added that the parents at Branford Manor don’t have cars, won’t be able to attend meetings at Mary Morrisson, and extra buses associated with redistricting cost $83,000 each.
“I’ve only got a year left on the board of education, and I really don’t care (if people get angry at me),” he said. “The state’s got to tell me what law allows them to do this.”