State Rep. Edward Moukawsher told the Groton Town Council Tuesday it should refuse to redistrict students in accordance with the state’s racial balance law, and he would introduce legislation in the upcoming session to change the law.
“Personally, I would defy it,” he said of the state’s racial balance requirement. He said he believes the law is unconstitutional based on a 2007 Supreme Court decision, and he suggested Groton team up with other districts and challenge the law as a group.
Moukawsher made the comment during a meeting of local legislators and the town council’s committee of the whole.
State Sen. Andrew Maynard, who also attended, said he would back the town.
“If you really want to fight it, I’m up for the fight,” he said.
The Board of Education would be the ultimate decision maker on whether to fight the law. Board members are considering a redistricting plan that would would move 522 children throughout Groton and affect every elementary school.
The Branford consulting firm Milone & MacBroom is working on the final draft of the plan now, and the board is expected to vote on it later this month.
State Rep. Elissa Wright, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said Connecticut’s law does not require redistricting. She said it only requires districts to come up with a plan to correct a racial imbalance.
However, as a practical matter, this correction often requires redistricting.
Groton was cited for an imbalance at Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School, which is surrounded by a neighborhood of primarily minority residents, and has tried a magnet program with limited success.
Cost of Definance
At issue is what would happen to Groton if the district defied the state.
Laura Anastasio, the lawyer who handles racial imbalance cases for the state department of education, said in February that if Groton ignored the law, the state would file a complaint with its board of education citing the district for failing to follow statutory mandates, and ordering it to come up with a plan.
If it still resisted, she said the state would take the school district to court.
Town Councilors also fear jeopardizing $25 million in state aid Groton recieves for education. But Anastasio said she did not forsee that happening.
Supreme Court decision
Moukawsher said he believes the state department is ignoring a Supreme Court decision which said states may not base policies soley on racial balance.
In Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, parents challenged a policy that allowed students to attend any high school of their choice, but used race as a tiebreaker if the school was popular and racial balance was off.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the district could not use race to determine admission and that achieving racial balance was not a compelling state interest.
Parents involved in the fight had argued that the districts' racial balance practices violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In Groton, some parents have said the redistricting plan would break up neighborhoods and bus pockets of students across the district against the children's and the community's best interests.
Mayor Heather Bond Somers said families are anxious.
"There is so much angst right now because you don’t know where your child is going to go to school (next year)," she said.
Maynard said some state agencies act like they have the final say on issues. He said this has eroded legislative power and should be taken on.
“I am not an anti-government guy, but I am an anti-bullying government guy,” he said.