State Rep. Edward Moukawsher said Thursday he would ask for a formal opinion from the Connecticut Attorney General about whether the state’s racial balance law is constitutional, and whether it’s constitutional as it’s being applied in Groton.
Moukawsher said he would send the letter to Attorney General George Jepsen as early as today.
Moukawsher said he decided to take the action after receiving a letter from Groton Board Member Bob Peruzzotti earlier this week about a proposed redistricting plan for Groton.
Peruzzotti wrote on Tuesday to Moukoawsher, State Sen. Andrew Maynard and State Rep. Elissa Wright that he wouldn’t support a redistricting plan that buses minority students across town and he believes the state’s racial balance requirement violates federal law.
The Groton plan outlined Monday 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.
“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,’" Peruzzotti wrote.
Maynard said he forwarded the letter to staff who deal with education policy and is working with the state department of education and education commissioner’s office to get guidance for the district.
Maynard said he’s asking specifically what is required, why, and whether - given the transient nature of Groton’s population - the situation ought to be treated differently, “and if so, what we might have to do relative to state law.”
“We don’t want them unnecessarily having to go to this expense and we certainly don’t want them to be in violation of any other court findings relative to the busing issue,” he said.
Two cases decided in 2007 dealt with school racial balance policies directly.
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 the racial balance was off by a certain amount. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the district could not use race to determine admission and ruled that achieving racial balance was not a compelling state interest.
In Meredith v. the Jefferson County Board of Education in Louisville, Kentucky, the district assigned students to schools based on where they lived, but students could also transfer if space was available at another school and the enrollment would stay racially balanced.
In both cases, parents argued that the districts' racial balance practices violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Connecticut’s law requires districts to correct a racial imbalance if one exists, but does not dictate how this must be done. However, as a practical matter, it often requires redistricting.
In Groton, the town is polarized, with pockets of minority groups concentrated in specific areas. The town’s school cited for a racial imbalance, Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School, is surrounded by a primarily minority population.
Groton has tried to correct the imbalance by having a magnet program to attract non-minority students, but has had limited success. The area around the school has also grown, allowing fewer spaces for magnet students and increasing the disparity.