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Sen. Beth Bye to Resign to Join Ned Lamont’s Administration


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — State Sen. Beth Bye will resign to take a job with Gov. elect Ned Lamont’s administration.

Lamont picked Bye to lead Connecticut’s Office of Early Childhood, which was created in 2013. She will help to develop a cohesive early childhood care and educational system.

“Beth Bye has devoted her entire professional career to helping to build a more progressive and equitable early childhood system in which all children, regardless of their parents’ socio-economic status, can grow, learn and develop,” Lamont said. “It’s clear that the formative early childhood years are jey to providing children a solid educational base and platform, and I know Beth is the best person to take the helm of this critical agency.”

Bye is a Democrat who represents the 5th Senate District, which includes West Hartford, Bloomfield, Burlington and Farmington. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2007 and then moved to the Senate in 2011. There will be a special election to fill Bye’s seat because she was reelected in November.

Currently, Bye is the executive director of Auerfarm, a Bloomfield-based community farm that hosts 15,000 student trips annually. Prior to that, Bye led Great by 8, a community partnership to develop a program that supports optimal health and educational outcomes for children ages birth to eight. She also worked as Early Childhood Director at the Capitol Region Education Council and was Director at Trinity College Community Child Center and the University of St. Joseph School for Young Children.

She will earn $155,000 in her new job.

“I am grateful to begin this next chapter in my career, leading an agency I helped to spearhead and create,” said Bye. “Connecticut’s children—all of them—represent  the future of our state, and deserve to have the tools and support necessary to develop, grow and thrive.”

 

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Hartford Delta Sigma Theta Announces MLK Breakfast Speaker


HARTFORD — The Hartford Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority has announced its keynote speaker for its annual Martin Luther King Breakfast to be held Jan. 21.

The event will feature Shavon Arline-Bradley, a founding principal of R.E.A.C.H.  Beyond Solutions LLC, a public health policy and faith advocate. She is also the co-founder of The Health Equity Cypher Group, a collaborative of nationally recognized health equity experts designed to expand the work of health, equity, diversity and inclusion in all sectors.

Bradley also held the position of Director of External Engagement and senior advisor in the Office of the United States Surgeon General and served as the Executive Vice President of Strategic Planning & Partnership for the national NAACP.

The breakfast, which helps to keep King’s legacy alive, is the premier scholarship fundraising event for the Deltas and one of the largest Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations in Connecticut.

More than 140 Greater Hartford high school girls have been awarded more than $355,000 in scholarship funds.

The Hartford Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority was founded in 1947 and is a private, non-profit organization whose purpose is to provide services and programs to promote human welfare. Since its inception, the chapter has placed a priority on providing monetary contributions to deserving young girls to further their education.

The breakfast is open to the public. Tickets are $55. For more information, visit www.dsthartford.com.

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Hartford Police Arrest Bristol Man in Teen’s Death


HARTFORD — Hartford Police arrested a Bristol man in the death of a Hartford teen and the injury of another on Wednesday.

William Moore, 24, of Bristol was arrested after police said he opened fire on two teens during a personal feud. Seventeen-year-old Karlonzo Taylor died and another 17-year-old was in serious but stable condition at Hartford Hospital.

Taylor’s death was Hartford’s 20th homicide in 2018.

Moor was charged with murder, first-degree assault and criminal possession of a firearm, police said.

The shooting occurred at Park and Zion streets  at about 1:30 p.m.

Police said they responded to shots fired at 898 Park St and found two victims. One victim was shot four times, police said.

Moore was held on a $1.5 million bond.

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Hartford to Receive Money for Displaced Students


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — The Hartford Public Schools will receive about $600,000 from the state to help displaced students affected by Hurricane Maria and other storms.

The City Council will have a public hearing on Dec. 17 to discuss how the funds will be allocated.

Hartford was home to about 400 displaced students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to officials.

In Connecticut, 2,043 students displaced by the storms enrolled in schools.

Connecticut received $10.6 million for school districts that took in displaced students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Maria and other storms.

The top six school districts that enrolled students displaced after the hurricanes are Hartford, Waterbury, New Britain, New Haven, Bridgeport and Meriden.

Each district will receive $10,000 for each student with a disability, $9,000 for students who are English learners and $8,500 for other displaced students.

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Hartford Receives Loan for Housing


HARTFORD — Hartford’s Frog Hollow neighborhood will see renovations to buildings for affordable housing. Thanks to a $2.8 million loan from the Department of Housing.

The loan was granted to the Mutual Housing Association of Greater Hartford, Inc. to assist in the moderate rehabilitation of an existing thirteen building development. The project includes 68 affordable residential units. In addition, 21 affordable units will be created.

The loan package is a part of the latest round of funding under the state’s Competitive Housing Assistance for Multifamily Properties or the CHAMP program. The $22 million in awards will help create, rehabilitate or preserve housing and expand access to multi-family units across the state. This is the state’s effort “to prevent and end homelessness.”

Other cities that receive grants include New Haven and Waterbury.

The CHAMP program in these cities provides developers and owners of multi-family affordable housing the necessary gap financing to create more affordable units in their development, officials said.

The goal is to incentivize developers to create more affordable housing.

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Hartford Groups Form Coalition to Help Reduce Gun Violence


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — A group of community organizations has formed a coalition in an effort to stave off gun violence in Hartford and will kick off several initiatives at a public safety fair on Nov. 17.

The event will be from 11:a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Wilson-Gray YMCA at 444 Albany Ave. in Hartford. It’s free and open to the public.

The fair will feature  information on ways to prevent and reduce violence, raise awareness and address trauma. The fair will also have information on a range of services for recovery and addiction, re-entry employment and job training, health and wellness information.

Since 2013, Hartford has had 644 gun shootings, officials said. This year’s total number of shootings has increased by 24 percent. For example, in 2018 there were more than 120 shootings incidents by October, compared to 115 total shooting incidents in 2017. The majority of these incidents have been concentrated in poorer city neighborhoods, officials said.

In the midst of this violence, community based organizations have been providing a variety of response efforts to prevent further violence and to save lives.

The coalition includes COMPASS Youth Collaborative, Hartford Communities That Care, United Against Violence, Peace Center of Connecticut and the Wilson-Gray YMCA.

 

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Act Up Theater to Present Annual Performance: Ebony Annie


HARTFORD — Act Up, a community-based theater group, will present its third annual performance with the play, Ebony Annie.

The three-day event will be at the Annie Fisher Montessori Magnet School on Dec. 6, 7 and 8 at 7 p.m. There will also be a matinee performance on Dec. 8 at 3 p.m.

The Broadway-style performance will approach the classic play Annie from a unique and relevant angle, organizers said. The mother-daughter duo Faithlyn and Tyler directed the multicultural cast of more than 50 urban youth and community members.

This version, presenters said, explodes with high energy and comedy that will have the audience laughing and singing.

Act Up Theater strives to make positive impact in Hartford by offering children and adults the opportunity to express themselves. Act Up also recognizes social justice issues pulled from today’s culture and addresses them through the power of the arts.

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New Federal Lawsuit Takes on Hartford’s 30-Year School Desegregation Effort — and Challenges the Value of Integration Itself


By Mark Keierleber

Standing outside one of the city’s high-performing magnet schools, LaShawn Robinson decried an enrollment process she believes was stacked against her black son.

Year after year, her oldest son, Jarod, applied to attend one of the city’s magnet schools, which enroll pupils through a competitive lottery. First on a waiting list three times, he was never selected. Without a chance for a quality education, he dropped out of school.

On this chilly October afternoon, Robinson spoke at a press conference outside Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts to explain why she is bringing a federal lawsuit against the state, its education department, and Hartford’s board of education.

The legal battle follows years of efforts to integrate Connecticut’s public school system, among the nation’s most segregated, with one of the widest racial achievement gaps.

But this isn’t your typical school desegregation lawsuit. It’s the process to integrate Hartford schools that Robinson is fighting.

In the federal lawsuit filed earlier this year, Robinson and seven other Hartford parents allege the magnet schools employ an unconstitutional “racial quota” that limits the number of black and Latino students to 75 percent of total enrollment while the lottery system to select students gives preference to white and Asian students from the more affluent suburbs.

“There are hundreds of empty seats, and we’re telling kids, ‘No, you can’t come in there because your quota is already met,’” said Robinson, a mother of five.

The suit is only the latest chapter in a thorny legal saga that has dragged on for close to three decades and has raised tough questions about the meaning and value of integration. The magnet school system, Robinson and her fellow plaintiffs allege, violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Relying on that same amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that intentional racial segregation is unconstitutional because “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

The lawsuit could have major ramifications, not just for Connecticut’s magnet schools but for the future of desegregation efforts nationwide as well. Attorneys with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian law firm based in California that represents the parents pro bono, make no secret of their aim to use the case to set a federal court precedent. Should the case progress to the Supreme Court, said Pacific Legal attorney Joshua Thompson, it could set a new standard that education leaders are “not permitted to discriminate against black or Hispanic kids in order to achieve a diverse student body.” In other words, they aim to prohibit educators from considering race as a factor when assigning students to schools.

If some of Thompson’s rhetoric sounds familiar, it’s not by accident. The legal battle in Connecticut is unfolding against the backdrop of a federal lawsuit challenging Harvard University that could reshape affirmative action admissions policies in higher education. In that lawsuit, Asian-American plaintiffs argue that Harvard’s admissions process, which considers a student’s race among other factors, is discriminatory. That case is largely expected to send the question of affirmative-action-based admissions back to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cara McClellan of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, an attorney for the plaintiffs in Connecticut’s decades-long segregation battle, also represents Harvard student and alumni organizations that claim the elimination of race as a factor would lead to further discrimination against applicants of color.

Traveling from Boston to attend a recent Hartford town hall devoted to the Robinson case, McClellan argued that segregation is at the heart of academic achievement gaps between white and minority students.

“As long as we continue to segregate kids and send them to school based on segregated housing patterns, we’re going to continue to see the achievement gap play out,” she said. That inequity, she continued, is present in everything from resource allocations to hiring quality teachers.

A generation-long battle

In order to understand the stakes in the Robinson case, it is necessary to go back almost 30 years to an earlier — and still ongoing — lawsuit. In many ways, the fate of LaShawn Robinson and her son is bound up with that of another African-American family: Elizabeth Horton Sheff and her son, who began the legal fight to integrate Connecticut schools in 1989.

In its decision in that case, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that segregation between the city schools, which primarily serve low-income students of color, and those in the whiter, more affluent suburbs, violated the state constitution. As a result, Hartford’s magnet schools and an interdistrict transfer program, both designed to encourage voluntary integration, were created. A controversial part of the agreement declared a school segregated if its black or Latino student enrollment exceeds 75 percent.

Horton Sheff acknowledges that the magnet system is imperfect — in fact, her desegregation lawsuit is back in court nearly three decades later. But she argues that the plaintiffs in the Robinson suit, if successful, could dismantle years of progress at the expense of thousands of children in integrated schools.

“It is a voluntary system, so if people choose to stay in segregation, that is their right,” she said. “But they should not try to thwart the efforts of people who want a different kind of education, of families who seek choice.”

Elizabeth Horton Sheff speaks during a recent town hall event at the Hartford Public Library about her 30-year fight to desegregate the city’s public school system. A new federal lawsuit challenging the schools’ enrollment process threatens to derail efforts to integrate the city’s schools, she said. (Mark Keierleber)

Over the past decade, Connecticut has spent $3 billion on the desegregation effort. Nearly half of Hartford’s students — 22,000 in total — are enrolled in integrated schools, said Deuel Ross, an assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Although the Defense Fund deems the effort a success, several recent investigations by the local media have offered a more critical appraisal.

One report by the Hartford Courant challenged whether half of Hartford students actually attend integrated schools, putting the percentage closer to a quarter. Another found that the state hasmanipulated the enrollment lottery to benefit white and Asian students at the expense of black and Latino students in segregated neighborhood schools. Because some magnet schools struggle to enroll enough Asian and white children, the investigation found, some minority students have been stuck on the waiting list.

The result is that some schools have eliminated entire grades and others have lost their magnet status altogether. Critically, according to the Courant, some magnet schools that are unable to attract enough white or Asian children leave desks unfilled rather than enroll additional minority children, in order to maintain diversity. Meanwhile, the Connecticut Mirror found that while more suburban students applied to attend the schools last year than children from the city, Hartford youth have better odds of winning than those from the suburbs.

A state education department spokesman didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the lawsuits.

The Courant investigations drew the attention of Pacific Legal’s Thompson. “I thought it was a grave injustice,” he said, adding that children should be able to attend the magnet schools without race being a factor. “Schools are there to educate the kids, and the kids that are most in need of this education are being kept out because of their skin color.”

Ross rejects the notion that Hartford’s schools are constrained by quotas set in the Horton Sheff agreement. Schools are under-enrolled, he said, because the state caps the number of magnet seats it’s willing to fund. Moreover, he said, a handful of magnet schools each year are noncompliant, enrolling minority students at rates higher than 75 percent.

This year, with thousands of students on the magnet school waiting list, state officials aimed to increase the 75 percent segregation threshold to 80 percent but were rejected by a Hartford Superior Court judge.

“Does anybody like the lottery?” Horton Sheff asked during the recent town hall. “The devil himself doesn’t like the lottery. Give me an alternative way to provide this opportunity. I can name one: Have the state fully fund all of the seats that are in demand.”

‘Unintended consequences’

Just hours after the press conference in front of Kinsella Magnet School, plaintiffs and attorneys from both the Horton Sheff and Robinson lawsuits sat at the same table and offered their perspectives to a crowd of about 50 people who showed up at the public library on Main Street. The town hall discussion was designed as an opportunity to hear arguments from both perspectives and to reach some common ground.

Dubbed “The True Cost of Integration,” the event, if anything, seemed only to underscore the pervasive divisions between the two sides. Participants vehemently disagreed, not only about the facts surrounding Hartford’s magnet schools and the state’s desegregation efforts but about the value of integration itself.

Horton Sheff believes that integration helps children become global citizens, regardless of their race and ethnicity. “If you are in a diverse setting and you are exposed to people who think differently than you, then that promotes your own awareness,” she said. “You can’t do that in isolation.”

That notion, however, was not self-evident to some who were featured at the event, including Chris Stewart, a Minnesota-based education reform advocate.

“Nobody goes to Idaho and goes to all-white schools and says, ‘Y’all need some Negroes in here,’” said Stewart, who noted that a similar desegregation lawsuit is ongoing in his state. “I don’t want this, and I don’t want it for you either.”

On a national level, a significant body of research supports the notion that integration offers educational benefits for students of color and from low-income families. One study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that desegregation increased educational and occupational attainment among black youth and improved adult earnings while reducing the probability of incarceration.

Connecticut’s efforts to encourage integration have been lauded as a national model, including by John King, who served as education secretary under then-President Barack Obama. But earlier this year, the Trump administration scrapped Obama-era guidance that outlined strategies for schools to consider race as a way to promote student diversity, such as by looking at the racial composition of neighborhoods — a strategy used in the Hartford magnet school lottery.

What’s clear is that the continued negotiations have major implications, not just for Hartford children but for desegregation efforts nationwide.

For Robinson, victory in the federal courts would eliminate a system that’s keeping black and Latino students from quality schools. Although Robinson’s son Jarod dropped out of school after being denied admission into a magnet school, he now attends an adult education program. Meanwhile, her three youngest children had better luck and now attend Kinsella Magnet School.

Magnet schools were designed to encourage integration, and Horton Sheff worries that a Robinson victory would come at the expense of children currently enjoying an education at one of the city’s integrated schools.

“You’ll totally destroy the magnet school system and disrupt the lives of 22,000 children,” Horton Sheff said, pivoting to a Pacific Legal video that was presented during the town hall. “When the video said, ‘No racial quotas will mean Jarod can go to a magnet school,’ well, there won’t be any magnet schools for Jarod to attend.”

At the end of the day, both sides may be right, said Hartford School Board Chairman Craig Stallings, a defendant in the Robinson lawsuit. In Hartford, he sees a system beset by unintended consequences. Although he recognizes the value of integration, he said the district’s students would be better served if the system focused on improving quality in all district schools.

“Those unintended consequences translate to young men and women being stranded in the inner city,” Stallings said. “You can go to any desolate, blighted block in our city and you’re going to find young men and women standing there because they didn’t get a quality education.”

Mark Keierleber is a senior writer-reporter at The 74, where this was first published.

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Hartford Police Arrest Robbery Suspect


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford Police on Wednesday arrested a teenager suspected of masterminding several robberies in the city.

From September 2017 through November 2017, Hartford Police have been investigating more than a dozen internet armed robberies in Hartford. The internet web sites that were used to coordinate the robberies were Offer Up, Let it Go and Craigslist.

During the robberies, three victims were shot, several victims were pistol-whipped, cash, jewelry and phones were stolen.

Police arrested the 17-year-old suspect on Wednesday and charged with conspiracy to commit robbery.

More arrests are expected.

Hartford Police are asking everyone to use a safe transaction site such as one provided in front of the Hartford Police Department on High Street for all online transactions.

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Hartford Police Arrest Four Men, Seize Guns


HARTFORD — Four men were arrested on Saturday after Hartford Police found two guns in their car.

Police arrested Nelson Caqvias, 25, of Hartford and David Fernandez, 21, of Hartford for carrying a weapon without permit and possession of a high capacity handgun and magazines.

Police responded to a call from a concern citizen about a suspect with a gun. After an investigation, two Glock 9mm were found, police said. One of the Glock pistol was stolen from Bristol and was converted into a fully automatic pistol, police said.

Police also found 50 round capacity ammo drum containing 27 live 9mm rounds.

Two of the four men arrested were convicted felon, police said.

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