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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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Hartford Council to Vote on Raising Minimum Age to Buy Cigarettes


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — Hartford City Council on Monday will vote on whether to raise the minimum age to purchase cigarettes.

Currently the minimum age to buy cigarettes and other tobacco is 18. The American Lung Association is pushing to change that age to 21.

The goal is the change the law first in Hartford and hope it spreads to other towns in the state.

After a rally at city hall on Monday, the nine-member council heard overwhelming support for the idea of raising the age for tobacco purchase in an effort to prevent nicotine addiction.

Advocates said that about 95 percent of smokers begin smoking before the age of 21 and become addicted as adults. By delaying the age when people begin using tobacco, it reduces the chance that they become lifelong tobacco users.

So far, six states and more than 350 cities have raised the age requirement to 21.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 4,900 Connecticut residents will die from smoking-related causes this year. And more than 1,000 children are expected to become new daily smokers under the current law.

Earlier this year, advocates for raising the minimum age testified before a committee in the General Assembly, saying the annual health care costs directly caused by smoking are $2.03 billion and Medicaid costs are $520.8 million.

Raising the age to 21 has been proposed before the General Assembly several times but the measure has always failed.

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Hartford Sex Offender Safety Tips for Halloween


HARTFORD — It’s that time of the year again when kids go door to door for trick or treat.

Before they do, it’s good to know who the neighbors are.

There are more than 600 registered sex offenders in Hartford, according to the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.

The registry can only play a limited role in preventing child sexual abuse, law enforcement officials said. Officials have not considered or assessed the specific risk of re-offense of individuals prior to inclusion within the registry.

About 60 percent of perpetrators of child abuse are known to the child and are not family members but rather family friends, babysitters, child care providers and others. About 30 percent of child victims are abused by family members, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Find out where these sex offenders are by clicking on Connecticut Sex Offenders Registry.

For a national search of sex offenders, click on National Sex Offender Public Website.

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CT Launches New Initiative to Recruit Teachers


HARTFORD — The state has launched a new initiative to attract diverse people into the teaching profession.

TEACH Connecticut is a new approach to diversifying teachers in public schools with large population of black and Hispanic students. The program will partner with TEACH.org to attract candidates through advertising. The site dedicated to Connecticut is www.connecticut.teach.org.

State officials said TEACH Connecticut is the first statewide initiative of its kind in the nation and will help the state fill vacancies in certification shortage areas such as math, science, bilingual and special education.

“Our education system is stronger when our teacher workforce is as diverse as the communities they serve, and the launch of TEACH Connecticut will only strengthen our schools,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said. “We should be proud that Connecticut’s education system is moving in the right direction.”

The state will invest in television and radio advertising with public service announcements to promote the initiative and raise the image of teaching.

“Effective teachers are critical to student success which is why the State Board of Education has prioritized making sure that every student is supported by high-quality teachers and leaders,” Department of Education Commissioner Dianna R. Wentzell said. “Yet, as the 2018-19 school year begins, some school districts are still struggling to fill vacancies. Through TEACH Connecticut, we want to not only promote and elevate the image of the teaching profession but make progress towards filling Connecticut’s persistent certification shortage areas by recruiting and retaining a diverse educator workforce that mirrors the racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity of our students.”

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West Hartford Magnet School Awarded Blue Ribbon


By Fran Wilson, Staff Writer

HARTFORD — A West Hartford school was awarded a 2018 National Blue Ribbon by the U.S. Department of Education.

The University of Hartford Magnet School was one of five schools recently awarded blue ribbons for their high academic performance or progress in closing the achievement gap between white and black, wealthy and poor.

“We congratulate these schools and their teachers, students and families for their collective efforts to nurture positive school communities,” said Gov. Dan Malloy. “They are all helping to shift the growing possibilities for our next generation in a positive direction.”

The University of Hartford Magnet School is operated by the Capitol Region Education Council. It serves pre-kindergartner through grade 5 students from more than 30 Connecticut towns. The school’s theme is “Learning through Multiple Intelligences.”

University of Hartford Magnet School Principal Tim Barber attributes the school’s success to the “close relationships among teachers, staff and families.”

The other schools awarded a blue ribbon were Forest School in West Haven, West School in New Canaan, Haddam-Killingworth High School in Regional School District 17 and St. Mary’s School in Simsbury.

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Center to Provide Mental Health Training


WEST HARTFORD — The Mandell Jewish Community Center will be offering youth mental health first aid training. Thanks to a grant from the Cigna Foundation.

The evidence-based Mental Health First Aid program will teach individuals how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders, officials said. The training will provide adults who regularly interact with young people, ages 12-18, “the knowledge and confidence needed to recognize crucial warning signs and symptoms of mental illness and the skills necessary to provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem.”

“While the Mandell JCC is known for its fitness, we recognize the important role mental health plays in overall wellbeing.  We also recognize that the conversation about mental health can be a sensitive discussion. There can be fear and stigma related to starting a conversation about mental health, but by teaching people how to identify, understand and respond to a mental health situation, we can help end the shame that keep so many from seeking the help they need,” said David Jacobs, Executive Director of the Mandell JCC.

“At Cigna, we believe that mental health is just as important as physical health, and teaching people how to respond to a mental health crisis is just as important as training people in CPR,” said Wendy Sherry, president of Cigna Healthcare of Connecticut, Inc. “We are proud to collaborate with the Mandell JCC to bring this important, groundbreaking training to the Greater Hartford community.”

The JCC expects to train 350 Youth Mental Health First Aiders over the next year. Youth Mental Health First Aiders are adults who regularly interact with young people, ages 12-18, including; teachers, parents, family members, caregivers, neighbors, health & human service workers, school staff, community organizations, peers, clergy, police officers, firefighters, first responders, coaches, camp counselors, pediatricians and municipal professionals. To date, more than one million people across the United States have been trained in Mental Health First Aid.

The courses offered by the JCC will be taught by certified Mental Health First Aid instructors, Rebecca Ewald Krusinski and Johanna Peck.

Ms. Krusinski is a licensed clinical social worker with over 15 years in the mental health field. Ms. Peck has over 15 years of marketing experience in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Connecticut, She is well-versed in human resources and staff management situations. Her own personal life experiences led her to become a certified instructor in Mental Health First Aid.

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