Hartford Schools Ad Campaign Angers Sheff Plaintiffs | Connecticut Public Radio

Hartford Schools Ad Campaign Angers Sheff Plaintiffs

May 3, 2011

Last week, we reported that an advertising campaign by the Hartford Public Schools upset state education officials.  Now, as WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports, plaintiffs a landmark school desegregation case say the "Choose Hartford" ad strategy could land everybody back in court.

The radio ad begins with the sound of balls spinning in a lottery before it warns parents of the gamble of a state magnet school. "Your child's education is a right and not a game, so why risk their education on a lottery and then a waiting list?" As Hartford parents considered whether to send their students to state magnet schools, the language of the public schools' print, radio, and television ads has upset state education officials and the plaintiffs in the Sheff versus O'Neill lawsuit. "I think the message is to dissuade them from leaving the city to seek educational opportunities outside of Hartford." That's Dennis Parker. He's the director of the Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union in New York -- which represents plaintiffs in the case.  "We have no problem with saying consider all of the options that are open to you.  But, you know, to have to say, we're great and these other things are a danger to you -- it turns it into a political campaign." There is a continuing tension between state and city education officials.  The state, in trying to comply with Sheff and create diverse educational environments, has built magnet schools that often take Hartford students out of the city.  Meanwhile, the city's schools are working to make it so students won't have to leave to get a good education.  Parker says students should have the choice to do either. "To suggest that you are subjecting your child to some kind of educational disadvantage by considering sending them to Farmington or to Simsbury or to any of the excellent magnet schools that are located outside of Hartford is, again, irresponsible." Parker has asked school Superintendent Steven Adamowski to revise his ad campaign.  Adamowski did not respond to requests for comment, but he told the Connecticut Mirror that Parker's request was inappropriate. The ACLU is now considering legal options. For WNPR, I'm Jeff Cohen.