Volume 74, Number 2

May 1999

How Sheff Revives Brown: Reconsidering Desegregation’s Role in Creating Equal Opportunity Education

Mary Jane Lee

This Note examines Sheff and its implications for Brown’s desegregation strategy. It contends that efforts to dismantle school segregation can indeed coexist with the aim of improving educational quality. An analysis of Sheff, the leading state case in this area, reveals two reasons why desegregating schools remains an important goal. First, desegregation is needed because racial isolation makes possible the institutionalization and entrenchment of ongoing racial discrimination. In the context of public education, this discrimination manifests itself through the stigmatization of students attending predominantly minority schools and through the devaluation of minority children and the lack of priority given to their life opportunities. Second, school districts should desegregate because race intersects with poverty such that the burdens of second-class school systems fall disproportionately on minority students. Accordingly, the problems of segregated schools require legislative action that will reduce racial isolation and counteract the extensive correlation between race and poverty. The state can accomplish this goal by initiating structural changes across the dividing line between Hartford and its suburbs.