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Sheff vs. O'Neill, Connecticut's landmark desegregation case

Stephen Brecker Delaney, University of Massachusetts Amherst


On April 18, 1989, eighteen school aged children from the metropolitan Hartford, Connecticut area, acting through their parents, commenced a civil action in the Hartford Superior Court. The suit named the State of Connecticut, constitutionally elected officials, and officials of various state commissions and agencies as defendants. The plaintiffs alleged significant constitutional violations under applicable sections of the State constitution which they believe constituted a denial of their fundamental rights to an education and rights to equal protection under the law. In the landmark civil rights decision of Sheff v. O'Neill, the Connecticut Supreme Court, on July 16, 1996, ruled that based upon these constitutional claims, the state had an affirmative obligation to provide Connecticut's school children with a substantially equal educational opportunity. This constitutionally guaranteed right encompasses the access to a public education which is not substantially and materially impaired by racial and ethnic isolation. The Court further concluded that school districting based upon town and city boundary lines are unconstitutional. The implications and potential ramifications of this decision are significant. This dissertation chronicles the events and examines the issues surrounding this landmark decision. The background contributing to the plaintiffs claims, the state's position, the historical evolution of the case, and reaction/actions and proposals to remedy and comply with the court's order are examined.

Subject Area

Education history|School administration|Law

Recommended Citation

Delaney, Stephen Brecker, "Sheff vs. O'Neill, Connecticut's landmark desegregation case" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3000304.