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Conn. schools grapple with racial balance

HARTFORD — The emotionally charged issues of race and education are on the agendas of several Connecticut school boards as officials struggle to seek state-mandated racial balance at elementary schools.

School officials in Fairfield, Greenwich, and Groton are proposing changes to plans already in place that are intended to ensure that student population at some elementary schools are within 25 percentage points of the district’s racial makeup.

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West Hartford has been asked to propose ways to reduce imbalances at two schools, Hamden is submitting a plan to the state, and Middletown is bracing for the possibility it may have to come up with a plan for a school next year, said Laura Anastasio, a state Department of Education lawyer who tracks school balance numbers.

Achieving racial balance is required by state law that dates to the late 1960s when schools, businesses and other institutions began dismantling segregation. Each year, state education officials cite about eight districts with schools that are racially imbalanced.

The drafting of local plans to guarantee a mix of black, Asian, Hispanic, and other minority students requires arduous work that can set off passionate debate over issues of quality education and race.

School populations shift with demographic changes, aging populations, or other movements over time. For example, Middletown reorganized districts a few years ago but one school is out of balance again, Anastasio said. The state warns schools of impending imbalances.

Supporters say achieving such balance promotes diversity that reflects society.

‘‘Any university, any institution of higher education, virtually all institutions reflect the diversity of this nation,’’ said state Representative Andy Fleischmann, a West Hartford Democrat who supports racial balance efforts and is House chairman of the legislature’s Education Committee. ‘‘If you want a child properly prepared to head off to a 21st-century workplace, they should be exposed to diversity.’’

Opponents say the law and state regulations enforcing school balance distract from providing students with the best education possible.

‘‘It’s all about the adults first and the children second,’’ said Anna Povinelli, a Greenwich parent of four students and an opponent of racial balance rules. ‘‘People buy their homes in a certain neighborhood and kids like where they are and don’t want to be moved to satisfy a legislator.”

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