Hartford · In the State

The Other Side Of Open Choice: Hartford Mom Speaks Out On Racism Her Sons Faced In Suburban School

The Open Choice program, which allows students to enter into a lottery for seats at schools outside their home district, was devised by the state as a way to fix racial segregation in schools.

The goal of the program is to help kids in places like Hartford, by giving minority students access to high performing schools in affluent suburban districts.

Overall this has been lauded as a success, but there is another side to the story — a side that rarely gets talked about.

As Kekyona Wynkoop, a Harford mom whose two sons attended Berlin Public Schools discusses, it’s not easy being one of the only black children in a white school:

Kekyona Wynkoop and her sons aren’t alone

Allegations of racism at Open Choice schools is nothing new. Last year, a complaint was filed against South Windsor Public Schools with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) over racist practices, including making non-south Windsor students use a different entrance and laughing off the use of racial slurs.   

The problems are so widespread that one of the attorneys who represented Sheff in the landmark schools desegregation case Sheff v. O’Neill,  Martha Stone, acknowledged it, saying point blank: “There’s some racism in suburban districts,” when asked. 

Segregation hurts students, but why aren’t suburbs held accountable to the same standards?

It’s great that families are being given access to high performing, well-resourced schools, but the suburbs have never upheld their part of the bargain.

The Open Choice program has been around for awhile, going all the way back to 1966, though it was originally called “Project Concern.” It started out with about 265 Hartford students in 1966, but at the program’s height, there were about 1,200 students, according to the Hartford Courant, however suburban interest waned in the 1990s.

The program was once again expanded after the Sheff v. ONeil ruling in 1996, 30 years after Project Concern began. The state had envisioned the program opening up 5,000 seats to Hartford-area children, but that never happened. At the moment, only about 2200 kids participate.

As a result, even after 20 years, many of the suburban schools apart of this program are about as racially isolated as Hartford’s neighborhood schools, but in reverse. Obviously, this is having an impact on the classroom.

The discussion always focuses on racial isolation at Hartford Public Schools because they are low-performing, but if we don’t look at these schools too we aren’t really solving the problem.

Since the suburban schools haven’t opened enough seats, it’s exacerbated segregation in Hartford. More to the point, academics are important, but so is making sure your children are safe and in a school community they don’t feel excluded from. Is this really giving kids a better shot?

If schools are allowing racism to persist, ts this really giving kids a better shot?




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