A Good Example From New England

COMMENT

July 18, 1993|By KEVIN THOMAS

Not long ago, I happened to be traveling through Connecticut, when I stopped near Hartford, the state capital. People have a lot of courage in Connecticut, a lot of courage.

For some time now, a group of Hartford attorneys has been waging a courtroom war with the state to force the idea of regional desegregation.

Though it hardly needs explaining, Hartford's substantially black and Hispanic student population attends inferior, underfunded schools when compared with students attending school in wealthy, mostly white, surrounding towns.

Conveniently, Connecticut did away with its county system about the same time the Supreme Court outlawed segregated schools. Perhaps it saw the writing on the wall.

Well, the chickens have come home to roost, in a manner of speaking.

Not only is the lawsuit pending, but the state's governor, Lowell P. Weicker Jr., has proposed regional desegregation and the state legislature has adopted a modified plan.

Granted, Mr. Weicker and state lawmakers may simply be trying to soften the blow of a court order. But at least they've stepped up to the plate.

This is a far cry from when I was a reporter in Hartford covering the school system more than a decade ago. At that time, school officials were still trying to hide the system's problems, and state officials had turned a deaf ear to the whole situation.

It's amazing what 10 years will do.

More amazing is to compare Connecticut today with Howard County.

Just a few months ago, the county school board backed away from an opportunity to create a better racial balance at Wilde Lake High by redistricting students from the nearly all-white Centennial High.

This was a particularly gutless act, with school officials bowing .. to the political will of one community, Dorsey Hall.

Granted, the situation in Connecticut is much broader than the situation in Howard County. Still the issue at root is equity.

As resident Barbara Strong Goss pointed out in a report some months ago, a small number of county schools have more than their fair share of disadvantaged students.

Some school officials have promised to take up the matter again in a year. But I'm not convinced that those who acted so cowardly this year can change that much in a dozen or so months.

Superintendent Michael Hickey has pledged to look into the possibility of having regional school districts in the county, from which a better racial balance may be achieved.

While he's studying, Dr. Hickey may want to look to Connecticut for guidance. There, he'll find some people with nerve.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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