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Groton to fight state over moving students to create racial balance

By Chuck Potter

Publication: The Day

Published February 28. 2012 4:00AM
Issue involves Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School

Groton - Superintendent of Schools Superintendent Paul Kadri gave a detailed presentation Monday evening to the Board of Education, describing four of six options for moving students around the district to create a racial balance at the Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School.

But instead of complying with the state mandate, the school board said it plans to challenge the law that requires such balance. The school is about 83 percent non-white.

"I don't like using that term, non-white," he said. "It makes me uncomfortable. But that's the language the state uses."

He said the $25 million a year the town receives in state Educational Cost Sharing money would be at risk if the district failed to comply with the mandate.

The school was operating under a waiver since it opened three years ago, pending the Phase II School upgrade projects that would have corrected the imbalance.

That project, and the waiver, were scuttled when Phase II failed in a referendum last May, so the district was compelled to find alternative means to create racial balance.

One plan had kindergarten students who should go to Catherine Kolnaski School, going instead to Claude Chester for one year. About 100 students from the Midway Oval neighborhood in Poquonnock Bridge would have been bused to S.B. Butler School in Mystic instead of walking to Claude Chester.

"I find all of this very disturbing," board member Beverly Washington said. "We can't be breaking up neighborhoods. We shouldn't be shipping little kids across town on buses. If people want diversity they shouldn't move to Noank."

The audience applauded, and the discussion shifted.

The board instructed Kadri to pursue the waiver. Shelley Gardner implored board Chairman Kirsten E. Hoyt to seek legal counsel to look into the ramifications of the law. Hoyt, in turn, urged the audience to attend a March meeting in which the town's state legislators are expected to be in attendance.

Board member Chaz Zezulka said the state should give special consideration to the fact the town hosts a large military community and the racial makeup of a school can dramatically change over the course of a school year.

Several parents of different backgrounds said they chose their neighborhood based on diversity and didn't want the state dictating to them.

"I have a problem moving kids around like pawns," Gardner said, to loud applause.

"If the state wants to legislate diversity, it should do it with the housing code," Kadri said. "Not with children's lives."

c.potter@theday.com

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