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"Jumping the Line" from city to suburb

by Jack Dougherty

In 1985, Saundra Foster, a black single mother living in the City of Hartford, searched for a better school for her teenage son, Trevor. Trevor had always been “a good kid” who liked to go to school, but ran into problems in the Hartford school district, which Saundra described as “geared for special education.” Saundra decided to "jump the line" by enrolling her child, a resident of the city of Hartford, in the suburban school district of Bloomfield. “Jumping the line” was a serious step; although other parents had done it before, the decision could result in real trouble if they were caught. The town of Bloomfield responded to Saundra Foster and three other Black parents by arresting them with a first-degree felony for what many described as “stealing an education.” Bloomfield’s arrests were unprecedented in Connecticut, and were meant to garner public attention as a scare tactic meant to discourage others, particularly black mothers living in Hartford, from “jumping the line.” While the arrests did draw the public eye and may have intimidated some parents, they also sparked a civil rights discussion on the growing disparity between city and suburban schools. Saundra Foster’s advocates and civil rights leaders capitalized on her arrest to raise pivotal questions on one’s right to an education. Is it possible to steal a public education that the state is required to provide to all students? Did the growing inequality between Hartford and its suburbs prove that Connecticut was not meeting its constitutional obligations for equal educational opportunity? These questions were not just important in the abstract. Foster’s and the other parents’ arrests forced a close examination of education inequity in Connecticut, which helped lay the groundwork for the landmark Sheff v O’Neill case in 1989. Foster’s arrest brought to light the existence of deep city-suburban boundary lines, which were becoming increasingly contested in the 1980s due to a combination of the rising disparities between urban and suburban schools, increasing costs of public education, and rising white suburban barriers against non-resident students, especially Black students, in contrast to relaxed policies towards white students a generation earlier. The Sheff case would build of the work of Foster’s advocates to legally challenge these boundaries. Learn more at On The Line, an open-access book at http://OnTheLine.trincoll.edu

Jumping the Line

Local television news story on the 1985 case of Saundra Foster and three other Black parents in Hartford, Connecticut who were arrested for "stealing a public education" by enrolling their students in the suburban Bloomfield school district.

from The Public File, WVIT Hartford (1985)
Creator: William Mendoza
Distributor: WVIT Channel 30, Hartford
Posted by Jack Dougherty
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