Conclusion to investigation of Henrico schools still months away

By Andy Jenks - bio | email | facebook

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) – "East vs. West" is being put to the test.

This month, the federal government continues to look into whether the Henrico County Public School system benefits white students more than black students. NBC12 recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to find out what the feds want to know, and what it means for the schools' future.

Smiling school leaders tour the hallways of the sparkling new Glen Allen High School. It's early September, and the tone in the West End is optimistic.

"It's absolutely gorgeous" said a teenage student, remarking on the new surroundings.

Several miles away, the feeling isn't exactly the same. Henrico also wants to build a new East End high school. The land is picked out, but the latest word is that there's no funding for it.

Mychael Dickerson is with HCPS.

"We certainly hear those questions about what we're providing for eastern schools versus western schools," Dickerson said.

The criticism that West End children receive more than their counterparts in the East is now spreading to Washington. Randy Wills is with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights.

"These issues are not unique to any area," Wills said.

In the Fall, Wills' office began to investigate whether students in the predominantly black East End receive the same benefits and resources as those in the predominantly white West End. It's called a "compliance review" and it involves extensive interviews and documents.

Officially, Wills can't reveal why Henrico was chosen, but he says it was not because of a complaint.

The review of Henrico Schools is one of 37 begun last year by the Department of Education, where authorities say it doesn't necessarily mean that anything is wrong.

"Opening a review in no way indicates that we've made a finding of liability," Wills said.

But a finding can be a serious public relations setback for a district with an otherwise sterling reputation.

"We don't impose fines. We are interested at that point, very much interested, in working with the district to help them develop policies, make whatever changes are necessary to come into compliance with the law," Wills said.

As they strive to be among the nation's best, Henrico school leaders believe the review is an opportunity to put "East vs. West" to rest.

"We think we're doing okay here. But if they find something and we've got some gaps, we want to make sure we hear that," Dickerson said.

So far, Henrico has provided the feds with a lot of papers; mostly demographic data on every school. Soon, people from the U.S. Department of Education will make a visit in person. Their findings, if any, are not expected for several more months.

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