New reports detail deepening segregation by race and poverty in Virginia schools

New reports detail deepening segregation by race and poverty in Virginia schools
The Valley Superintendent's District in Virginia, where Charlottesville and Albemarle County are located, is the third most segregated district in the commonwealth, according to a new report. (Source: WVIR)

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Nearly six decades since the groundbreaking desegregation decision in “Brown v. Board of Education,” two new studies of Virginia schools report the commonwealth’s schools are still deeply divided by race and poverty. More than that, the problem has only gotten worse over the last decade.

“We are certainly living with the legacy of past discrimination, past decisions,” Author and educator Genevieve Siegel-Hawley said. “Present ones, too.”

The studies, one from Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education and the other from The Commonwealth Institute, come to the same conclusion: segregation is deepening in Virginia.

“How much segregation flows from the fact that kids are separated into entirely separate school systems, versus how much segregation follows from the fact that kids are sorted into different schools within the same school system?” Siegel-Hawley, the author of the VCU report, said, outlining the basic question at the heart of the study.

That VCU report found that the Valley Superintendent District, which contains the greater Charlottesville area, is the third most segregated in the commonwealth. The report says that’s due mostly to discrimination by boundary lines, where student populations in and around cities like Charlottesville, Waynesboro, and Staunton are more diverse than the counties that surround them. That’s harder to address than segregation within single school districts, where districts can take unilateral steps to fix the problem.

“I don’t want to, to say that those efforts are impossible,” Siegel-Hawley said. “They are arguably more difficult than what can be done in a single division.”

Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Matthew Haas says the district knows its an uphill battle. Still, it’s something it is working to address within the district for a key reason.

“When we provide opportunities that are equitable, and we ensure that students have what they need to be successful, everyone is successful,” Haas explained. “Everyone benefits from that.”

ACPS is already making several changes to key programs to help facilitate more diverse schools in the county. One big shift, Haas notes, is occurring in the county’s academy programs.

“If a student raises their hand and says, ‘I would like to attend an academy or attend a career pathway, that’s not in the same feeder pattern where I currently reside,’ we’re going to honor that. We’re going to have that student attend, and we’re going to provide transportation,” he said. “It’s good for students from families that have means and have plans beyond what we may be able to provide, and it’s good for families that need need to have that lift, to have that leg up.”

Haas also highlighted other actions the county is taking. He specifically pointed to ACPS moving extended day enrichment programs from first-come, first-serve status to a lottery system, allowing more equitable access.

Both are steps in line with Siegel-Hawley’s recommendations. However, she says more regional action and statewide leadership will need to be taken to really put an end to the continuing problem of segregation.

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