School segregation in Richmond City and its surrounding counties is a persistent problem. 64 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the demographic makeup of schools in the area is still largely divided along racial and economic lines. Controversy/History, a monthly series of events organized by The Valentine Museum, held a panel discussion last week entitled Education: Segregation Then & Now, which examined the history of school segregation in the Richmond region with an eye towards the future.
The event featured two guest speakers, Chris Duncombe and Dr. Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, who used demographic and economic data to paint a picture of the ongoing issues of school segregation facing the Richmond community.
Duncombe, a senior policy analyst at the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, used U.S. Department of Education data to show the connection between poverty and race in public schools in Richmond and throughout the state of Virginia.
According to the available data, most non-white students in the Richmond area attend schools with student bodies consisting of 70 percent or more students of color, and whose students are predominantly economically disadvantaged.
“A higher percentage of Virginia’s students of color are being educated in schools of concentrated poverty over the last decade,” Duncombe said.
According to Duncombe, schools in areas of concentrated poverty face unique educational challenges and shortcomings, such as higher turnover rates among teaching staff and unequal resource allocation.
“Students of color are disproportionately experiencing some of these educational challenges,” Duncombe said.
The presentation highlighted the growing number of Latinx students in the region. Around Richmond, Latinx student enrollment has doubled in the past five years, and these students have the highest dropout rate of any group in the area.
The ten-minute lecture connected Richmond’s present school-segregation battle to the state’s efforts to halt desegregation in the years following Brown v. Board of Education. Virginia politicians largely supported a strategy of “massive resistance” against school integration throughout the 1950’s and 60’s.
“It’s really important that you have an understanding of the history before you look at the data or try to interpret it,” Duncombe said.
Dr. Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, an associate professor of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, gave a brief presentation that illustrated the relationship between school and housing segregation in Richmond.
The lecture used housing and educational data from several Southern cities to illustrate the lasting impact of massive resistance on Virginia’s education system, and the severity of Richmond’s school segregation problem in comparison to other cities.
At the end of her presentation, Siegel-Hawley provided a list of possible solutions to problem of school segregation in Richmond, and opened up the floor for discussion.
Several attendees shared personal stories about their time in Richmond public schools in the decades following Brown v. Board of Education. Brenda Williams-Jones, one of the first African-American students to attend John Marshall High School, was in the audience.
Controversy/History is a monthly event that seeks to engage the Richmond community in discussions about hyperlocal issues. The event is free and open to the public, and is hosted by Valentine Director Bill Martin and radio host Kelli Lemon.
The full 2018-2019 Controversy/History schedule is available here. Next month’s topic is titled “James River: Commerce or Recreation?” and will take place on Dec. 4 from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Valentine.