Groundbreaking Reports Highlight Racial Inequality in Metro Richmond Schools

Photo: LiveSchool

Photo: LiveSchool

Adam Sachs, News Editor

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The City of Richmond and the surrounding counties have struggled with racial inequality in public schools for decades. From the era of Harry F. Byrd and the anti-integration “massive resistance” movement to today, there have been many laudable improvements. However, two recent reports show that there is still work to be done to improve racial equality in local schools.

According to data released by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) on October 1st, Richmond Public Schools have the lowest graduation rate in the entire state. Graduation rates have been steadily increasing across Virginia, but RPS’s graduation rate has fallen dramatically in the past academic year. Less than 75% of seniors in the City graduated on-time last June, far lower than the state average of 91.6%.

Fewer RPS students dropped out of high school this past academic year compared to prior years, but racial gaps persist. The dropout rate last year was significantly higher for English language learners (25%), lower-income students (8%), and black students (6%) compared to their white peers (3.1%).

RPS’s superintendent, Jason Kamras, has already faced serious problems in Richmond schools since he began his tenure earlier this year, including an SOL-cheating scandal at Carver Elementary (just down the road from Maggie Walker) and a district-wide bathroom cleanup and renovation initiative after the restrooms at many City schools were reportedly in disastrous condition. After the release of the bombshell VDOE report on graduation rates, Kamras commented in a statement, “This data is not a reflection of our students’ abilities. It’s a reflection of our failure to provide them with the education they deserve…My administration is committed to changing this — once and for all — for every young person in RPS.”

The graduation rates of many local school districts increased this past year. Hanover County had the highest graduation rate in the area, at 95%, while New Kent County’s graduation rate increased significantly to 93.5%. Chesterfield and Henrico Counties also saw approximately 1% increases in their graduation rates this past year.

The Henrico County Public Schools system is currently addressing the results of another report by the VDOE, which showed that the county disciplines African American students with disabilities at significantly higher rates than their classmates. Despite a decrease in the number of out-of-school suspensions in the 2016-17 school year, the VDOE report found that nearly 75% of these suspensions were given to black students.

HCPS ordered the internal report after it paid nearly $1 million in legal fees to litigate parental complaints of unfair disciplinary practices in the district’s special education programs last year. The report noted, “many parents, especially those whose children have more complex needs, expressed concerns on some consistent themes [of racial disparities in special education].”

The report also recommended renovating or closing the special education program at the Virginia Randolph Education Center in Glen Allen. When Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton, who helped conduct the report, visited the school, she remarked, “It’s not designed for [the] purpose [of educating students with special needs], and it’s not well-maintained. … During our brief two-hour visit, I saw things that made me say, ‘I wouldn’t send my child there.’”  

These reports highlight the racial inequalities in local schools that have become all too common in the past few decades. It’s clear that HCPS and RPS must make significant changes to satisfy the needs of local parents, and most importantly, their children.

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