May 16, 2024 - News

Segregation skyrocketed among Virginia's Latino students in last 30 years

Illustration of a classroom full of desks with half of them in black and white and half in color

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Richmond Public Schools had the highest levels of school segregation between white and Latino students in Virginia in 2022, according to a Stanford University analysis of federal data.

Why it matters: The combination of ethnicity, poverty and language create a "triple segregation" among Latino students that's been overlooked for decades and "left to fester," said Gary Orfield, co-director of the UCLA Civil Rights Project.

State of play: Latino students' federal right to desegregation didn't happen until nearly 20 years after the Brown v. Board ruling with the 1973 Supreme Court case Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver.

  • But Orfield told Axios that by then, most desegregation policies were written to focus on Black and white students — not Latinos.
  • "There were no policies in place to deal with it," Orfield said.

Yes, but: The issue hasn't been a secret.

  • A UCLA Civil Rights Project report in 2013 flagged that the share of Latino Virginians in intensely segregated schools (where nonwhite students are at least 90% of the population) had doubled between 1999 and 2010.
  • In Richmond, the percentage tripled between 1989 and 2010.

Now, Latinos in RPS are the most segregated of any racial or ethnic group, with segregation between white and Latino students nearly quadrupling since 1991, according to Stanford's analysis.

  • This coincides with a boom in RPS' Latino population. In 2022, the Latino student population (26% of the district) was about 29 times greater than it was in 1991 (0.9%), per the federal data.
  • Statewide, Latinos went from being 3% of the student population in 1991 to almost 20% in 2022.
  • Meanwhile, the percentage of Black or white students in RPS and across Virginia has dropped since 1991.

The intrigue: Some RPS schools, like Cardinal Elementary in Southside, have traded one predominant demographic for another.

  • In 1991, Cardinal was 86% Black, 12% white and 2% Hispanic.
  • By 2022, it was 84% Hispanic, 13% Black and 2% white.
  • In fall 2023, it was also 80% English learners.

In other schools like Richmond High School for the Arts, previously George Wythe and also in Southside, Latinos are a major part of the school being 97% nonwhite.

  • Back in 1991, 93% of the school was Black and 0.4% was Hispanic.

What's next: Lyons Sanchezconcha, assistant principal at Huguenot High School, told Axios that in recent years, there's been a growing awareness of the need to tackle Latino student segregation.

  • But dismantling it must include better serving Latino students where they're at, he added, whether that be through representative hires or programs dedicated to preparing Latino youth for college.

Go deeper: Hurdles remain 75 years after key Latino segregation case.

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