Guess whose schools are getting more segregated? Nearly four out of five Latino students in Northern Virginia are enrolled in predominantly minority schools, according to the Los Angeles-based Civil Rights Project. “About 7 percent of those students went to ‘intensely segregated minority schools’ — ones where less than 10 percent of students were white and a large majority of students lived in poverty,” summarizes the Washington Post.
The Post quotes Virginia Commonwealth University education professor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley: ““When we look at school enrollment today, it’s no longer a black-and-white story. It’s a very multiracial one. But alongside that growing diversity, there are also persistent patterns of segregation.”
Two decades ago, summarizes the Post, very few black or Latino students attended racially isolated public schools in Northern Virginia. But by 2010, as immigration surged, 7 percent of Latino students and 5 percent of African Americans were in schools where less than 10 percent of students were white and where poverty rates were high.
(The Post doesn’t name the study or link to it, and I cannot find it on the Internet. However, I did locate a study, “Southern Slippage,” published by the Civil Rights Project and co-authored by Siegel-Hawley in September 2012.)
Bacon’s bottom line: Siegel-Hawley, who advocates “continued or new court oversight of Southern school districts,” uses the emotionally loaded phrase, “persistent patterns of segregation.” “Segregation” is an especially charged term to use in Virginia, with its history of slavery, Jim Crow and white flight. But this is 2013, not 1953, and while clearly there are schools where the student body consists overwhelmingly of minorities, I have a problem with assuming, without further evidence, that separation equals segregation, which smacks of widespread discrimination and even government-enforced “separate but equal” laws. And I especially have a problem talking about a “persistent” pattern of segregation for Latinos, who barely had a presence in Virginia 30 years ago.
As much as I like to tweak Northern Virginians (who tend to be holier-than-thou in their views toward down-state Virginians) for their “segregated” schools, I do not draw the conclusion that something malign is occurring. “Segregated” schools are a consequence of “segregated” neighborhoods. The question becomes, why are neighborhoods segregated? Do minorities still suffer from rampant discrimination in housing choices? In particular, I would ask, do Latinos suffer from rampant housing discrimination in Northern Virginia?
Or do Latinos, when immigrating in large numbers, as they have done in the Washington region, gravitate to neighborhoods that (a) are affordable and (b) are populated by other Latinos who share the same language similar culture, where churches conduct services in Spanish, and where they can readily access grocers and other merchants who cater to Latino tastes? Really, should we be surprised that first-generation, working-class Latinos want to cluster together, even if it means attending schools where they aren’t blessed by the presence of middle-class white students?
My prediction is that as Latinos are assimilated into American society — especially second-generation Latinos — self-separation will diminish. Northern Virginia’s residential separation, I would suggest, is a very different phenomenon than the segregation of the past and is not something to be regarded as a pretext for government intrusion.