Virginia Protest Prompts Community Dialogue on Treatment of Hispanic Students

On the last day of classes at Huguenot High School in Richmond, Virginia, community members rallied outside of the school to protest the alleged discriminatory treatment of Hispanic students. The group included the valedictorian of the graduating class, Jessica Orsonio.

The day before, Richmond Times Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams recalled, Osornio delivered an emotional speech that explained some of the sentiment behind the protest.

““Immigrant students don’t know if their parents will be taken away and the families separated,” Osornio, a Mexican immigrant herself, told the crowd. “Every day we walk with fear as we try and just get through the day, never knowing what the future has prepared for us and our loved ones. The only thing we want is to be equal. In the past, that has maybe been too much to ask. But not today. We dream and hope for the best.”

The discontent had grown in part on Facebook, where students set up a “Latin@ Students Under Attack at Huguenot HS – Rally to Support Students and Families Fighting to Decriminalize Schools” page promoting the protest.

The page accused school officials of discrimination and accused faculty of threatening students with deportation, alleged school security guards and police targeted Hispanics, and that the school denied proper language services to parents.

At the actual protest, they distributed flyers calling for professional interpreting services for parents and students, translations of policies, and cultural sensitivity training for teachers and other staff.

One month later, the Richmond Times Dispatch reports that Richmond public schools officials have announced the formation of a multicultural task force to address the tension in the community prompted by rapid demographic changes.

According to the newspaper, the school system’s Hispanic enrollment has grown from about 2.3 percent of students in 2003-04 to about 8.8 percent last school year. The task force will in part be dedicated to improving the district’s inclusiveness, promoting diversity, putting together cultural exchange opportunities, and cultural awareness among students and staff.

Have similar flare-ups taken place in your school district? If so, what steps are school officials taking to address the issue?

Related Links:

– “Williams: Richmond schools must handle their growing diversity,” Richmond Times Dispatch.

– “Richmond educators looking for ways to better serve growing Hispanic population,” Richmond Times Dispatch. 

– “Latin@ Students Under Attack at Huguenot HS” Facebook Page.

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Latino Students in Virginia Often Attend Segregated Schools

A new study finds that Latino students are becoming more segregated in Virginia schools–particularly in the northern part of the state where they are the largest minority group.

According to the study by The Civil Rights Project at UCLA, Northern Virginia is the only part of the state where Latino students are more segregated than black students.

“Despite Virginia’s long history with school desegregation, little political attention has been paid to the growing multi-racial diversity of the state’s enrollment and rising levels of isolation for its black and Latino students,” the report says.

The report examined data from the National Center for Education Statistics between 1989 and 2010, and found the following about school enrollments in 2010:

– About 6% of the state’s Latino students attended schools where white students make up less than 10% of the enrollment.

– Despite segregation, schools are also becoming increasingly diverse as well. In 2010, more than 60% of Latino students attended a multiracial school where three or more racial groups made up at least 10% of the enrollment. It was a dramatic increase from 1989, when the rate was 10%.

– The typical Latino student attended a school where low-income students made up about 41% of students.

The study breaks out numbers depending on the region of the state- Norfolk-Virginia Beach-Newport News, Richmond-Petersburg and Northern Virginia. The report makes various suggestions as to how the state can increase integration, including using magnet schools to promote more racial integration and avoiding rezoning policies that increase racial isolation.

Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, called attention to the need for the state to adjust to its changing demographics.

“Though many racial issues remain unsettled for black students, Virginia now faces another kind of change as it becomes a truly multiracial state, which poses a different set of risks and opportunities,” Orfield said. “Leaders need the vision to renew efforts to achieve justice and integration for blacks and to be sure that the growing Latino communities are not locked into segregation and inequality.”

Related Links:

– “Latino students attending increasingly segregated schools in Virginia,” Washington Post. 

– “UCLA Report Finds Virginia’s African American Students Face Increasing Racial Segregation and Poverty in School,” The Civil Rights Project at UCLA.