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Friday, Oct. 7, 2022

Charlottesville schools have been desegregated since 1966. After more than a decade fighting against the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, the district closed its Black schools and integrated.

But integration did not happen evenly. If it had, the Black children living in the Westhaven public housing community would have been zoned for their neighborhood school — Venable. They were not.

Charlottesville City Schools went to great lengths to keep Black students out of its affluent Venable Elementary School. Though the school grounds sit at the border of the Venable and 10th & Page neighborhoods, kids living in the historically Black 10th & Page were zoned elsewhere. In the 1960s, they went to McGuffey Elementary School downtown. When that closed, some of the neighborhood was zoned for Greenbrier Elementary School. The rest, including the Westhaven public housing community in the corner of 10th & Page, went to Burnley-Moran Elementary School, some three miles across town.

The blatantly racist school zoning practice remained in effect for more than half a century — until last night.

A photo of stars leading up to school building, with columns
Credit: Kori Price/Charlottesville Tomorrow

After 50 years of bussing Westhaven kids away from their neighborhood school, City Schools votes to rezone Venable

At Thursday’s school board meeting, the board voted with little fanfare to end the decade’s old practice of bussing children in Charlottesville’s predominantly Black public housing community across town.

It took several tries to get here. 

In 2003, Black residents in 10th & Page demanded that City Schools allow their children to attend Venable. The school board welcomed the request, said former board member Deirdre Smith. But the Venable Parent Teacher Organization did not. It fought the proposal, releasing a notice to the members that claimed Venable could not handle an influx of 20 children — the number living in 10th & Page.

The PTO asserted that the children would be better off at Greenbrier Elementary School where they could receive all the “services” they needed.

“When redistricting is done properly, carefully and fairly, taking into consideration the individual situations and needs of all the students and schools involved, Venable families will embrace any required changes,” said the notice, which was not signed with parents’ names. “We will NOT accept redistricting when it is done, as in this situation, sloppily and hurriedly and in a way which negatively impacts the quality of education for all students involved.”

Despite the response, the board voted to allow 10th & Page students to attend Venable in 2004. The rezoning did not include Westhaven.

The decision to move Westhaven kids to Venable came in 2019, when the school board took the half-step of allowing Westhaven families to opt for the closer school, while leaving the neighborhood zoned for Burnley-Moran. The year prior, City Schools was featured in a New York Times article detailing the history of segregation and lack of opportunity given to Charlottesville’s Black children. Charlottesville School Board member Larson-Torres said the report raised a lot of questions within the board, but wasn’t the catalyst for the 2019 decision.

“This act of rezoning or assigning residence to their neighborhood school is just one tiny step towards righting some of those wrongs,” said Larson-Torres. “In my opinion, we have a long way to go. Actions, actions, actions — that is what is necessary and needed.”

The rezoning vote was not the only issue about Venable Elementary School discussed at Thursday’s meeting.

Credit: Mike Kropf/Charlottesville Tomorrow

Charlottesville City Schools will consider changing the names of Venable and Clark elementary schools

The school division will discuss Clark and Venable elementary schools first schools first. Venable is named after Charles S. Venable, a Confederate officer who worked directly under Gen. Robert E. Lee. Clark is named after Brigadier Gen. George Rogers Clark, a military officer who supported white settlers taking land occupied by various Indigenous groups. Clark also, according to research presented at Thursday’s meeting, had enslaved laborers on multiple plantations.

Here’s more quick news this week:

El sábado, La Iniciativa de Salud Latina de UVA realiza una feria de salud

UVA Latino Health Initiative hosts free clinic Saturday

Local Native American artists host exhibition in Studio IX

While their works are distinct, both use art to explore identity and heritage.

Albemarle early voting is happening at the County Office Building — not Mailbox Express

The Virginia Department of Elections listed the incorrect address in its most recent notice to voters.

Thanks for reading,

Jessie Higgins, managing editor

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Jessie Higgins

I'm Charlottesville Tomorrow's managing editor and health and safety reporter. If there’s something you think we should be investigating, please email me at jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org! And you can follow all the work we do by subscribing to our free newsletter! Hablo español, y quiero mantener a la comunidad hispanohablante informada. Si tienes preguntas o información que debo saber, por favor, envíame un correo electrónico a jhiggins@cvilletomorrow.org.