Virginia Students Push State Lawmakers to Address Discrimination in Schools

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Students are fighting discrimination in Virginia schools. Students are fighting discrimination in Virginia schools.
Solange Oliver, a student in Chesterfield County. Solange Oliver, a student in Chesterfield County.

New school policies could be coming to Virginia in efforts to prevent discrimination in the classroom.

State lawmakers are working with students and activist organizations across the state to come up with solutions.

The group met on Saturday for a forum to stop school push-out when it comes to students of color, specifically girls, in Virginia.

“Virginia is No. 1 in the country for school push-out and for suspending and referrals of children of color,” said Delegate Jennifer Carroll of Virginia’s 2nd District.

The issue has come up many times in the city of Charlottesville and central Virginia and now discussions are happening at the capital to make a difference.

“When I entered high school, I became really socially conscious on different issues,” said Solange Oliver, who is a junior at a Chesterfield County high school. 

During a meeting with state lawmakers and community members, Oliver presented her experiences of discrimination in her county’s school system.

“I’ve seen a lot of discrimination in dress code, especially with head wraps and with different types because black girls are known to be sexualized for their bodies in this country,” Oliver said.

Amy Woolard, an attorney and policy coordinator with the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, says “what we have found over the years is black students and students with disabilities have really been punished more harshly and more often than any other students.”

Oliver’s experiences have also been felt by students in central Virginia and students across the state are looking to state lawmakers for change.

“When you’re being told that you’re doing something wrong in the school atmosphere where you’re just expressing yourself, it’s like ‘you’re trying to make it seem like I’m wrong, but I’m not but I don’t have the explanation for it so it really goes into that systematic racism that plays a part in the school systems,” Oliver said.

Now, legislators such as Delegate Carroll are trying to dismantle that system by looking to the students for suggestions.

“In order to find a solution, we have to address it head-on and have those uncomfortable conversations and figure out what is the catalyst for having this happen,” Carroll said.

In addition to working on the inequity or treatment in the school systems, the group is also working to come up with alternatives to suspending or expelling students for legitimate disciplinary infractions. They say limiting students’ access to education has no benefit to anyone in the field.