1971: Desegregating Drew Elementary
By 1969, Arlington’s junior and senior high schools were all desegregated. Hoffman-Boston Junior-Senior High School had closed in 1964, and Black students were placed in formerly all-white schools. At the elementary school level, however, there were still two schools that were virtually entirely Black.
The recently expanded Drew Elementary School and Hoffman-Boston Elementary School were both located in Arlington’s largest Black community. There had only been a handful of white students who attended either school in the ten years after public schools in Arlington ostensibly desegregated, and those students were only placed in the schools after their parents had requested admission.
On December 11, 1969, a group of around thirty parents of Drew students met at the headquarters of the Arlington Community Action Program and decided to ask the School Board at its January meeting “why it [was] ignoring the law of the land.” Chief among the parents’ concerns was that students from Drew were having considerably more difficulty adjusting to desegregated junior high compared with other Black students in the county who had attended integrated elementary schools.
Lawyer Thomas R. Monroe and education expert Dr. Donald K. Sharpes were also in attendance and explained to the group that they had been pressing the issue of desegregating Drew with the School Board since May. They vowed to “exhaust all channels of communication” with the Board and, if that didn’t work, to sue. A community task force was set up to explore the issue with other Nauck residents.
In May of 1970, feeling that the School Board was still not listening to the community’s concerns, ten parents filed a class action suit on behalf of sixteen Drew students: John E. Hart et al. v. County School Board of Arlington County, Virginia.
Just a little more than a month before the trial, on June 28, 1971, the School Board announced that it had arrived at a plan to desegregate Drew and Hoffman-Boston. Students in grades one through six of the two schools would be bused to other elementary schools throughout the district.
Students would be assigned to new schools in a way that tried to keep the Black population of each school as nearly as possible to 11% of the school’s total enrollment. (At this time Black people were about 11% of Arlington’s population.)
This new plan was not satisfactory to many in the community who felt it was essentially a plan to bus only the Black students. They argued that the plan put too much of the burden of desegregation on the same children who had already been forced to endure the indignities of segregation. This argument was pressed in an amended complaint before Judge Oren R. Lewis on August 10, 1971.
Lewis was unconvinced. He quoted previous case law stating that whether or not the district could have closed down different schools was immaterial; the question was “whether the Board's decision is so plainly unfair that it clearly amounts to invidious discrimination in violation of the equal protection clause.”
Lewis saw no such “invidious discrimination” in the desegregation plan and ruled in the School Board’s favor. “If Arlington is to convert to a unitary system, and the Supreme Court has decreed that it must—there will of necessity be some busing. The limited busing of the Drew-Hoffman-Boston children, here required, risks neither the health of the children nor significantly impinges on the educational process.”
He further pronounced that “The Arlington County School Board has now fully complied with the Supreme Court decision in Brown…Arlington will have neither black nor white schools—just schools.”
This decision was upheld on appeal on May 1, 1972.