Purpose: Layered with myriad considerations, school closure and rezoning processes in urban school systems are politically fraught with the potential for damaging consequences. This article explores the politics and impacts of a closure and rezoning process in Richmond, Virginia, through the lens of themes applicable to urban school systems and students across the nation. These include the intersection of closure and rezoning with growing White reinvestment in urban school systems, as well as the importance of focusing on diversity and equity during a time of intense pressure to close schools.

Research Methods/Approach: Drawing on the case of Richmond, Virginia, we use an explanatory sequential mixed methods research design, employing qualitative methods to examine the political process of a 2013 school closure and elementary school rezoning effort and quantitative and spatial methods to examine its impact on racial composition and segregation in attendance zones and schools.

Findings and Implications: We find that the political process of redrawing elementary school attendance boundaries in Richmond was associated with a dramatic increase in racial segregation between elementary attendance zones over a short period of time. Leadership changes and political considerations drove a rapid and antagonistic decision-making process that minimized broad-based public participation and privileged the voices of White families in a city school system that is less than 10% White. Despite a contentious and opaque decision-making process and starkly segregative impacts, community response and support for school diversity points to the potential for leveraging urban population shifts to increase rather than decrease diverse school settings.

Document Type

Post-print Article

Publication Date


Publisher Statement

Published online before print July 13, 2016, doi: 10.1177/0013161X16659346 Educational Administration Quarterly July 13, 2016 0013161X16659346