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RPS board votes against rezoning River City Middle School

Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 12:08 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 27, 2022 at 1:13 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - After hours of debate and bickering, the Richmond School Board 5 to 4 against rezoning River City Middle School.

According to the RPS administration, when the middle school first opened its doors to students in fall 2021, it had more than 1,500 students enrolled despite being built initially to hold approximately 1,300 students. The administration says the school is expected to have more than 1,600 students enrolled by fall 2022 unless it is rezoned to alleviate overcrowding.

A separate committee was created to consider options, which included moving some students to Lucille Brown, Binford, or Boushall Middle Schools.

If rezoning is fully implemented next year, the projected the four schools would be projected to use roughly 75% of their operating capacity. The remaining 25% would be used to account for future growth after rezoning has taken place.

  • Binford Middle School - 74%
  • Boushall Middle School - 74%
  • Lucille Brown Middle School - 76%
  • River City Middle School - 78%

If rezoning went through Binford Middle School, which is currently zoned as an open enrollment school, it would be rezoned so that 50 River City students would be guaranteed spots at the school. But members against a proposal say rezoning would only negatively impact district-wide transportation problems and eliminate student parental choice regarding schools.

“At the same time that this board has championed choice, including at the elementary level pertinent to the virtual academy and high school level relative to especially schools in and governors schools, that we would decimate open enrollment in the middle schools. I said that that’s precisely what rezoning would do,” board member Jonathan Young said.

Those in favor of rezoning transportation and school choice are being used to justify why River City students shouldn’t have a spot at other middle schools.

“We sit here and we talk about equity, equity, equity, but when equity hit in the face, it’s a problem,” Dawn Paige said. “The ugly head of racism in class, it appears every time we’re talking about children young people, and we’re talking about families that work hard each and every day to make sure their children are receiving a world-class education.”

Despite recommendations from the administration that rezoning was the best option to alleviate overcrowding at River City, the board voted 5-4 against the rezoning.

An emotional Jason Kamras didn’t hold back his criticism of the move, saying that not only did the board ignore their responsibility to the community, but that it likely may not have an opportunity to address the overcrowding for another year.

“It is unconscionable for us to open up River City next year with 1,600 students. It will be dangerous, and it will be a dereliction of our collective duty to our students,” Kamras said.

The four board members who voted in support of rezoning River City released a statement on Wednesday regarding the vote:

On Monday night, the school board crossed the line.

Here are the facts:

  • River City Middle School is over 100% capacity, overcrowded by 400+ students jeopardizing students’ safety and education.
  • The principals of the affected middle schools – Boushall, Brown, River City, and Binford ALL approved the rezoning plan.
  • A rezoning committee consisted of students, parents, staff, and Board members met for five months, hosted numerous community meetings, and knocked on 4,000 community members’ doors to solicit feedback. All meetings were live-streamed and translated in Spanish and remain on the RPS website today.
  • Board members had ample opportunities to ask for additional information from the administration but waited until the day of the vote to ask their questions.
  • Despite the recommendations of the committee, all principals, and the superintendent; the board voted no on the committee’s recommendation.\
  • There is no time before the new school year to run a different rezoning process.
  • After the decision principals were in the hallways crying with the administration left in the room choking back tears.
  • The reason cited for voting no, is that this decision will add 40 additional students to Binford Middle school and “take away” open enrollment seats from families that school choice into Binford for its specialty arts program through open enrollment. Based on a report commissioned by this board earlier this year we know that open enrollment seats disproportionately advantage white families and families that have greater access to information and transportation. The board covertly made excuses for the real reason why the decision was voted “No”.
  • The school board prioritized school choice that advantages white and affluent families over the safety and security of Black and Brown students on the southside.

“We must fight the ugly stain of racism and inequality that interferes with the decision-making of this board. Often, leaders have to grapple with difficult choices in order to balance the world as it is and the world as we wish it could be. We may all wish there were unlimited open enrollment slots to provide access to popular programs like the one at Binford, but is that wish more important than the day-to-day educational experience of the entire River City student body? We may agree that smaller schools are often beneficial for students, but does that exempt us from our responsibility to provide safe educational environments for the *actual* number of students we serve? In a dream world with unlimited funding, we might decide to build additional smaller schools rather than engage in rezoning, but in the world as it is, we are responsible for ensuring the resources our district does have are equitably deployed to benefit all of our students.

Often, we can’t do everything we wish we could do, and choices must be made. The choice made by five school board colleagues on Monday, effectively abandons 400+ children to overcrowding in River City in order to preserve ~40 open enrollment spaces in one of the better-resourced schools in the district is a clear dereliction of that duty we have to make hard choices. It’s overt resource hoarding, and people who purport to be about equity but refuse to make decisions based on the reality of our physical spaces and budgetary constraints are engaging in political theater and nothing more. The entire River City community will pay the price of this unconscionable decision!”

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