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‘This is about action’: Debate continues after Richmond School Board votes against rezoning proposal for River City Middle School

Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 5:09 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 28, 2022 at 11:24 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - An emotional and heated debate about a rezoning proposal for River City Middle School continues after the Richmond School Board voted 5-4 against the plan during their meeting Monday night.

Days after school board members cast their vote, City Councilman Dr. Michael Jones held a press conference with Richmond School Board Member Nicole Jones and several city advocates in front of River City Middle School on Thursday morning to discuss their concerns about the decision.

The fallout comes as the school faces overcrowding issues. Richmond Public Schools said the school was already over capacity with 1,500 students when it opened its doors last fall. The functioning capacity for the school is 1,300 students, but school leaders anticipate enrollment to reach more than 1,600 this fall.

The outrage continues to spill over after the Richmond School Board votes not to rezone the overcrowded River City Middle School.

Under a recommendation made by a rezoning committee, 400 students from River City Middle School would be moved to Boushall, Lucile Brown, and Binford Middle Schools.

However, the decision not to move forward with the rezoning proposal came with a 5-4 vote. The vote stirred emotions for many in the room, including Superintendent Jason Kamras.

“It is an absolutely horrifying and dehumanizing thing to beg for help and to have those cries fall disregarded,” said Dr. Michael Jones during Thursday’s press conference. “Our youth and our outstanding RPS principals, teachers and staff are screaming for help.”

One by one, speakers came up to the podium to address their concerns with the recent decision.

“It is a safety issue now,” said Nicole Jones with the Richmond School Board. “Parents are calling me. They are afraid to send their child to school.”

“We don’t want our kids learning in hallways,” said Becca DuVal, a parent in Richmond.

Those who oppose the plan say their concerns are focused on limiting open enrollment seats for students at Binford Middle School and limiting parental choice.

“What makes zero sense is to then pretend like to accommodate that very legitimate need to rezone. We need to preclude hundreds of families all across town and every neighborhood in Richmond the opportunity to select a school that provides their children access to the kind of programming that their students have identified as of interest to them,” said Jonathan Young. He was one of the five school board members to vote against the measure on Monday night.

Opposition to rezoning drew out dozens of parents across RPS’s nine districts for a town hall demanding an end to what they believe are the questionable decisions being made during Richmond school board meetings.

Organizer Becca Duval says Thursday’s meeting at Byrd Park was about collecting concerns and finding ways to pressure school board representatives to put students first ahead of next Monday’s school board meeting.

“Public awareness is really our last tool, our most accessible tool as parents to persuade leaders who aren’t responsive to emails who aren’t listening to us,” Duval said. “That’s what’s going to make them accountable.

Those present spent hours discussing what legal actions they could take to hold dissenting board members accountable.

“It’s the job of citizens to make those corrections when those mistakes are made,” Athad Williamson. “The current school board is not really working in the interest of kids in a way that is no longer acceptable or tolerable.”

In a statement from Kenya Gibson on Wednesday, she said, “The single rezoning option for River City that we were presented included promised facility updates with no corresponding budget, and no transportation plans. These operational requirements have to be part of the decision process in a district where resources are limited. There was also no outline of what a phased plan could look like or any alternative options. Options are the norm with rezoning.”

However, some city leaders are pushing back and believe a child’s success should not be determined by where they live.

“Providing this opportunity to children across the river outweighs their discomfort and safety,” said Dr. Jones. “Simply to save a few seats for children who are already succeeding in school, at the detriment of other children who just don’t want to be on top of each other - I believe it outweighs that.”

“We deserve the same economic justice, educational justice, health justice, food justice, and everything else that everyone in this city deserves, and we are tired of it being a desire,” said Nicole Jones.

The River City rezoning proposal is again on the school board agenda on Monday, May 2, but whether they’ll take another vote still remains to be seen.

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