Richmond School rezoning public hearing brings out ‘pairing’ opponents 

RICHMOND, Va., -- Parents and community members dressed in red stood out in opposition to several rezoning proposals up for consideration before the Richmond School Board.

More than 50 people spoke during the second of three public hearings at Bellevue Elementary School Monday evening.

Richmond School Board members will decide among four plans (Proposals W, X, Y, and Z) that alter school boundaries or pair one elementary school with another.

For instance, "Proposal Z" would redraw school "lines on the Southside and in the East End, leaves the Northside as is, and adds a pairing to the West End."

If approved, student populations from Mary Munford and Cary Elementary Schools would combine. Kindergarten through 2nd grade would attend Munford while 3rd through 5th grades would attend Cary.

A group of Mary Munford parents organized before Friday's public hearing to wear red and hold posters reading "#ResourcesFirst."

"I am all for more diversity within our schools. I just think they’re better ways than pairing to do it," parent Meredith Thompson stated. "RPS lacks the bandwidth for this large scale implementation."

Thompson, along with Munford parents Kristen Dutton and James Pickren, argued against the price tag of pairing the schools.

The cost estimates range from $617,500-$842,500 per school pairing.

The cost estimates would pay for new buses, bathrooms and teachers according to Superintendent Jason Kamras.

"We are talking millions, multi-million dollar pairing plans," Thompson explained. "If we spend all this money on pairing where does this money come from?"

Dutton cited the need for improving Richmond's dilapidated facilities.

"They need to surround these teachers with an army of help and there is not talk about that whatsoever," she said.

The Mary Munford parents supported "Proposal Y" which would redraw lines in all parts of the city without pairing schools.

Carver Area Civic Improvement League President Jerome Legions voiced his concern of moving students to different schools.

"Are we truly going to improve the SOL [Standards of Learning] scores if we’re shuffling kids around?" Legions asked. "We are asking people to stop participating in their village. People make up their communities."

However, multiple speakers asserted that the pairing proposals would help diversify Richmond's schools.

"Option X is an opportunity to boldly act on the idea that integrating public schools benefits all children," RPS parent Rachel Loughlin stated. "Option Y holds promise but needs to go further and cross more lines."

One of the night's youngest speakers, a seventh grader at Franklin Military Academy, recalled his classroom experience.

"I think keeping different types of people apart is wrong. I believe we need to fix the racial and economic injustices in our world," he stated. "Integrating our schools is one important step we can take."

A third public hearing is scheduled for December 2 at 6:30 p.m. at ESH Greene Elementary School. The School Board is expected to vote on a rezoning plan following the hearing.

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