Richmond School Board votes 8-1 to rezone River City Middle School

Published: May. 3, 2022 at 12:09 AM EDT|Updated: May. 3, 2022 at 5:31 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - After several heated exchanges and harsh words between school board members and public speakers, the Richmond School Board voted 8-1 to rezone River City Middle School, ultimately voting for the very recommendation they voted against a week ago.

The vote comes after a week of fighting between board members and harsh criticism from the public following the board’s 5-4 vote against the rezoning proposal on April 25.

River City Middle School, which opened its doors to in-person learning for the first time in Fall 2021, has an operational capacity of over 1,500 students.

That was expected to increase to 1,600 students when classes began next fall.

To help control that, a rezoning committee recommended sending hundreds of River City students to Boushall, Lucille Brown, and Binford Middle Schools. The proposal allows each of the four schools to operate at approximately 75% of their respective functional capacities.

That proposal also resulted in cuts to open enrollment seats at Lucille Brown and Binford Middle School, the latter of which deeply divided the board resulting in the majority voting against it at the last school board meeting.

For more than an hour, dozens of community members in addition to teachers and staff from River City Middle school addressed the board during public comment expressing their desire for the board to reverse last Monday’s vote in accordance with the recommendations given by the rezoning committee.

“You were the people who were elected to run the school. It is your responsibility to take care of the problems, you cannot afford to be divided at a time like this people,” One speaker said. “Public education is being attacked so you have to be together.”

“The rezoning conversation can only end one way, by Binford accepting more students from the overcrowded River City Middle School to join our family,” A Binford teacher said.

Binford Middle School Principal Melissa Rickey was among the public speakers. She, in addition to the principals of the three other middle schools under consideration for rezoning, has been in favor of the proposal.

“I can take more students,” Binford Principal Melissa Rickey. “I am here to make this work for RPS, let’s do that.”

“You cannot have academic achievement with the conditions that we have,” River City Principal Jacquelyn Murphy-Brown said.

During the meeting, RPS administration presented additional rezoning proposals following the request of the school board members who voted against the rezoning recommendation last week.

2nd District Board Member Mariah White also spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting to defend her and the board majority’s decision to vote against the rezoning, criticizing other public speakers and board members who accused them of playing political games with students adding that she only wanted more information.

Board Vice-Chair Kenya Gibson added to White’s criticism arguing that River City Middle School was built too large, to begin with and that the board needs to transition toward building smaller schools.

4th District Board Member Jonathan Young wanted to retain those seats that would be lost in the original proposal.

“The administration is “pretending” the only way to rezone is to “decimate open enrollment” and use the current rezoning plan,” Young said in a statement.

During the meeting, Young introduced an amendment that retains all of the open enrollment seats at risk of being cut by rezoning the approximately 400 River City students to other middle schools, like Henderson Middle, which he says has 566 vacant seats. Young says that Boushall, which is already involved in the current plan, has 430 vacant seats which more River City students could be redistricted to.

“It would be equally illogical as the administration has that rezoning is contingent on cutting 270 open enrollment seats when we have 2178 vacant seats across the district,” Young said.

Ultimately, Young’s motion failed and the board voted to rezone 8-1 using the original proposal. Young is the only member who maintained his vote against rezoning.

“I’ve been at River City and I’ve seen it and I can feel it matter how beautiful it is it’s too close it’s too packed this is the year 2022. This is not a destitute island in a third world country how dare we treat our children that way,” 7th District Board Member Cheryl Burke said.

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