RICHMOND, Va. -- More than three weeks after a catastrophic fire destroyed William Fox Elementary School, a proposed plan for how students and staff could proceed has been unveiled.
“I’m feeling relieved," said Fox PTA President, Katie Ricard, after learning about the plan. "I’m feeling excited.”
Ricard said she looks forward to telling her two children when they can potentially be physically in a classroom again. Her boys and the hundreds of other students have been logging into class virtually since the fire.
Ricard said many parents were becoming increasingly stressed and frustrated as the weeks went by with no solid timeline, but after expressing their concerns to Richmond Schools Superintendent, Jason Kamras, they feel more secure.
“Parents really told Superintendent Kamras that we needed to know what the plan was, and we needed to know it now," she said. “What he released yesterday was an acknowledgement of our concerns.”
According to documents posted by Kamras ahead of a Monday night school board meeting, Kamras is proposing to shift students and staff from virtual learning to in-person instruction at First Baptist Church on Monument Avenue in the coming weeks. First Baptist has already been offering space for dozens of students during virtual learning.
“We said, you know, we have space, if you want to come and you want to be here, we would love to open our arms and our doors and welcome you in," said Dr. Allison Collier, an associate pastor with First Baptist.
On Sunday, she showed CBS 6 Sunday school classrooms that would be transformed into K-5 classrooms for 358 students.
“Fox has 24 homerooms," Collier said. "We would actually be offering space to cover every individual classroom as well as spaces for their administration, their nurses, their counselors.”
The church also has a gymnasium for physical education instruction, a playground, and a dining hall. Lunches would be provided by Fox staff off-site and brought to the church. Collier said the church team is also coordinating with RPS' Department of Transportation on buses.
She said the church will not charge RPS rent but is requesting that the district covers other expenses.
“There are about $5,000 in overhead costs that we know will incur," she said. "And we've simply asked that RPS would address that need as well as any increase in utilities.”
Kamras is recommending for classes to begin March 21 and last until renovations at Clark Springs Elementary are complete. The administration is hoping that work will be done by April 19. Then RPS will survey parents to see if they'd like to continue at First Baptist through the remainder of the school year or switch to Clark Springs.
The plans come after a majority of Fox families said they would prefer to end virtual learning as quickly as possible while teachers remained almost evenly split.
“We surveyed our families last week," Ricard said. "Overwhelmingly, they wanted to return in person, so I'm really excited that they have this option, because I know it's been a lot on all of us.”
Ricard also penned a letter to school board members expressing concern that First Baptist will not be able to offer an aftercare program which she said many working parents utilized.
"We encourage the board to utilize every additional resource necessary, which may include cooperation with the city, to create an aftercare and transportation solution for our families," she wrote in a statement on behalf of the PTA.
Another concern of Ricard's is that kindergarten enrollment will suffer as a result of what she calls a "lack of progress" to renovate and clean up Clark Springs and Fox.
"We're worried about our kindergarten families," Ricard said. "We want them to know that the PTA is here. We want to make Fox a beautiful community for their kindergarteners just like it was for ours, but that is why we want the board and the superintendent to really send a strong message that there is a plan for Fox going forward."
Kamras' plan will be presented to the school board during a meeting at John Marshall High School Monday at 6 p.m.
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