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Proposal to close 5 Richmond schools angers other school board members, parents

Posted at 11:16 PM, Feb 01, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- The majority of Richmond School Board members at Wednesday night's meeting denounced a budget amendment proposed by 4th District School Board Member Jonathan Young to close five of the city's schools.

Young initially proposed the amendment to save the district money and to give students a choice of where to attend school.

"I'm disappointed we sprung this on the community because there is not broad support for this," Kenya Gibson, who represents the 3rd district, said.

Young said that data shows that there are 8,600 vacancies across the district, adding that closing these schools would save Richmond Schools $5 million and would eliminate 1,700 vacancies. His proposal included closing Woodville Elementary School, Swansboro Elementary School, Fairfield Court Elementary School, Henderson Middle School and John Marshall High School.

"I have no words for how many community members reached out to me very upset about this," Stephanie Rizzi, the school board chair and 5th district representative, said.

Young's plan has also drawn fire from the Richmond chapter of the NAACP. The group is criticizing young, saying he is proposing closing schools in predominantly Black neighborhoods. The chapter's president, J.J. Minor, said the proposal is awful and that people are outraged.

"Our children need smaller schools. You will not stuff our kids in schools like sardines. That's not going to happen," Minor said.

School board member Mariah White voiced similar concerns to those that Minor brought up, taking issue with the particular schools that were chosen.

"These are needy schools. They need everything and they are majority Black students. How about we furnish them with resources instead?" White said.

Minor is also calling on the board to figure out where students will go who are no longer enrolled in the district.

Young said his proposal is the definition of the best practices for equity as he said as of now, the district's practices are more inequitable, adding that the district doesn't provide transportation if students want to attend schools they are not zoned for.

'We are going to allow you to attend a school of your choice, we're going to prioritize you and we're going to do something we haven't before which is to provide you transportation," Young explained.

Young has made similar proposals in the past and has been met with little agreement from colleagues on the board. For now, board members want parents to know that the majority of the board has no intention of supporting the proposed amendment in this budget cycle.

“What I’d like to assure our community is that we won’t be making decisions like this without deep engagement from you,” Rizzi said.

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