Initial plans to rezone Richmond’s public schools prompted criticism from some parents earlier this month as they learned of potential changes that school leaders say are aimed at increasing diversity.
Among those is an option of “pairing” a majority-white school in the Fan District, William Fox Elementary, with a majority-black school, John B. Cary, near Byrd Park. That scenario calls for combining the two schools’ zones and sending all of the children to Fox for kindergarten through second grade, then Cary for third through fifth grades.
Thursday marked the first meeting since the unveiling of the draft option that led some Fox parents to sound off. In a tweet last week, Richmond schools Superintendent Jason Kamras termed some of the initial reactions he read and heard about the preliminary plans “Massive Resistance 2.0,” in reference to the state’s opposition to desegregation in the 1950s and 1960s.
The criticism voiced by attendees Thursday was relayed in decidedly less divisive terms. More than 75 people gathered in the school’s auditorium to ask questions and weigh in on the rezoning process.
“Most people in this community are committed to the ideal of diversity,” said Emily Sanfratella, who has a son who is set to attend Fox but could end up attending Cary as well. “I think there’s concern about how capable the School Board is and [Richmond Public Schools] is in actually implementing that in a thoughtful way.”
The draft options were assembled by Cropper GIS, a consultant the School Board hired. Among the goals RPS is seeking to achieve by redrawing its zones is addressing overcrowding in some schools and under-enrollment in others.
Achieving greater diversity is also a top priority. The criteria that RPS and its consultant are using to accomplish that came up repeatedly Thursday.
“If the point of this is to create diversity, how deep are we diving into putting objectives on what is considered diverse?” asked Derrick Bates, a third-grade teacher at George Mason Elementary in Church Hill.
Some questioned whether the consultant factored in how the socio-economic status of a student body would change under the plans. School officials said they would take the feedback into consideration.
About 60% of students at Fox are white, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education. Cary is 83% black. Both meet the state’s full accreditation standards.
In the proposal, Cary would become 52% black and 42% white, while Fox would be 47% white and 44% black, according to data from Cropper.
After the pairing idea was unveiled last month, some parents used an online feedback form created by RPS to express their opposition.
“We bought our house in the Fan, directly across the street from Fox, with the intentions of sending our kids to that elementary school,” wrote one parent of a 4-year-old who will be entering kindergarten in the 2020-21 school year, when the new zones would take effect. “If option 2 [the “pairing” option] is passed, I know that I, along with many other neighbors, would carefully weigh the decision of whether to send my children to private school or to move out of the district for a better elementary school option for our family.”
The Fox-Cary pairing is included in one of two draft options, which are unlikely to be adopted in full or as currently presented, RPS officials stressed Thursday.
Several people at the meeting were unsure of how soon the potential changes could be up for a vote, or whether the maps that were released could still be adjusted.
The School Board could vote as early as November, but that timeline could change, too, depending on the feedback the plans receive, said Scott Barlow, who represents the area on the board.
Caitlin Minnick, a mother of three young children, said she would adjust to the changes if they are ultimately approved.
“They’re all schools,” Minnick said. “It’s not going to be the end of the world.”
Another meeting is scheduled at Fox Elementary on Aug. 13 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.