The Richmond School Board has punted on new school zones for the city’s North Side.

On Monday night by a 6-3 vote, the board struck down a proposal for new zones for the only part of the city that does not yet have new boundaries, thus leaving North Side’s school zones the same for now.

The plan voted down by the board included the largest single change in any of the 10 proposals before the board.

Students in the Holton Elementary zone — 159 of them — east of Brook Road, north of Brookland Park Boulevard and north of Ladies Mile Road would have gone to Ginter Park.

Obama Elementary would have gotten 90 Ginter Park students south of Laburnum Avenue and north of Ladies Mile Road, while Obama students currently living south of Brookland Park Boulevard would have been rezoned for Holton.

Voting against the plan were Liz Doerr of the 1st District, Scott Barlow of the 2nd District, Jonathan Young of the 4th District, Cheryl Burke of the 7th District, Dawn Page of the 8th District and Linda Owen of the 9th District.

Voting for the plan were Kenya Gibson of the 3rd District, Patrick Sapini of the 5th District and Felicia Cosby of the 6th District.

Also on the table was a proposal to combine the majority-white school zone of Linwood Holton Elementary and combine with the majority-black zones of Barack Obama and Ginter Park elementary schools, a plan that would’ve brought an integration concept used elsewhere in the country to a city still feeling the effects of school segregation.

The proposal would have turn the North Side into one large school zone, sending students to Obama and Ginter Park for kindergarten through second grade before enrolling at Holton for third through fifth grades. The move would improve the diversity of all three schools, as just 2 in 5 students at Holton come from a low-income family, compared with 80% at Ginter Park and 69% at Obama.

Under the plan, 60% of Holton students would be considered economically disadvantaged, compared with 51% at Ginter Park and 67% at Obama, according to data from the School Board’s rezoning consultant, Cropper GIS.

Instead, no changes are coming to the North Side.

“This has been a huge undertaking — a difficult task,” said School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page. “Our goal is to make sure the decisions that we make impact every child positively.”

Much of Monday’s public hearing focused on the proposal to combine the majority-white school zone of Linwood Holton Elementary and combine with the majority-black zones of Barack Obama and Ginter Park elementary schools. Support for the idea was mixed.

“You have the opportunity to integrate RPS students in a meaningful and powerful way,” said Theresa Kennedy, a Holton parent who represented the 3rd District on a special committee on rezoning. “Bind our futures together. Build our community.”

Carol Wolf, a former 3rd District representative on the School Board, said: “If this pairing business wasn’t good enough for the other parts of this city, then why is it being pushed on the North Side right now?”

Parents in support of pairing requested a delayed implementation, meaning the change would take effect at the start of the 2021-22 school year.

On Sunday, Holton parent Rebecca Richardson wrote to the School Board: “I believe that if you grant the Northside the opportunity, we can do the soul-searching, continue to have the hard conversations, get uncomfortable, build the relationships and trust, put the hours in, do the work (in all aspects) and create change in our community that will be extremely hard at first, but will have significant beneficial ripple effects in our students’ lives, across generations and will alter the course of history.”

Other parents raised concerns with the cost and the school system’s ability to implement the plan, especially as the city tries to turn around a school division in which half of 44 schools meet the state’s full accreditation standards.

In October, Richmond Public Schools estimated that it would cost $617,500 to $842,500 per school pairing. That money would pay for new teachers, new buses and new bathrooms, among other things.

Pairing was originally proposed for William Fox and John B. Cary elementary schools. Later proposals included the North Side pairing and the merger of Mary Munford and George W. Carver elementary schools as a way to diversify a school system in which 3 in 4 schools are what researchers define as “intensely segregated,” meaning less than 10% of a school’s student body is white.

Pairing was rejected for those schools on Dec. 2, when the School Board approved a rezoning plan — formally known as Proposal Y — that redraws some school boundaries in the West End. Most notably, the Museum District is rezoned for Cary Elementary after being put into Fox Elementary in 2013.

Changes in the city’s South Side focused on relieving overcrowding and filling a rebuilt, 1,000-student E.S.H. Greene Elementary. Boundary changes in the East End will fill the rebuilt, 750-student George Mason Elementary.

The approved changes for the city’s South Side, East End and West End take effect at the start of the 2020-21 school year.

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Politics/Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers state government and education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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