Proponents of combining majority-white schools with majority-black schools in Richmond turned out en masse Monday at the first of three public hearings about rezoning.
Approximately 40 people spoke during a special hearing held Monday at Ginter Park Elementary School, one of seven schools in the city that would be affected by the merger of school zones. Nearly all of the speakers supported using the process known as “school pairing” to achieve more integration in a city where about 3 in 4 schools are what researchers define as “intensely segregated,” meaning less than 10% of the student body is white.
“If you all do not support it, you are missing an opportunity to create real change in this city,” said Theresa Kennedy, who represented the 3rd District on a special rezoning committee appointed by the School Board.
The School Board is facing a December deadline for making a decision on new zones. The school system currently has extensive overcrowding in the city’s South Side and is building three replacement schools that are set to open at the start of the 2020-21 school year.
School pairing is included in two of the four rezoning proposals recommended by the special committee. Proponents and opponents of pairing have packed the 50-plus community meetings held by RPS since the idea was first put on the table in June.
Monday was the first public hearing since the rezoning committee finalized its four recommendations on Nov. 8.
“Resources don’t matter as much as relationships, and resources don’t matter as much as humanity,” said Kim Gomez, a 1st District representative on the rezoning committee. “This is the opportunity [to truly integrate]. It doesn’t come every day, and you guys can do it.”
The committee formally presented its four recommendations before Monday’s public hearing, giving an overview of the options while also sharing additional policy recommendations.
Each of the recommended proposals is associated with a letter (W, X, Y and Z). Proposal X is the option that has been the most controversial and would create a three-way school pairing in North Side. Students would go to Linwood Holton Elementary for third through fifth grades, while Ginter Park and Barack Obama elementary schools would serve students in kindergarten through second grade.
Mary Munford Elementary would have students in third through fifth grades, and students would attend George W. Carver Elementary for kindergarten through second grade. Fox and John B. Cary elementary schools also would be combined, with students going to Fox for kindergarten through third grade and Cary for fourth and fifth grades.
“We need to do a better job of not just desegregating our schools, but of integrating Richmond Public Schools,” said Sharon Burton, one of the 7th District representatives on the committee.
While most of the speakers Monday supported pairing, not all did.
Jerome Legions, the president of the Carver Civic Association, asked the board to put more money into schools in an effort to improve academics. Legions has led the effort to turn Carver Elementary, the city’s second-lowest-performing elementary school, into a magnet school with a specialized curriculum.
“If you give the schools the resources, they’ll integrate themselves,” he said.
The next public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. next Monday at Bellevue Elementary School. The third hearing is set for Dec. 2 at E.S.H. Greene Elementary, the same night that the School Board is scheduled to vote on new zones.