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School Board member Jonathan Young springs open enrollment attendance plan on colleagues

Ronald E. Carrington | 8/9/2019, 6 a.m. | Updated on 8/16/2019, 7:57 p.m.
Richmond School Board members were blindsided Monday night when board member Jonathan Young, who represents the 4th District, proposed that ...

Richmond School Board members were blindsided Monday night when board member Jonathan Young, who represents the 4th District, proposed that Richmond Public Schools allow students to choose which school they want to attend, with a lottery ultimately deciding where students would enroll.

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Mr. Young

Mr. Young called his open-enrollment plan a “big, bold transformative plan that changes everything.”

“My plan allows for open enrollment K-12 across the city, no longer prioritizing ZIP codes. Students would identify their preferred school(s) and be selected by lottery.

“If we are serious about equity, then let’s do something about it. Eliminate ZIP codes as a variable and start prioritizing kids,” he told the board.

Mr. Young, who is not a member of the special school rezoning committee, stunned the board with his proposal, which was introduced in the midst of months of work by a rezoning committee that was appointed by the board and a special consultant who has presented four options for the public and RPS officials to consider in dealing with growing school overcrowding in South Side.

While none of the consultant’s four options calls for closing any of the city’s 44 public schools, Mr. Young’s plan advocates closing five buildings — John Marshall High School and Henderson Middle School, both on the North Side; Bellevue Elementary School in Church Hill; and Swansboro and Southampton elementary schools on the South Side.

Students across the city would submit a prioritized list of which schools they’d like to attend, with students ultimately assigned by lottery — and not based on where a family lives, a student’s academic achievement or demographics, Mr. Young said.

His plan was met by collective resistance and strong opposition from his board colleagues.

“You should have come to me or someone else on the committee to have a discussion before making your proposal,” said School Board member Linda B. Owen, who represents the 9th District in South Side, and a member of the rezoning committee.

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Ms. Owen

“We cannot close schools in my district and absorb those children in other schools in South Side. We don’t have that capacity,” she told the board.

“I wish we could make this (rezoning) perfect. I wish every student could go to exactly the school they wanted to go to and every parent could have the perfect neighborhood school they desired.”

Board member Cheryl L. Burke, 7th District, who retired as principal of Chimborazo Elementary School in the East End, impressed upon the board that there are differences in each district that must be taken into account during student assignment to schools

“Each area has its own special community,” she told the board. “We need to consider diversity beyond race. Let’s talk about diversity and freedom of choice in terms of socioeconomics.

“We need to take our time and have flexibility in our plan and not repeat what I experienced with busing as a child. This is not a quick fix.”

Mr. Young acknowledged that his plan would be costly, particularly with transportation costs to get students to various schools. He said its estimated $12 million price tag could be covered by the closure of the five schools and outsourcing high school students’ transportation to GRTC.