Displaced Fox Elementary students to resume in-person classes temporarily at First Baptist Church on Monument Ave

Ronald E. Carrington | 3/10/2022, 6 p.m.
Students from William Fox Elementary School will have classes at First Baptist Church on Monument Avenue and Arthur Ashe Boulevard …
Mr. Kamras

Students from William Fox Elementary School will have classes at First Baptist Church on Monument Avenue and Arthur Ashe Boulevard starting Monday, March 21.

The Richmond School Board voted unanimously Monday night to support the temporary move of classes to the church so that students displaced by the devastating fire last month at Fox can resume in-person learning.

“I am happy to move forward unilaterally within my purview, granted by the board, to move students to a non-RPS property,” Superintendent Jason Kamras said.

Fox Elementary’s 350 students have been using computers for virtual learning since the Feb. 11 blaze at the Hanover Avenue school building. The roof and the second floor collapsed in the fire.

Mr. Kamras said during a presentation at Monday night’s meeting that a survey of Fox families showed overwhelming support for moving into a brick-and-mortar location as soon as possible. However, Fox teachers and staff were nearly evenly split about whether to remain virtual until renovations are ready at nearby Clark Springs Elementary for students to move there, Mr. Kamras stated.

The School Board during a meeting on Feb. 22 authorized Mr. Kamras to spend $500,000 to replace the roof on Clark Springs Elementary, repair plumbing and take other actions to prepare that building as a home for Fox students until the fire-ravaged building can be replaced.

According to Mr. Kamras’ presentation, Clark Springs should be ready for occupancy by April 19, and the Fox students and teachers can move there at that time. Mr. Kamras said a new survey of Fox families, teachers and staff in April will allow them to determine whether they remain at the church for the remainder of the academic year or move to Clark Springs in April.

“Relocating to (First Baptist Church) makes all the sense in the world,” School Board member Jonathan M. Young, 4th District, stated in a memo before Mon- day’s meeting.

Mr. Kamras’ proposal indicated that First Baptist would not charge any rent during the time Fox classes are held there. However, the church is requesting $5,000 to cover expenses, in addition to any increases in utility costs.

School officials called it a “very reasonable request.”

The breakdown is $500 per month for April, May and June to help reset the classrooms on Fridays for the church’s weekend religious school; a $1,650 one-time management fee for a building supervisor to coordinate the support between Fox and First Baptist for 13 weeks; a $1,700 one-time charge for additional toilet paper, paper towels, soap and trash bags; and $150 for a First Baptist lawyer to review the agreement and liability paperwork.

Fox teachers and staff will be able to visit the church space and set up their classrooms during the weeks of March 7 and March 14, with setup completed by Friday, March 18, for the start of classes on Monday, March 21, according to the RPS administration’s schedule.

Mr. Kamras and School Board Chairwoman Shonda Harris-Muhammed, 6th District, noted that the classroom setups at the church would be a light version of what’s done in a normal RPS classroom.

“It may not look like Fox,” Mr. Kamras told the board. “What is most important is the student-teacher human relationship. That is what we will offer on March 21 going forward.”

School Board member Mariah L. White, whose 2nd District includes Fox Elementary, told the board that the staff at First Baptist were angels.

“They have helped our Fox children,” she said. “I want the church to have all of the logistical support they need.”

School Board member Cheryl L. Burke,7th District, a retired Richmond Public Schools principal who began her education career at Clark Springs, said she has visited the Clark Springs building on Dance Street several times and awaits the time when students will get settled there.

“Clark Springs is a beautiful structure— ideal for elementary setting in each pod,” she told the board. “I can already see the beauty that was in Fox transferred into Clark Springs.”