School Board reverses course, approves River City Middle rezoning

Ronald E. Carrington | 5/5/2022, 6 p.m.
The Richmond School Board approved a rezoning plan for River City Middle School that will alleviate the overcrowding that has ...

The Richmond School Board approved a rezoning plan for River City Middle School that will alleviate the overcrowding that has occurred in the first year of the school’s opening for in-person learning.

The board’s 8-1 vote on Monday night came a week after a flood of emails from parents and educators who supported a rezoning plan that was rejected on a 5-4 vote of the board on April 25. The original plan also was endorsed by speakers during an hour and a half of public comments Monday night.

Under the plan, roughly 450 students would be rezoned from River City Middle School during the 2022-23 academic year to three other schools — Lucille Brown and Boushall middle schools, which also are located in South Side, and Binford Middle School, which is located north of the James River in The Fan.

River City Middle, located at 6300 Hull Street Road, opened its doors in September to more than 1,500 students. It was built for 1,300 students. And officials projected that enrollment would grow to about 1,700 students by fall 2024.

“No matter how beautiful (River City Middle) is, it’s too close. It’s too packed,” board member Cheryl L. Burke, 7th District, a retired Richmond Public Schools principal, told her colleagues about what she saw on a recent visit.

“This is the year 2022. This is not a destitute island, a Third World country. How dare we treat our children that way,” she said.

Four members of the School Board reversed their opposition from last week and voted to approve the rezoning — Board Chairwoman Shonda Harris-Muhammed, 6th District; Vice Chair Kenya J. Gibson, 3rd District; Mariah L. White, 2nd District; and Stephanie M. Rizzi, 5th District.

They joined board members Mrs. Burke; Liz B. Doerr, 1st District; Dawn C. Page, 8th District; and Nicole Jones, 9th District, in supporting the rezoning plan that had been drafted by a committee composed of teachers, principals, parents, transportation personnel and community members.

Board member Jonathan M. Young, 4th District, maintained his opposition against the plan, saying he believes it irresponsible for the board to take away open enrollment opportunities for RPS students and parents.

Superintendent Jason Kamras told the Free Press on Tuesday that he was pleased with the board’s decision.

“I am thrilled the community rezoning plan has passed and grateful to the board for making that decision,” he said. “I am also grateful for all of the people who came out to the board meeting and spoke. It helps to have more voices at the table.”

With the rezoning, River City Middle will operate at 78 percent of capacity for the 2022-23 academic year; Binford at 74 percent; Boushall at 74 percent and Lucille Brown at 76 percent.

Binford, an open enrollment school, would be rezoned so that 50 River City students will be guaranteed seats.