Students from Open High School in Oregon Hill walked out of their classrooms and marched to City Hall in a student-organized protest on April 11. They were met by students from other schools, parents and teachers to protest the potential closing of five Richmond public schools.
Among these schools slated for closure are Cary Elementary School, Southampton Elementary School, Overby Sheppard Elementary School, Armstrong High School, Swansboro Elementary School and Open High School.
Naomi Thompson, a sophomore at Open, lead the walkout.
“We need change, simple as that. Change in the budget system, change in what they expect in our students,” Thompson said.
Open High School freshman LaJon Singleton walked out of his classes at to join in the march to City Hall. Singleton said he joined the act because it was for an important cause, noting that the students who staged the walkout had the support of their teachers.
“I am fighting for what I love,” Singleton said. “I love my school and I think that everyone should have an equal opportunity at school as well.”
A school budget shortfall this year resulted in conflict between the school board and the mayor’s office. The school board passed a $293 Million dollar budget in early February after the mayor requested the board make $5 million dollars in cuts.
The need to increase funding for public schools prompted Mayor Dwight C. Jones to propose a referendum on a tax increase during his final state of the city address in January.
Andregg said that Richmond Public Schools need an investment to fix and maintain the school’s aging buildings.
“We need more funding for our schools. Buildings are falling a part, ceilings, the whole nine yards,” Andregg said. “Tar is falling down and they just close the building and move us into another building that slowly falls apart.”
There is currently an expected $18 million budget shortfall.
Later in the afternoon, students were joined by teachers and parents who wanted to protest the closure of the schools before the Richmond City Council meeting later that night.
Charlotte Hayer, president of the Richmond Education Association, joined the students to advocate for a fully funded school system.
“We are out here because we want the school systems fully funded and we are trying to draw attention to all of the needs of our children of the district so City Council will understand the magnitude of the necessities we have,” Hayer said.
Hayer said that one major area in the Richmond Public Schools that could benefit from more funding is construction.
“Necessities are buildings that are not falling down around our children, buildings that are well maintained, buildings that can support today’s modern technology, qualified teachers standing before our children providing instruction and all the other resources that are required to educate children who live in poverty so the cycle does not continue,” Hayers.
Hayer believes that the school system has already cut back to meet the city’s needs, saying that they had not been a budget increase since 2009. Hayer also said class sizes have increased since 2009, meaning that fewer teachers are teaching more children.
Open High School teacher and VCU alumni Brigette Newberry has been teaching for 30 years. Newberry, whose school is listed for closure, is also opposed to school closures.
“I don’t want that to happen. I want the mayor to fully fund the budget for the school system,” Newberry said. “Students, teachers, parents – we are all pissed.”
Among the parents at the protest was Mario Brown, a father of four daughters attending Linwood Holton Elementary.
“They are not in the schools that are closed, but I am a product of the schools that are about to be closed,” Brown said about his children. “It hurts me, it disgusting, it’s awful. The parents, the students and the teachers are united on this. We stand as one and we will not give up.”
A City Council meeting that took place the same evening as the protest was flooded with protesters. The third and fourth floors overflow rooms were filled to capacity and allowed all attendees to watch the meeting on a television screen.
The city council elected to move the vote on the school budget to the last item on the agenda.
The meeting allowed for students, teachers and parents to speak on the closure of the schools.
Council members voted to postpone a vote on the city ordinances that would close the schools until April 25. Several other items on the agenda, which included various ordinances for school spending, were also delayed due to the large amounts of citizen speakers at the meeting.
Online News Editor, Andrew Crider
Andrew is a junior economics major who has written for student newspapers since he was in high school. Andrew is interested in political history, aviation, photography and running. He has a tendency to refer to his peers, coworkers and bosses as “ma’am” or “sir,” but is getting better about referring to his friends at the CT by their first names instead. // Facebook