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Richmond School Board Member Floats Citywide Open Enrollment Plan

Richmond School Board Members Kenya Gibson & Jonathan Young.
Richmond School Board member Jonathan Young presented a citywide open enrollment policy Monday night. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

VPM News intern Brianna Scott reported this story.

Richmond school board member Jonathan Young is proposing a district-wide open enrollment policy that doesn’t factor in a student’s zip code.

Instead, students would be entered into a lottery for their top schools of choice.

This plan would allow families to choose from up to ten elementary schools and six middle and high schools. 

“This is about school choice and it’s about providing a remedy for real systemic problems that have been around for longer than any of us have been alive," Young said.

Young was unsatisfied with the current rezoning drafts by Richmond’s consultant Cropper GIS, calling them “too modest.” 

“Some of us wanted to initiate this rezoning process a long time ago and we were told over and over again by our board leadership to wait,” Young said. “And now what has materialized? Nothing.”

School board members like Linda Owen did not like Young’s proposal, which would also close five schools.

Owen has concerns that Young’s plan doesn’t account for schools that are already close to or surpassing their capacity.

The closure of schools would decrease the number of options students have to pick from. 

“And now what happens to the school that nobody picks?” Owen said.

The schools identified in Young's plan are John Marshall High School, Henderson Middle School and Swansboro, Southampton and Bellevue Elementary. Young says closing these schools will allow the district to invest more in increased transportation costs as a result of open enrollment. 

His plan also proposes outsourcing high school transportation to GRTC to save a total of more than $2.5 million a year. Still, he estimates the district would need to double its  transportation budget to $12.8 million to cover increased costs associated with his plan. 

School member Kenya Gibson brought up how models similar to Young’s proposal don’t always work when considering the district’s strategic goals of rezoning. 

“It was essentially a stall tactic to diversify the schools after Brown vs. Board of Education. And unfortunately we are, today, talking about the vestiges of what we still have thanks to freedom of choice,” Gibson said. 

The district’s rezoning committee has discussed at length the goal of increasing diversity within RPS. 

Young says he is meeting with members of the rezoning advisory committee individually and hopes that members of the public will consider his plan at upcoming community meetings.