Gathering outside the charred shell of William Fox Elementary School in Richmond’s fan district, a group spanning the length of a city block marched to Monroe Park to demand fairer public funding for the construction of schools.
Marchers held signs and chanted “When schools burn, children can’t learn”, “Wythe can’t wait” and “What do we want?” Safe schools! When do we want them? Now ! The ensuing rally at the park featured speakers calling for changes in school construction funding that they say put both urban and rural school districts at a disadvantage.
The march was mobilized by Becca DuVal, parent of Fox, and Tisha Erby, a former student of George Wythe High School. Fox, which opened in 1911, has been closed since a catastrophic fire on the night of February 11. Wythe, opened in 1960, has been trapped in a limbo of decay and obsolescence amid political wrangling over a replacement building.
DuVal said Saturday the Fox fire motivated her to create an urban-rural coalition to push for fair funding for school buildings in Virginia.
People also read…
“I’m a mom first and foremost. And my heart broke Monday morning after Fox burned down for all the moms who were sending their kids to school in buildings that also didn’t have sprinkler systems and that hadn’t been invested either,” she said in an interview.
She was also troubled “to know that the place we entrust to keep our babies safe is not in itself a safe place, and that we haven’t done enough to take care of it. And so I want Fox to be built – every Fox parent does – but I want every one of these schools to be safe so that no child will ever be in a building that experiences this kind of crisis again, and no child will have to look away from home home burn to the ground.”
The Reverend Josh Blakely of Prince Edward County was present at the rally to represent the plight of rural school districts.
“For too long they had to learn with leaks overhead and buckets in the hallway,” he said of the county students. “For too long they had to learn by navigating bathrooms with broken cubicles and crumbling ceilings.”
To these schoolchildren, including his own, he said, “Schools don’t reflect who you are. Schools don’t reflect how special you are. The schools, in their current state, reflect our community. we don’t care about you, who are we?”
The march was attended by Richmond City Council members Katherine Jordan and Stephanie Lynch, and Richmond School Board members Cheryl Burke and Mariah White. A featured speaker was State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, a Fox parent who chairs the state’s School Building and Upgrading Commission.
According to McClellan, more than half of Virginia schools are over 50 years old; many are over a century old. The total cost of replacing these schools is over $20 billion. Traditionally, the House of Delegates has taken the position that building and maintaining schools is a local issue, but the legislature has given those localities few tools to raise funds for those schools. On Friday, a subcommittee killed a bill that would have given all localities the same ability nine jurisdictions currently have to use up to 1% sales tax to fund school construction.
The good news, McClellan said, is that several school funding bills remain in effect “because this is an area where urban Democrats and rural Republicans agree. We’ve postponed the interview, building and renovating too long, and the more we do it, the more we’ve got to pay. We can’t wait any longer.”
The House of Delegates budget cut funding for K-12 education to pay for a wide variety of tax cuts, she said, “but my constituents and a majority of constituents of Virginia say they would rather pay to fully fund our education system than pay taxes”. relief.”
South Richmond civic leader Charles Willis said he told DuVal that “in the South Side or Richmond there are schools that are burning, just like Fox did. We may not be not on fire, but we’re burning. George Wythe is burning, and Wythe can’t wait.”
“Schools are burning in Prince Edward,” Willis said. “They may not be on fire, but they are burning. They are burning for better resources.”
At the end of the rally, DuVal urged attendees to grab a Sharpie marker and sign a FUND SAFE SCHOOLS banner that will hang on the fence in front of Fox School “as a sign of hope.”