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School Rezoning in North Side: We Shouldn’t Settle 

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On Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. at Ginter Park Elementary School, the Richmond School Board will reconvene to determine a rezoning plan for the North Side.

Since I’ve been elected, I’ve focused on the process behind good governance. I pushed to have our meetings live streamed, budget documents made public and more community engagement in the adoption of our strategic plan. Democracy cannot work without equal access to the democratic process. History has proven that process is as important as policy when it comes to successfully creating racial equity.

As such, the lack of democratic process and sufficient community engagement have made it premature to adopt a plan to pair schools.

I’ve consistently raised concerns about the inclusion of African American and Latino families in our rezoning dialogue, which haven’t been addressed. Plans were shared midsummer, when parents are less attuned to school-related news. Materials were not consistently shared in both English and Spanish. And despite multiple requests from myself and others, there wasn’t a single robocall or handout sent home to parents until mid-October, just weeks before plans were set to be finalized. For other initiatives we have had meetings with meals and child care at convenient times and locations to reach the communities we aim to serve. This time, we fell short.

I’ve spent my adult life fighting to create diverse schools that are adequately funded. I didn’t do that work to now settle for a plan that is still in its infancy stages and hasn’t been embraced by the community it will impact the most.

As we have been discussing racial equity in the context of our school zones, it was inevitable that we would continually return to the issue of resources and funding. The distribution of funds has always been at the crux of the discussion of school integration.

In fact, the motivation behind the NAACP’s integration strategy was equal access to resources. This was in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which endorsed segregation through the “separate but equal” principle in 1896. Sadly, the premise of the NAACP strategy remains true while the persistence of racism has created a new reality — the total amount of money in public coffers has been slashed altogether leaving us with dilapidated schools and a shortage of staff in rural and urban areas alike. There is no question that society and students benefit when our classrooms are diverse. Unfortunately, integration cannot and will not constitute equity in the context of starved schools. And because of the costs associated with pairing as the integration technique, it could further the harm by directing resources away from students of color and towards the process of integrating white students.

Looking ahead to our upcoming vote, I do believe we can make progress. Specifically, I am hopeful we can address the school zones for Ginter Park Elementary School, which were gerrymandered to exclude the Ginter Park neighborhood when Holton opened. Ginter Park is a lovely school community that would embrace those students. I’d like to help create the space for that community and school to reunite.

I am thankful for these conversations and the desire for equity. There is much to be hopeful about. Those of us who are serious about integration have work to do with the new Democratic majority at the state to fight for the resources necessary to provide high quality public education for all.

Kenya Gibson is the current School Board member representing the 3rd District. She attended the College of William & Mary and graduated with a double concentration in economics and fine art. She has a master’s degree in architecture from Yale University. She lives in North Side Richmond with her husband and two children.

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