Richmond, Virginia (WRIC) – Locals from across Central Virginia gathered Saturday morning to call for additional government funding to support investment in school infrastructure, especially in rural and urban areas of the Commonwealth.
About 100 people attended, and the Foundation’s Safe Schools March began near the remains of the burned-out William Fox Elementary School and headed to Monroe Park.
“This is our alarm bell,” said event co-organizer and Fox father Becca Duvall. “We are here to make sure everyone understands the conditions of our schools today and the opportunity we need to invest in them, and to ask our legislators to invest in them.”
Duvall said she was devastated when she learned what had happened to Fox earlier this month. She has two children who attended the 110-year-old school until she burned down on February 11th.
“The unfortunate reality, as you see behind me,” she said, pointing to the school, “is that the time for these buildings is over. The aging of schools is a problem that is getting worse every year. “
A 2021 school building inventory report from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) notes that more than half of school buildings in the Commonwealth have stood idle for more than 50 years. Of the more than 2,000 buildings listed, 34 have stood for at least a century, with 10 of these school buildings located in the city of Richmond.
“A school like Fox is destined to burn out if it catches fire because it doesn’t have a sprinkler system,” Duvall said.
A spokesman for the Richmond Fire Department (RFD) had previously confirmed to 8News that the historic building had not been converted for sprinklers due to its age.
Swansboro Elementary and Open High were built in 1911, the same year as Fox.
A spokesman for Richmond Public Schools (RPS) also confirmed to 8News that Fox is not the only building in the department that has not been converted to spray.
“My children now, by chance, have nowhere to go. Today it is my school, ”Duval said. “Tomorrow it could be any other school, and we need to seize this moment now, harness that energy and really set up our schools across the state, and give our friends in rural and urban areas of the state the opportunity to raise money for it.”
The VDOE School Building Inventory for 2021 estimates that the total cost of replacing Commonwealth school buildings over the age of 50 will be $ 24,790,835,500.
“Our public schools are in need of critical repairs and replacements,” said co-organizer Priest Josh Blakely. “Throughout our community, we find that schools are in a very neglected state. We have ceilings breaking, we have leaks, we have water in the porches, buckets, and it’s just terrible conditions, and we, as a state, it’s time to give money to the youngest of us. ”
Rev. Blackley came to Richmond from Prince Edward County for a march. He said that he has a child studying there at a school where the struggle for equal education has been going on for decades.
“Barbara Jones, who started a student outing that led to part of Brown’s case against the Board of Education that all came out of Prince Edward County,” he said. “We have such a long history of fighting for our education, and we’re doing it again because schools are just in a state of disrepair.”
Virginia Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) was also present on Saturday. In addition to insisting on school building bills in the state legislature, she is Fox’s father.
“Our children are our future, and how well we raise them determines how strong our communities are, how strong our democracy is,” she said. “They can’t study in buildings that are collapsing. So we need all the hands to make sure we are fully funding their education. ”
On February 14, for example, the Senate passed a bill to build a fifth school that provides for renovation, construction and maintenance.
But the people in the Foundation’s Safe Schools March were focused not just on the old Commonwealth buildings. There have also been many calls for the construction of a new George White High School. The school was built in 1951, but community members, parents and teachers have long shared their concerns about the condition of the building.
“The school needs help. Not to say that it burns, but burns inside and out, ”said White graduate and current father Tisha Erby. “We are this time. It’s not about White, it’s not about Fox. Many other schools also need help, and I am just here to spread love and spread the word that is – funding our schools. ”