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Richmond School Board Approves Use of RPS Facilities for Childcare

MLK Middle School
CRIXELL MATTHEWS
/
Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School is one of five school buildings being used to provide childcare services to parents in need. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Richmond School Board members voted Monday night to allow five school buildings to be used to provide emergency childcare. However, they requested a Memorandum of Understanding with the city, citing a lack of clarity in how the implementation of the childcare sites will work.

The five schools proposed to be used as childcare sites while RPS teaches students virtually are: MLK Middle School, Holton Elementary, Huguenot High School, Miles Jones Elementary and Blackwell Elementary. 

The vote comes after Mayor Levar Stoney requested the childcare sites in a letter to the school board and Superintendent Jason Kamras. Kamras recommended that the school board accept Stoney’s request.

“There are many families in Richmond who are facing very difficult circumstances this fall,” Kamras said during the school board meeting on Monday. “And we knew by going 100 percent virtual… that we would be putting some families in this position. Of course we never want to do that, but that is a natural byproduct of the decision that we made.”

The first day of classes for RPS students is Sept. 8. While Kamras said he does not expect the  emergency childcare sites to be available by the first day of school, he urged the school board to vote Monday night. Kamras said preparation of the childcare sites could take a couple of weeks.

According to the superintendent, the district will decide the number of seats available at each site. Kamras estimates around 100 students per building, though he says the exact number is still under discussion with the city. He says the majority of spots will be for recipients of SNAP, TANF, or Medicaid, and children of essential workers will be prioritized.

The motion passed by a vote of six to zero. School Board Members Scott Barlow and Kenya Gibson abstained from voting . Gibson expressed disappointment with the lack of details around transportation, budgetary impacts and the specific number of students being cared for at the sites.

“Is this about helping families or is this about elections? And I’ll be frank: I’m not sure,” Gibson said. “I don’t understand why the city waited so long to make this recommendation that has put us in a position where we are forced to vote a week before school starts.”

In his letter, Stoney said the city has a remaining $3 million from CARES Act funding that can be used towards childcare.

“I understand that, on its face, it seems strange to request the use of school buildings that you have made the difficult decision to close,” Stoney said in his letter. “School buildings, particularly new, state-of-the-art school buildings, are ideal locations for this sort of emergency child care.”

According to a survey administered by the city, only about 30 percent of 1,300 respondents said they were able to arrange child care while RPS undergoes virtual instruction.

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