Students Protest School
Closings And Budget Cuts
by Andrew Lindsay
About one hundred Richmond high school students, on a balmy April afternoon, left their respective schools 45 minutes early and marched on City Hall. The students were there to let city officials—from the mayor on down—know how opposed they are to proposed budget cuts and school closures. Many students assembled downtown showed solidarity by wearing red T-shirts and waving placards at passing vehicles, all the while chanting a series of phrases that could be heard from the top floor of the towering City Hall. The majority of those present were from Community and Open high schools, although there was also representation from Maggie Walker, Franklin Military, and other city schools. As a participant of this event, I was able to witness the iron will of RPS’ student body manifested in the continuous marching around City Hall.
After the event I spoke with Maya Flores, a junior at Community who contributed to spreading awareness of the protest at her school.
“I received a text from a friend at Open about it,” she said, describing how she first learned of the protest. Maya went on to explain how she let the rest of the school know about the event. “I made an announcement in morning meeting and told everybody about wearing red and the protest at City Hall’” she said. “I didn’t encourage the walkout because it might look bad for the school board, but I’ll let people do what they want.”
When asked if she felt that the protest had achieved its goal, Maya said: “I don’t think it completely achieved what we want, but it started change. We’ll have to wait and see what happens if it is just the beginning.” She then agreed that future demonstrations may be necessary if the city council fails to adequately assist the state of the schools.
From early on it became clear Community High School administration would not actively dissuade students from walking out of classes early. Myself and about 40 other students wore red that day (quite a large number, considering the size of the school), in accordance with the announcement that Maya gave on the previous week. The administration permitted us to leave the school grounds provided that we had a signed parental consent form for exiting the property.
Most of the students who participated had a ride to take them to City Hall, but I went on foot with several other people. The police department must have also learned about the walk out, as we were followed by around four truancy officers who always stayed about a block behind us. We arrived at City Hall after about an hour of walking, which was where we joined up with the crowd from Open, who had begun the protest earlier. One of the Open students carried a megaphone that they would use for call and response messages to the crowd.
By five that evening, parents, teachers, and students from middle and elementary schools arrived for the main rally. An elementary drumline performed early on, while speeches from various students and teachers occupied the remainder of the time. All the while countless drivers honked their horns to show their support for our cause. Once the protest outside ended, we flooded into the City Council chamber. I heard from several people there that we even broke the attendance record for a City Council meeting, which is a testament to how strongly we are willing to resist any further damage to our school system.
Critics of the protest have been quick to label us as having a lack of understanding on the nature of the issue. Some take to writing snarky commentaries in the Times Dispatch about how we would still be clamoring for more money even if the budget was increased. Others have pointed out that the school closings and mergers are no more than a rumor, and reacting in this way will make us look like we can’t be taken seriously. However the reason for the student march was not limited to just one or two issues. The fact that the school board even considered such a plan shows that we’re treated as secondary priorities. And we’ll continue to fight until that changes.
Editor’s Note: This story was written by Community High School student Andrew Lindsay, a resident of Bellevue, on Richmond’s Northside. It is a pleasure to know young people of Andrew’s caliber, courage and talent. Like all other Richmond public school students I have ever met, Andrew understands how very important the funding of our schools is for every single student. These young people are challenging the powers-that-be, who see fit to spend money on boondoggle projects while allowing our schools to close their doors or to fall into ruin. To pay for professional football camps while short-changing the teachers in this school district, who are second to none. These young people, seemingly much wiser than the adults who represent them both in council and on the school board, have made demands that need to be met. Oh learned elected officials who grip our purse strings and control the municipal till: Listen.