About 120 students from Oregon Hill’s Open High School staged a walkout protest this morning.
About 120 students from Oregon Hill’s Open High School staged a walkout protest this morning. Despite the promise of rain, the kids were in high spirits as cars and street traffic honked supporting the student lead movement.
It all started with a Style Weekly article published in early April which detailed several RPS schools in dire conditions:
The ceilings at Thompson Middle School started oozing in the fall. Watery, foul-smelling drops of diluted tar fell into classrooms and hallways. The long, wet winter only made things worse. The ooze continues to creep.
The staff does what it’s always done when the building starts showing its age: It copes. Custodians work late. Teachers rearrange desks. Buckets are put into place.
School Board Vice Chairman Kristen Larson, who represents the South Side school as part of her 4th District, makes a return visit to see the problem. The smell of the tar water mixed with lemon-scented Lysol assaults the nostrils and doesn’t let go.
Leading her on a tour, a school administrator tells Larson it’s been getting worse. More leaks, more of the 504 students complaining of headaches. One teacher has called in sick. A student circulated a petition protesting the conditions. (She didn’t have a hall pass and was reprimanded.) The problem stems from a hasty patch job on the roof last spring. It was a stopgap measure whose time came and went.
The students at Open High, outraged over the issue, got together. Within two weeks, with students like Isabella Arias at the helm, the protest was staged.
“We want to show City Hall the faces of the students at RPS. We’re not just a bunch of kids. We care about our schools, and other schools as well,” said Arias. “We were horrified to hear schools were infested with rats, had black tar dripping from ceiling, were moldy and falling apart.”
Arias said Open High, tucked away in Oregon Hill, is in great shape, but it was unfair for other students to have to learn in such poor conditions. “We’re here, and we care about everybody,” she said.
The school’s administration didn’t fight the action. Arias said they warned them of possible consequences, but the look on her face showed she was willing to make the sacrifice.
The students weren’t alone. Some parents joined their kids in the march. One man, David Lindsay, came down from Northside of the city. He was giving high-fives to all the kids as they lined the front of City Hall.
“I walk anyway, for therapy, so I came out here to support them,” said Lindsay who made the nearly 1.5 mile track from the school to Richmond’s third largest building along side the kids.
“City hall will take notice.” said Lindsay who wasn’t sure if today’s demonstration was going to make the impact the kids hoped. “As for them doing anything about it, there’s gotta be more things done. It’s an excellent starting point.”
He hoped it would be a good first step, but knows it’s the parents of students in the run down schools who need to be out here making a fuss as well.
“The parents, they need to come out and show support. That’s what will make it click.”