RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Fire safety concerns at Richmond Public Schools (RPS) sparked a heated debate at Monday’s school board meeting.
The Richmond Education Association (REA) presented two resolutions to the board at the meeting, one to address fire safety concerns and one to address mold concerns. Vice President of REA, Anne Forrester, spoke during the public comment, urging the board to adopt both resolutions.
“These resolutions aim to create clear criteria and protocols as to what is considered safe operations,” Forrester said.
However, the board was only able to talk about the fire safety resolution before arguments broke out between the members.
Some of the fire safety policies the REA proposed included creating minimum fire safety criteria for violations, requiring all buildings to come into compliance with Virginia state fire code and communicating with the public on any future violations.
Board member Kenya Gibson moved to adopt the resolution. She cited the 190 fire safety violations the district had in the beginning of the school year, along with the fire at Fox Elementary School and fire at RPS’s bus garage as the reason.
“The optics do not look good, and I want to give everybody on this board the opportunity to be on the right side of history,” Gibson said to her colleagues during Monday’s meeting.
However, other board members disagreed with adopting the resolution — or even sharing the details of the resolution with the public, upon advice from legal counsel.
“Some of these suggestions, you know, are really, in my opinion, not regulated by the board, and we’re putting ourselves [in] jeopardy,” Board Member Nicole Jones said.
The motion to pass the fire safety resolution ultimately failed. Gibson told 8News afterwards that she didn’t understand why the board didn’t just support it and release the information in the resolutions to the community.
“The fact that there was such pushback to even allowing the public to see it, that concerns me, and I think it should concern the public too,” Gibson said.
Richmond’s Chief of Fire sent Superintendent Jason Kamras a letter on Sept. 18, which said that the 190 fire safety violations would not have prevented any schools from opening. Some of those violations included blocked exits, improper use of electrical cords and exit lighting not working properly.
Kamras reminded the board of this letter during Monday’s meeting and updated them on where the school system stands now.
“Every single Richmond Public Schools building has received a notice of no violations from the Richmond Fire Department,” Kamras said.