RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — More than a month after a devastating fire at the historic William Fox Elementary School in Richmond’s Fan District, students and staff resumed in-person instruction Monday at First Baptist Church, the school community’s temporary learning space.

The fire happened the night of Friday, Feb. 11. By that Wednesday, the school had transitioned to virtual learning while plans could be discussed for the future of the school community.

With virtual learning underway, First Baptist began hosting dozens of Fox students for online instruction in a communal space. But Richmond Public Schools (RPS) School Board member Jonathan Young told 8News at the beginning of March that the church’s 35 classrooms would be suitable for all of Fox’s roughly 350 students.

“It was paramount that we relocated our students to a physical space as soon as possible,” Young said at the time. “Keep in mind that our students in the City of Richmond, including here at Fox, were out of school for a year and a half.”

RPS spokesperson Sarah Abubaker told 8News that the classrooms at First Baptist were already set for instruction and that the cost of this move is not expected to increase from what was originally discussed, given that the church is only charging the school division $5,000 for the overage of utilities and supplies.

“Their generosity, their humility, their flexibility, collaboration with us has just been second to none,” she said. “What First Baptist did was really make sure the classrooms were in a state where we could come in and bring all of our teacher supplies and equipment.”

A decision has yet to be made on whether the Fox community will remain at First Baptist through the end of the academic year, or move to Clark Springs Elementary School once its renovations are complete, which is on schedule for the end of April.

“The students and the families will have an option to decide if they want to stay at First Baptist for the remainder of the school year, or transition over to Clark Springs, where they’ll be until Fox at 2300 [Hanover Avenue] is ready,” Abubaker said. “But that will really be a community decision and something that we’ll get to, I think, after we’ve had some time to settle into First Baptist.”

Upon dismissal at the end of the school day on Monday, students and staff seemed glad to be back in person. Crossing guards and families could be heard exchanging thank-yous, while students sported t-shirts showing off their Fox pride.

“It feels right, it feels normal, and it kind of had some of the excitement of the first day of school again,” Fox parent Lauren Methena said. “I’m lucky — I have a kid who likes school, who likes all of her friends at school, and I think she’s excited to get back in person.”

8News first spoke with Methena at the beginning of March, before the RPS School Board had voted on whether First Baptist would serve as a temporary home for the Fox community. At the time, she said she was on board with the move and recognized the importance of students’ return to face-to-face instruction.

“Let’s get the kids into school, and then, let’s keep trucking, let’s keep pushing towards a plan to fix not just Fox, not just George Wythe, but let’s start looking at the whole portfolio and seeing what we need to do to get these schools in better shape,” she said at the time. “Fox is one piece of a much bigger issue that’s happening across Richmond Public Schools right now.”

Methena has a 5th grader at Fox, who walked to school with her father Monday morning, with additional food and water bottles for her classmates in tow.

“We have always brought in extra snacks for the kids, just as a community, because there’s actually a good amount of need, a lot of kids who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches at Fox,” Methena said. “As part of the fire recovery, the Fox PTA [Parent Teacher Association] has donated $100 per classroom to help provide snacks to the teachers and the kids.”

Methena said Monday’s return to in-person learning has brought back a sense of normalcy after the fire and global pandemic.

“I just want to put a big thank-you out to First Baptist Church and the congregation there,” she said. “This is a huge gift they’ve given to our families and to the community, and I hope that we’ll be able to not only show them proper gratitude but also pay it forward some way in the near future.”