RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)– Richmond leaders and parents are speaking out after the Richmond Public Schools (RPS) School Board’s decision to vote against rezoning River City Middle School.

On Monday, the board voted to reject rezoning in a 5-4 vote.

A joint statement was then sent out by four of the board’s members regarding the decision: Cheryl Burke, Liz Doerr, Nicole Jones and Dawn Page.

“The entire river city community will pay the price of this unconscionable decision,” the members wrote.

The board members argue that the school is over 100% capacity and is overcrowded by more than 400 students which is jeopardizing students’ safety and education. The school currently has 1,500 students enrolled.

According to Nicole Jones, who represents the 9th district on the school board, it’s a safety issue.

“We are tired. The violence is in an uproar right now,” Jones said.

Principal Jacquelyn Murphy Braxton told 8News, that the school is dealing with several issues when it comes to overcrowding. She said the students are let out at 4 p.m. and it takes about an hour to send home all 1,500 students. This affects the hours of staff, and some have to stay late to get their lesson plan ready for the next day. In addition, staff are resigning and calling out due to stress. Nearly ten staff members have to share rooms, and security is covering multiple floors at once.

“Parents are calling me. They are afraid to send their child to school,” Jones said.

Since November, a rezoning committee worked to come up with a proposal to send some students to Binford Middle School and eliminate open enrollment seats there. In the statement sent by four of the board’s members, they allege principals of the affected middle schools- Boushall, Brown, River City and Binford all approved the plan. They said that it was recommended by the committee, all principals and Superintendent Jason Kamras.

According to Councilman Dr. Michael Jones, who represents the 9th district on Richmond’s City Council, the calls for help were disregarded.

“We need to look at not allowing the school to sit at over 100% capacity, when there are other schools nearby that are at 75% capacity,” Jones said. “Providing this opportunity to children across the river outweighs their discomfort and safety simply to save a few seats for children who are already succeeding in school.”

According to school board members, the rezoning committee was made up of students, staff, board members and parents.

In the statement they wrote that, “The school board prioritized school choice that advantages white and affluent families over the safety and security of black and brown students on the southside.”

Councilwoman Ellen Robertson, who represents the 6th district on City Council, pledged to discuss the issue further with her colleagues. She called today “a sad day in a lot of ways.”

“It is an embarrassment and a shame,” Robertson said.

Kenya Gibson represents the 3rd district and sits on the RPS School Board. Gibson, along with four other members voted against rezoning the school.

“Last year, City Council adopted a budget that cut our school maintenance funding in half. So if it weren’t tragic, it would be humorous that a City Council member insist that a top-down, unfunded mandate should be forced. We serve on a democratically-elected school board, operating in the context of decades of defunding. It’s our responsibility to address rezoning in a way that meets the needs of our city, and the feverish response doesn’t serve that purpose – it inhibits it. Our administration promised to provide the budget and transportation details we’ve requested at our meeting on Monday. I hope that those details outline a plan that will have the full support of the board.”

Kenya Gibson, Richmond School Board 3rd district representative

RPS School Board Chair, Shonda Harris-Muhammed, wrote in a statement to 8News, that the board would not intentionally place a child in harm’s way.

“First, every elected or appointed school board member’s duty is to follow all school board policies and govern accordingly. I have advised school board members who were referenced in the press release that was formulated by our school board colleagues to refrain from responding and remain focused on our duty as school board members. I fervently believe that every Richmond School Board member would not intentionally or otherwise place any child in harm’s way. Democracy is difficult for any entity to maneuver while remaining steadfast in your convictions. I applaud the work we do when we remain focused on the work at hand and not the emotional garment that unfortunately is brought with decision making as leaders. We are passionate about our division. Unfortunately, the image is that several school board representatives have decided to place students in harm’s way. This is a bold, irrational, and fallacious statement to make about school board representatives who hold the division leadership accountable and monitor the status of requested tasks. Our purview is to hold the superintendent accountable while monitoring the progress of the superintendent and the school division.”

Shonda Harris-Muhammed, Richmond School Board Chair

The school board will review the rezoning recommendation at the next board meeting on May 2.