Late in August, the School Board voted rather suddenly to move the pre-k students from MLK Middle School to a re-opened Norrell Elementary School. Public meetings have been scheduled for this coming week at several locations in the East End.
The move has generated some controversy, as the school on Fendall Avenue was originally closed due to dangerous levels of methane gas coming up from the landfill on which the school was built. A group has organized to protest the move, with a presence planned for Tuesday’s School Board meeting:
Norrell Elementary is built on a landfill, and was shut down in 2006 thanks to 7 years of community efforts to fight against environmental racism and for the health and well being of our children. At the time the methane gas, mold, and carbon dioxide levels posed serious health and safety risks to our children. [...]
There will be a picket and protest on Tuesday September 4th at 5pm around City Hall. At 7pm there is a school board meeting, which we will also be organizing to attend.
Although Norrell was closed as a school in 2006, the building has remained in use and school official say that the location is safe:
School system officials are insisting Norrell is safe to reopen as a temporary home for its East End preschool “Center for Excellence,” citing the fact that the school has in fact been open since 2007 for city Parks and Recreation activities, including a boxing academy. More recently, it served as a temporary home to one of the city’s library branches. [...]
Richmond Public Schools Chief Operating Officer P. Andy Hawkins, who is overseeing last-minute renovations to Norrell in advance of students arriving on Sept. 10 (pre-k programs start a week after regular school), says the science indicates that most dumps continue to emit dangerous levels of methane only for about 20 years. And recent testing by the school system shows that there is no methane present at all in Norrell.
The Times-Dispatch reported that “Superintendent Yvonne W. Brandon requested the move because of construction at King that has included the demolition of several outbuildings and the temporary consolidation of space inside the main building”. MLK is entering year two of renovations which have taken away about 25% of the classrooms in the building. Teachers at the school indicate that this had a definite negative impact on the behavior and academic achievement of the grades 6-8 students. It is expected that MLK will not retain Fully Accredited status this year, after having made the mark for at least the previous three (PDF).