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Richmond School Board Uncertain About Removal of Police

(Photo Credit: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)
CRIXELL MATTHEWS
/
MLK Middle School had the highest number of student arrests in RPS during the most recent school year. (Photo Credit: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras wants to remove police from schools. But it’s unclear if the school board will follow through on that request. 

During a meeting Monday night, school board members discussed a broader approach than removal of school resource officers. Among the topics they raised: a review of private security staff, discipline policies and the need for more middle school student input.

“We really need to make an effort,” board member Dawn Page said in reaction to the administration’s plans to engage middle school students in town hall style public hearings on Zoom. 

A survey presented to the school board Monday indicated that middle school students and staff are divided about whether or not they feel police actually contribute to a sense of safety. 

Board member Kenya Gibson said that if police go, there needs to be a plan in place when it comes to things like breaking up fights at school.

“We have to define a vision for something that’s better,” Gibson said. “We haven’t engaged in a discussion about: what else could this be? How else can we make this better? And without that discussion, everyone is understandably scared to eliminate the only thing they know of that they believe provides some sense of safety and improves the climate...this is the time to be talking about what’s next.” 

Gibson said the conversation needs to include a plan for prevention of fights and conflicts, as well as intervention when things happen “in the heat of the moment.”

Board member Scott Barlow agreed the conversation needs to be more comprehensive than a simple review of the agreement the school district has with the police department. 

“I would want to not view that in a vacuum, as in let's just toss out the relationship and see where the cards lie,” Barlow said. “But actually have a meaningful alternative and one that ensures safety, addresses the behavioral challenges that we face and then also addresses security.” 

A discussion about who should intervene in fights and how hasn’t happened yet. The district presented some details about the number of school security officers employed by RPS and their training, but the board members asked for more information about the role they currently play in schools, including why they’re assigned to certain schools. 

The district plans to implement what they’re calling “community circles” at the beginning of each school day for elementary, middle and high school students. It’s part of a restorative justice model the district says has been found to produce “gains in empathy, impulse control, anger management, selfreliance, positive approach-coping, caring-cooperative behavior, suppression of anger, consideration of others, and social competence” according to a 2017 Harvard Graduate School of Education study.

Board member Felicia Cosby wants school discipline policies to be a part of the larger conversation about policing, too. She wants to reinstate the district’s climate and culture committee so board members can have dedicated meetings to hold these discussions more often. 

“Do we want to say as a policy that middle school students can’t be arrested? These are certain things we need to talk about as a board, and we need to get together and do it,” Cosby said. 

School board chair Linda Owen said Monday night that she’ll entertain ideas from board members about what they’d like a new committee to address, and whether they want it to include members of the public. 

“You all send me what you want the committee’s charge to be and let’s be as specific as possible,” Owen said. “So we don’t just have a committee in a vague sort of mantra.” 

Owen said another committee has been working on proposed changes to the district’s student code of conduct (known as SCORE), and that the board is expected to vote on the changes sometime in September. 

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Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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