Kamras seeking removal of school resource officers

Ronald E. Carrington | 7/30/2020, 6 p.m.
A 90-minute virtual town hall with Richmond Public Schools students may lead to the elimination of police officers in city ...
Mr. Kamras

A 90-minute virtual town hall with Richmond Public Schools students may lead to the elimination of police officers in city schools.

Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras announced last week that he was so “deeply affected” by the comments of about a dozen students during a student-moderated virtual town hall meeting on July 23 that he will recommend to the School Board that school resource officers be removed and that City Council reallocate the money for mental health professionals to be placed in schools.

“I want to be clear that I have great respect for our SROs,” Mr. Kamras wrote in a newsletter posted on the Richmond Public Schools website following the meeting. He expressed gratitude for the role SROs have played as informal coaches, mentors and parent figures for students.

But, he continued, “maintaining the institution of policing in schools unequivocally contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline and causes many students — especially those who are Black and Latinx — to feel dehumanized. We simply cannot allow that to continue.”

At a meeting of the School Board in mid-June, two board members urged the administration to dissolve the school system’s relationship with the Richmond Police Department and eliminate the 13 SROs working in five high schools, four middle schools and at the Richmond Alternative School. The officers made 121 arrests during the last school year, primarily for assault, drug possession and weapons possession, officials said at the time.

During last week’s town hall, several students cited their belief that police officers, who are sworn to serve and protect, don’t do that in schools. Instead, they put students in detention and harass students in neighborhoods as they patrol after school, the students said.

Jazz Miles, a student who led the Zoom event, pointed out that a crackdown on students should not be why resource officers are placed in schools.

“Officers are to protect (students) from threats from outside of schools because students inside schools are not the threat,” he said.

Mr. Kamras pointed out in his newsletter that one participant noted that Black and brown students feel like they are “seen as criminals before students.”

“I was so moved that I felt compelled — in the words of one of the participants — ‘to do more than talk — to take action,’ ” Mr. Kamras said.

Already, Mr. Kamras is getting pushback from the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and Richmond

United for Law Enforcement who cautioned against taking police out of schools.

“The absence of SROs dramatically reduces response time to school incidents and eliminates the ability of students to interact positively with police officers,” the police chiefs as- sociation said in a statement.

Also during the town hall, students offered a range of ideas to make schools safer, as well as their definition of what safety is. Safe schools, they said, have clean water, good food and adequately funded teachers.

“This creates a better idea of safety, which is real and not just an illusion,” student Claire Hedberg said during the virtual meeting.