Kamras proposes changing role for SROs; board gives green light to new 1,600-student high school

Ronald E. Carrington | 8/19/2021, 6 p.m.
Richmond schools Superintendent Jason Kamras presented a proposal to the School Board Monday night to re-imagine the role of school ...
Mr. Kamras

Richmond schools Superintendent Jason Kamras presented a proposal to the School Board Monday night to re-imagine the role of school resource officers, or SROs, the police hired to provide public safety in the city’s public schools.

The proposal is a result of a year of study, a statewide call for the removal of SROs from school buildings and a push for police reform.

The board has stated in the past a need to review the value and purpose of SROs in the disciplinary process. The RPS administration believes that law enforcement officers and policing do not belong in schools, reflect- ing the conviction that city schools should not serve as an entry point to the criminal justice system for youngsters.

In June 2020, two School Board members urged the administration to dissolve the school system’s relationship with the Rich- mond Police Department and eliminate the 13 SROs working in five high school, four middle schools and at the RichmondAlterna- tive School. The officers made 121 arrests during the 2019-20 school year, primarily for assault, drug possession and weapons possession, officials said at the time.

In a virtual town hall with students in July 2020, about a dozen students told Mr. Kamras that SROs should be removed and that the money should be reallocated for mental health professionals to be placed in schools.

None of Mr. Kamras’ recommenda- tions, however, involve a reduction in the scope of SRO involvement in Richmond schools. Instead, his proposal, submitted in response to the current board’s vision, is an effort to soften the image of SROs and to re-imagine their role.

His proposal calls for SROs to be called “care and safety associates” and they would wear “soft” uniforms, not regular police uniforms. Their duties also would expand to mentoring groups of students with weekly one-on-one and group sessions, and developing a diversion program to end arrests for non-violent offenses.

Additionally, SRO arrest data would be tracked by the location of the offense – in school versus out of school—and reported quarterly to the School Board.

Mr. Kamras also recommended that a 10-person SRO committee be established immediately composed of two members each from the School Board, the administration, teachers, students and parents or caregivers. The committee would be responsible for collaborating with the Richmond Police Department to negotiate an update to the memorandum of understanding regarding SROs for implementation during the 2021-22 school year.

It was noted during the School Board meeting that a number of RPS staff, the majority of whom areAfrican-American, said they are concerned and feared for their safety if SROs were removed from schools.

During the public comment period at the meeting, several parents and others said they had concerns about the possible removal of SROS, particularly from Huguenot High School. Administration officials said Hugue- not High had the highest number of arrests among the schools in 2018. Other speakers expressed concerns about the removal of SROs from Armstrong High School, saying officers have helped reduce the number of incidents by consistently unruly students.

The board will take up the issue for more public discussion at its next meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

In other matters, the School Board approved items to be included in RPS’ request for proposals for the design of the new George Wythe High School. The Kamras administration is to issue the RFP by Aug. 31.

Despite disagreement, the board voted 5-4 to move ahead with plans for the new high school to have a 1,600-student capacity and to contain a health clinic. Several board members said that, based on projections of student enrollment, the school would be over capacity by the time it is built.

The School Board also agreed that the new school should have a silver LEED certification for energy efficiency, also known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and the school should be designed around a theme of either the arts or STEM.