Kamras offers plan to change role of public safety in schools

Ronald E. Carrington | 9/16/2021, 6 p.m.
Richmond schools Superintendent Jason Kamras presented to the School Board a list of recommendations designed to re- imagine the day-to-day …
Mr. Kamras

Richmond schools Superintendent Jason Kamras presented to the School Board a list of recommendations designed to re- imagine the day-to-day roles of those charged with security in schools.

The recommendations come after a year of study by the school administration and ranged from a change of uniforms for school resource officers and school safety officers to present a “soft” image, to developing a diversion program that ends student arrest for non-violent school offenses.

SROs are personnel affiliated with, and paid for, by the Richmond Police Department.

The administration’s recommendations include expanding the role of SSOs, school staff unaffiliated with the police, who also provide security services.

While some of the recommendations already have been implemented, the board’s approval is needed to move forward with the entire package. The board is expected to take up the package at its next meeting on Monday, Sept. 20.

Mr. Kamras proposed rebranding SSOs as “Care and Safety Associates,” or CSAs, who would conduct home visits for students with attendance issues.

RPS’ trauma informed and restorative practices team has launched a series of training sessions for CSAs to help them meet the new job expectations. These training will continue throughout the school year.

Additionally, the SSOs blue security uniforms have been replaced with gray Richmond Public Schools polo shirts and khaki pants.

According to Mr. Kamras, the plan is to revamp the district’s security program, including changing some duties, to put greater focus on students’ overall mental, emotional and physical health.

Other duties include, but are not limited to, working with school guidance counselors and social workers, having SROs formally mentor students with weekly one-on-one and group sessions; and developing a diversion program to end arrests on school grounds for any non-violent offenses. Student arrest data would be tracked by the location of the offense—in-school versus out-of-school—and reported quarterly to the School Board.

“This is an effort by the district to drastically reduce the number of student arrests and trace the data on whether our students are arrested on campus or outside of campus. Then we can tailor the response appropriately,” Mr. Kamras told the board.

During the discussion period, School Board member Kenya J. Gibson, 3rd District, offered a motion to eliminate police in schools when the current agreement with the Richmond Police Department ends in June 2023 and to have SROs and SSOs replaced by “community-sourced safety professionals.”

Her motion was rejected on a 6-3 vote after a more than 30-minute discussion.

During the 2018-2019 school year, 121 RPS students were arrested in school by student resource officers or magistrates primarily for offenses including assault, drug possession and weapons possession. A majority of the arrests happened at Martin Luther King Middle School and Huguenot High School.

The number of arrests decreased during the 2019-2020 school year, with the majority of arrests made at the same two schools.

According to RPS data from July 2020, RPS had 13 SROS working at Armstrong , George Wythe, Huguenot, John Marshall and Thomas Jefferson high schools and at Boushall, Elkhardt- Thompson, Henderson and Martin Luther King Jr. middle schools and the Richmond Alternative School.

RPS has 62 CSAs divided among 17 schools. RPS was not able to provide a school-by-school listing.