RPS proposes metal detectors and other devices to offset gun violence

George Copeland Jr. | 3/23/2023, 6 p.m.
In the wake of the shooting and deaths of multiple Richmond Public Schools students and ongoing concerns about school safety, ...

In the wake of the shooting and deaths of multiple Richmond Public Schools students and ongoing concerns about school safety, RPS leaders are considering an estimated $1.3 million plan to expand the use of metal detectors in the city’s school system.

The proposal, introduced by RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras during Monday’s School Board meeting, focuses on adding stationary and hand-held metal detectors to seven middle schools. Two walk-through and wand detectors would each be installed in Albert Hill and Binford Middle Schools, four walk-through and wand detectors would be installed at Henderson, Lucille Brown, Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas C. Boushall Middle Schools, and eight walk-through and wand detectors would be added to River City Middle School in the current proposal.

Additional care and safety associates would be hired as part of the current proposal. If approved, the schools would join six Richmond high schools that already use metal detectors as part of their operations, including Huguenot, Thomas Jefferson and George Wythe.

“I want to be clear that I am acutely aware of the drawbacks of taking this step,” said Mr. Kamras, who acknowledged the need to not police students and how the proposal can’t be the only solution for school safety. “I’m (also) cognizant that every dollar we spend on security is a dollar that we don’t spend on mental health and instruction and all of our other core work.

“At the same time, my No.1 responsibility is, and I believe you all agree this body’s No.1 responsibility, is to keep our students safe and to do everything we possibly can to that.”

The proposal was introduced a week after a gun was discovered at Boushall Middle School, and after a weekend that saw several RPS students shot, with one Binford Middle School student Marquan Mitchell-Nash, killed Friday, March 10.

For 8th District Board Member Dawn Page, who voiced reluctant support of the proposal alongside Jonathan Young, 4th District, Shonda Harris-Muhammed, 6th District and Mariah White, 2nd District, the proposal was an unfortunate but necessary step to prevent further violence and fear.

Members also brought other suggestions to ensure greater security in schools during the discussion, from transparent backpacks to further involvement from the Richmond Police Department in efforts involving school safety.

“It pains me that we’re having this conversation, but this is reality,” Ms. Page said. “So I support this, because no one wants to experience some of the gun violence we have had across the country.”

Other board members were less convinced, with Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi, 5th District, and Kenya Gibson, 3rd District, pointing out incidents where firearms were brought into schools without being discovered by metal detectors. A loaded gun had previously been found inside George Wythe in October after passing through the metal detectors undiscovered.

Ms. Rizzi, Nicole Jones, 9th Dis- trict, and Vice-Chair Cheryl Burke, 7th District, also pointed to issues in the local community as a critical point to address in reducing the potential for violence in schools.

From the lingering impact of COVID-19 to the fears of students when walking home or to school bus stops, members saw the source of these school incidents as something that had to be tackled by an involved public and board to ensure safety outside and inside the city’s schools.

“I will never support an initiative like this without deep community and student engagement,” Ms. Rizzi said. “I want to hear student voices on this.”

“We need community engagement to help us address this, not more ways of treating our children like criminals when they enter our buildings.”

A vote wasn’t taken on the proposal during Monday’s meeting as Mr. Kamras sought to gather the board’s feedback before a more precise plan is provided.