Richmond School Board votes to modify School Resource Officer program

Richmond

School Resource Officer George Zorzakis,right, tells an eighth grader that she’s not allowed in to Lewis and Clark Middle School as the first day of classes this fall was limited to sixth graders only due to the pandemic, in Billings, Mont. on Monday, August 24, 2020. Health officials say whether schools stay open depends on whether coronavirus trends get worse. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After rejecting a motion to remove School Resource Officers (SROs) from Richmond Public Schools (RPS), School Board members provided feedback on a proposal to modify the program. Incorporating such responses, RPS officials presented a revised set of recommendations for the program to the School Board at its Monday night meeting.

The proposed changes passed in a 5-4 vote with Shonda Harris-Muhammed, Cheryl Burke, Dawn Page, Nicole Jones and Stephanie Rizzi voting yes.

An SRO, by federal definition, is a career law enforcement officer with sworn authority who is deployed by an employing police department or agency in a community-oriented policing assignment to work in collaboration with one or more schools, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers. RPS’ School Resource Officer program has drawn both criticism and support from the community at several School Board meetings.

At the Sept. 13 meeting, RPS parent Aiga Langan wrote in for the public comment period to speak out against continuation of the program in Richmond Public Schools.

“I believe that now more than ever it is of the utmost importance for us to create a safe school culture by stepping away from using [a] punitive discipline system, but instead employing [a] restorative practices-based education system rooted in research,” Langan said. “The presence of SROs in Richmond Public Schools only contributes to criminalization of our students.”

Rizzi reflected similar sentiments Monday night, saying that the RPS students need compassion and not criminalization.

However, community members have also spoken out in favor of SROs at RPS, arguing that they help provide safe learning environments and valuable resources in schools, while fostering positive relationships with students.

School Board member Liz Doerr, said she voted no on the program changes because she thinks the Board can do better and needs to not take resources away from the students. She said the changes were headed in the right direction, but wanted to focus on restorative justice and mental health.

Another member who voted against the changes, Vice Chair Jonathan Young, stated that he intended to support the proposal until asking Superintendent Jason Kamras if the changed system would prevent the arrest of a student dealing drugs within the schools. He said, Kamras told him yes.

Proposed changes to the SRO Program in Richmond Public Schools, as of Oct. 4, are as follows:

  • SROs would wear their “soft uniform while at school
  • The Richmond Police Department (RPD) and RPS would develop a diversion program to end arrests on school grounds for any non-violent offenses
  • SRO arrest data would be tracked by the location of the offense (in-school vs. out-of-school) and reported quarterly to the School Board
  • Administrators at schools with SROs would receive two hours of additional training about when/how it is appropriate to engage an SRO in a student matter
  • SROs would receive eight hours of additional training in restorative and trauma-informed practice from RPS personnel

Kamras said during the meeting Monday night that the proposed changes were an effort to move the district in the direction “we all want to go.” Going forward, the superintendent said that he will also be making recommendations to continue making more investments in mental health support.

If the vote had failed, no changes would have been made to the SRO program.

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