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New RPS security director addresses school safety concerns | #schoolsaftey

Richmond Public Schools recently hired a new director of safety and security responsible for assessing the school division’s security protocols and overall preparedness.

John Beazley was introduced to the school Board on Monday night and presented a 15-point plan to remedy the board’s growing concerns over the safety of its staff, students and parents.

Beazley’s introduction comes a month after a father and son were killed in a mass shooting outside a Richmond graduation ceremony for Huguenot High School. Monday’s meeting was held at the school.

“My plan, my goal, is to make sure everybody in these schools feel safe,” Beazley told the school board. “I want to make sure all the staff and students and parents feel like their individuals are safe in the school systems.”

Prior to joining RPS, Beazley worked for 27 years with the Richmond Police Department, retiring in 2021 as a lieutenant with the chief of police’s office. During his service, Beazley led a variety of divisions, including the department’s school resource officer program.

At Monday’s meeting, Beazley provided the board with an overview of the division’s current safety personnel and presented a number of recommendations to improve schools’ existing infrastructure.

Eleven RPD officers are currently employed as SROs in the district at Richmond Alternative School, five high schools — all except the application-only Open High and Richmond Community High — and three middle schools — Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in the East End as well as River City Middle and Thomas Boushall Middle in Southside.

The school system staffs 68 care and safety associates. CSA’s are responsible for maintaining an atmosphere at schools conducive to learning , conflict de-escalation and security screenings. SROs, who also serve as law enforcement officers, enforce the school’s code of conduct and respond to emergencies.

According to a 2022 state study, the presence of police and security officers in schools has been shown to increase discipline for students with disabilities, including suspensions and arrests.

The Student Services Department also staffs 42 social workers, 11 student support specialists, 10 behavior specialists and two trauma-responsive specialists.

In terms of equipment, video surveillance systems are present on school grounds along with a remote locking mechanism for school entrances.

Renesha Parks, the schools’ chief of student wellness, told the board they’re looking to add additional cameras to campuses like George Wythe High, which will soon be replaced by the Richmond High School for the Arts.

The only high schools without metal detectors are Richmond Community and Open High schools; a single middle school in the division doesn’t have a metal detector. RPS is currently working to install pass-card entry systems for key doors at every school across the division.

Forty-six of the district’s 51 schools are equipped with a pass-card system now, and remaining sites will be finished before the start of the upcoming school year on Aug. 29.

“We’re still working out some kinks, and they’re doing some field testing to make sure there’s accessibilities for each of those buildings,” Parks said. “Some of our buildings have been using them thus far, and they’ve been working out great.”

Schools are also equipped with intruder alert systems, digital radios and enhanced fire-prevention mechanisms, such as updated fire panels and Knox boxes accessible to the Richmond Fire Department. Parks added that fire inspections are also up-to-date throughout the division, which has been an issue for the district in the past.

Both Beazley and Parks recommended a series of improvements to schools’ existing security systems, such as additional and more frequent training for care and safety associates, additional staffing and equipment, and a number of instructor and student-led initiatives aimed at violence prevention.

The school division is already in the process of securing funding for some of its requests through grant applications to the Virginia Department of Education’s Stronger Connect Grant and the U.S. Department of Education’s emergency response grant for communities affected by mass shooting events.

That said, staff’s recommendations fell short of the expectations from school board members like Third District School Board member Kenya Gibson pleaded with colleagues to take immediate action at their previous meeting on June 20. Gibson reiterated to her colleagues Monday night that they should enact policies to prevent tragedies like the graduation shooting from occurring again.

“I haven’t seen sufficient interest in taking action as a board,” she said. “I know we want to hear the recommendations, but what is it that we want to do so that this never happens again?”

Gibson has called for the district to hire a safety auditor “to review their policies in order to better understand their deficiencies.”

With feedback from the board, Beazley will be tasked with reviewing divisionwide safety protocols and examining the code of student conduct to develop a comprehensive safety manual forstaff by the start of the school year.

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