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Richmond School Board finds updated ‘Care and Safety Plan’ is not enough | #schoolsaftey

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) -After a difficult year for students and teachers alike, Richmond Public Schools is trying to find the answer to safety, though the answer was not found Monday, July 10.

The 24-page, 15-point plan is geared towards keeping kids safe in schools, but the Richmond School board criticized the updated “Care and Safety” plan, with most members saying it’s not enough.

“You said the goal is to ensure parents feel safe sending their kids to school. I thank you for that because I do not. I do not right now,” school board member Kenya Gibson said.

The presentation was made by Chief of Student Wellness Renesha Parks, Director of Care & Safety John W. Beazley and Emergency Manager and Training Coordinator Monica Fech. They formed a multi-million-dollar plan to address safety concerns and implement enhancements or improvements to the problems they have seen in recent years.

It was filled with technology and personnel investments, but multiple board members feared it did not address their main question: What is safety?

The plan involved hiring 24 more mental health professionals, which the presenters said could be clinicians or therapists, to help teachers and students. They said it could be different in each school, based on need. They also want more care and safety associates which are different from School Resource Officers. Associates were described as a tool to prevent problems before they even happen in schools.

Adding these roles would be a total price tag of nearly $2.5 million.

There was also discussion of keeping phones out of students’ hands during school and buying designated cell phone pouches where phones would be locked up. It was proposed to pilot this at four schools.

One board member suggested Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School be one of the schools with this pilot if the plan were to go through. She says it’s needed there because the school’s principal has repeatedly asked for this plan.

The presentation also included teaming up with Richmond Police and Fire staff for training and external review. Board members say if they want to implement changes, they must be able to define it themselves, too. They want to find the stakeholders for safety and security in the schools.

Many discussions came back to the shooting after Huguenot High School’s graduation last month. Board members wanted a safety plan that would prevent future situations like that, and they were not sure this one would.

“There’s no mention of the side doors in this document,” Gibson said. “And let’s be frank. There is a possibility that a gun got through the Altria Theater through the side door. I have seen no evidence that it didn’t. We’ve had issues with side doors, this is a key security issue, and it’s a miss. It’s not in this document.”

The plan included more than $400,000 in security changes. That would include X-ray scanners, handheld metal detector wands, digital radios and more. Though 2nd District Board Member Mariah White had concerns because she says middle schools had metal detectors before.

“All weapons can’t be detected by metal detectors. And there are some guns that can’t be also, which are ghost guns,” White said.

Board member Stephanie Rizzi called many of the solutions proposed, like the tech enhancements band-aids. She wants real solutions; this presentation was seen as a starting point but not enough.

“Our students are not safe, and we all know it. We all know it because we need training. Everyone needs training. Even this board. I saw it from the incident of Huguenot,” White said.

Now the clock is ticking to form a new plan for the school year to address safety better this fall.

Many board members say they will email the presenters their additional questions and critiques. They want to be able to put their input on the plan to be able to find a collaborative, just solution to the big question of safety in schools.

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