Richmond Public Schools – Adult Misbehavior Cripples Children’s Futures

Jason Kamras Superintendent, Richmond Public Schools

by James C. Sherlock

This space this morning published a great column by Kerry Dougherty about the City of Richmond Public Schools (RPS). She was as desperate for a solution as the rest of us.

I have found over the years that it is absolutely impossible to talk or embarrass the RPS into improving its schools. They simply don’t want to do it in any way that has a chance of working.

The system is run for the adults, not the children.

Administrators simply refuse to consider doing the things they could do immediately to improve their schools:

  1. Find out where the kids are when they are absent and bring them to school if there is no valid excuse. Ultimately pursue the parents of the chronically absent in court under existing Virginia law. Both will require hiring back the truancy officers RPS fired en masse; and
  2. reduce chaotic learning environments in the classrooms with a restoration of effective discipline processes.

The current VDOE and RPS leadership will never change on either of those crucial policies because Richmond voters — and Richmond teachers — apparently do not want them to do so.

The kids can’t vote.

Chronic absenteeism

Follow the recent chronology of attendance enforcement in RPS.

Richmond Times-Dispatch headline from June 2018:

Richmond Public Schools wants to alter attendance policy after lack of enforcement; 1 in 4 RPS students are chronically absent.

The RPS board found out that the school system had not been enforcing the 2012 law on attendance. It suspended its attendance policy so that 1 in 3 seniors who would have lost course credit for chronic absenteeism could graduate.

Then this headline from RTD 20 months later later in February 2020, just ahead of COVID:

Absences are up in Richmond this year after more than half of attendance officers were laid off

Water off a duck’s back to the RPS superintendent and board.

Virginia law and attendance

Virginia law lays out a very specific process on enforcement of attendance. The title of the law is self explanatory.

Code of Virginia § 22.1-258. Appointment of attendance officers; notification when pupil fails to report to school; plan; conference; court proceedings.

Every school board shall have power to appoint one or more attendance officers, who shall be charged with the enforcement of the provisions of this article.

You know, the very attendance officers fired by RPS.

School discipline

In the seven Richmond Middle Schools In 2017–18 (last year data available), 1,216 of 4,356 students, (28%), were reported as discipline offenders. They committed 851 offenses against persons, including 57 against staff.

Hard problem. Eliminating school resource officers is seen by RPS Superintendent Kamras as the place to start solving it.

But let’s ignore him. He has earned it.

Let’s look at a crucial step — removal of a disruptive student from class. Pretty much a sine qua non for maintaining a classroom in which learning can happen.

Code of Virginia § 22.1-276.2. Removal of students from classes is unchanged since 2001. It is very specific on what school boards must do:

B. Each school board shall establish, within the regulations governing student conduct required by § 22.1-279.6:

1. Criteria for teachers to remove disruptive students from their classes ….

Current RPS policy, dated 2012, on removal from class says the board is going to establish such policies — some day.

In 20 years since the law was signed, that day has never come.

What to do?

What we are left with is the necessity for the state to take control of that system and run it to save the children. We will need a constitutional amendment to take that step. Few Democrats would vote for one because the teachers unions would revolt.

But experience in Virginia with passing and then repealing a law to take over failed school districts has shown that is what is required.

Supply and demand

A wonderful RTD headline from 2019 says a lot:

“All Saints Catholic School (Richmond) breaks ground on addition; Richmond to hold forums for new school names.”

The market may work eventually.

It would certainly work if the Democrats who control state government, VDOE and RPS had not set up impenetrable roadblocks for charter schools.

But that is not going to change except through elections. And eventually is far too far away for Richmond’s school children.