School Superintendent Jason Kamras said yesterday that he will ask the Richmond School Board to remove school resource officers (SROs) from city schools and use the money to hire more mental health professionals. He made no mention of removing school security guards.
Most of the arrests made in Richmond schools in 2019-20 were for simple assault, marijuana or disorderly conduct, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Marijuana possession has been decriminalized, and it is now illegal to arrest students for disorderly conduct on school property.
“Talk is cheap, and we need action,” Kamras told a group of students during a Facebook Live event. “I think it’s the right thing to do and it’s what our kids have asked for.
Faith Flippo, who overseas SROS for the Richmond Police Department, expressed concern. “I think taking that away from the schools, I think that’s tragic. I worry about what that brings and what that does to our schools. Our response time is imperative, that’s one of the good things about having an officer in the schools.”
Naturally, some people think Kamras isn’t going far enough. Said Cassie Powell of the Legal Aid Justice Center: “It’s really important to also include the removal of school security officers and dismantling school security officers. If we just remove SROs and replace them with more school security officers, it’s not going to solve the school push-out problem, it’s not going to solve the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Once again, Virginians get to stand on the sidelines and watch a social experiment as it unfolds. Richmond schools have emphasized a restorative justice approach to school discipline in recent years. The city has a five-year plan to reduce suspensions and expulsions. The idea is to reduce harm caused by crime instead of punishing crime-doers. Removing police officers from middle and high schools will double down on this approach.
What will be the impact on school discipline and the learning environment?
One hypothesis is that students will respond positively to the lifting of traditional restraints, and that the emphasis on emotional coaching and de-escalation techniques will lead to an improvement in behavior. Call that the social justice scenario. A diametrically opposite hypothesis is that the lifting of restraints will signal to students they can do whatever they want without fear of repercussions. Call that the Lord of the Flies scenario.
Educators, politicians and pundits can argue the pros and cons endlessly without coming to a consensus. Sometimes, you’ve just got to go ahead and try something and see what happens. Personally, I anticipate something closer to a Lord of the Flies outcome, but, what the heck, I might be wrong. Let’s find out! I’m just glad that my kid isn’t one of the guinea pigs.
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