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While a school safety panel urges the state to fund 44 new resource officer positions, critics say their presence leads to more suspensions and arrests for students, especially those of color.

Richmond Public Schools has spent more than $1 million on safety and security in the wake of the February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead.

The division has just $8,642 left for safety upgrades this fiscal year, according to figures presented to the School Board last month, after spending $1.24 million on lock fixes, doors and security cameras.

“One of our main priorities is safety. In light of what happened in Florida, you realize that it could be us. It could be anywhere,” said Richmond School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page. “That’s our No. 1 priority. We have to keep our children safe and in a safe learning environment.”

School safety has dominated K-12 discussion this year, with 14 school shootings so far in 2018 that have resulted in injury or death, according to a database maintained by Education Week. Thirty-two people, including 26 students, have died in school shootings this year.

The high-profile killings have prompted a fresh wave of introspection across the Richmond region, with public school officials in Richmond as well as Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties all taking steps to augment and upgrade safety measures in recent months.

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras ordered an audit of the division’s emergency preparedness policies, procedures and training two days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“As a community, we must continue to be vigilant in ensuring that our schools are safe and nurturing learning environments for our young people,” Kamras said in a statement. “As superintendent — and as a parent — this will always be my top priority.”

The recommendations and review in Richmond were due March 15, a month and a day after the shooting in Parkland. Authorities charged 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a former student at Stoneman Douglas High, with 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the deaths of 14 students and three staff members.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch obtained a copy of the review through a Freedom of Information Act request about two months after asking for the document.

Much of the review is redacted, with the division citing Virginia code that says schools are not required to release information that “could subject the district to publicly identifying vulnerabilities that could jeopardize the safety of student and staff.”

Of the information that is publicly available, the review team — comprising cabinet members and representatives from security, student services, facilities, transportation and instruction — recommended the creation of a division-level safety committee and to have swipe cards for exterior school doors, most of which remain locked during the school day.

The team said the swipe cards would limit “vulnerabilities of lost keys” because the cards can be deactivated and the division can control who has access to specific buildings and doors.

The group also recommended filling the position of Chief of Safety and Security, which is currently vacant, and hiring more specialists to address behavior issues.

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In Hanover County, the School Board is allocating $1.4 million in safety and security-related projects and upgrades, including a new $50,000 visitor management system, as part of its five-year capital improvement plan. The division’s operating budget gives $165,872 for safety and security next year.

The school division also added a new safety and security coordinator position for this school year.

Henrico County Public Schools spends an average of about $500,000 per year on safety and security. Most of that money comes from revenue raised through the county’s meals tax, which was approved in 2013. The division has added better locks, surveillance cameras and “buzzer” entry systems, among other upgrades.

The day after the Florida attack, Chesterfield County Public Schools Superintendent James Lane, who has since been tapped to take a state position, and School Board Chair John Erbach sent a joint letter to the county’s schools community.

“Our school division and schools remain on alert year-round. Our schools are safe locations for students and staff members,” the letter read. “During the past few years, our school division has taken a number of steps to better secure our buildings and implemented strategies designed to positively affect student behavior.”

The two highlighted the division’s work in planning for emergencies and its prevention efforts, including security cameras and its school resource officers.

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RPS currently has four specialists assigned to Armstrong High School/Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, John Marshall High School/Henderson Middle School, Huguenot High School/Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School, and George Wythe High School/Boushall Middle School.

Among the review team’s final recommendations was the infusion of trauma-informed care into all the division’s work, which helps educators connect with students who have faced trauma outside the classroom.

Kamras initially proposed spending $150,000 for a trauma-informed pilot program that would extend to five schools. He cut the proposal to $50,000 after the city passed a version of the budget affording the division $12.4 million in one-time dollars, which would not support recurring initiatives.

The public part of the safety review does not detail gaps in the division’s current safety procedures, such as schools without locks. System spokeswoman Kenita Bowers would not detail upgrades the division has made beyond lock fixes since Parkland, citing safety concerns.

jmattingly@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers K-12 schools and higher education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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