Yes to removing RSOs

7/30/2020, 6 p.m.
Never underestimate the power of students.

Never underestimate the power of students.

We were pleased with Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras’ announcement last week stating that he will ask the School Board to remove police officers from city schools.

That decision was made, Mr. Kamras said, after listening to about a dozen students talk about the impact of school resource officers in their schools.

According to the board, 13 police officers are working as school resource officers in about 10 high schools and middle schools and the Richmond Alternative School.

While the cost is born largely by the Richmond Police Department, Richmond Public Schools paid $48,000 last year for overtime for the officers at various after-school activities, including sports games.

But the presence of officers is exacting a human toll on city students, many of whom feel dehumanized, according to Mr. Kamras and comments from students during a virtual town hall on the issue last week.

“We simply cannot allow that to continue,” Mr. Kamras said in a message to RPS families, teachers and others posted on the RPS website.

We agree. Let teachers and principals handle disciplinary problems and other issues that now may be pushed off on police, leading to the criminalization of students and a surge in the school-to-prison pipeline.

We need to take every step possible to turn off that tap.

Richmond Public Schools — and its 24,000 largely Black and Latino student population — would be best served by putting money into counselors, social workers and mental health professionals who can help students rather than saddle them with a juvenile record and a broken spirit.

During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we applaud the Richmond School Board, as well as the school boards in neighboring Henrico and Chesterfield counties, for making the health and safety of students, teachers, staff and their families the top priority by instituting online-only classes during the fall semester of the new 2020-21 academic year.

But this time also allows a re-examination of school system practices and priorities. If Richmond is to move toward a more equitable education for our students, then the School Board needs to do the right thing and eliminate school resource officers and the resulting punitive system of school discipline created by their presence that puts students of color at risk.

Investing in school safety should not equate to investing in police. The best investment in school and student safety would be to add more counselors, social workers and nurses. That would send a clear message to Richmond students that Black lives really do matter.