Richmond School Board decides not to publish graduation shooting report

George Copeland Jr. | 11/30/2023, 6 p.m.
Weeks after an external investigation into operations leading up to the June graduation mass shooting in Monroe Park was provided ...

Weeks after an external investigation into operations leading up to the June graduation mass shooting in Monroe Park was provided to Richmond Public Schools leadership, the next steps for the division are still unfolding.

Last week, a motion to publish the findings, which were part of an external review by the law firm Sands Anderson, failed in a 6-2 vote during the Richmond School Board’s latest meeting.

The motion was introduced by 4th District Representative Jonathan Young, who believes withholding the report is a poor choice for the board, particularly given the information it provided. He and Kenya Gibson, 3rd District, voted to approve the motion.

“Colleagues, we’ve been in receipt of that third-party report for two weeks now,” Mr. Young said. “The only way to fix a problem is to one, acknowledge a problem and then two, to be transparent about what that problem looks like.”

In early June, Huguenot High School graduate Shawn D. Jackson and his stepfather Renzo R. Smith were shot and killed in Monroe Park by Amari Ty-Jon Pollard following Huguenot’s graduation ceremony held at the Altria Theater near Virginia Commonwealth University. The shooting is believed to have been the result of a year-long personal conflict between Mr. Jackson and Mr. Pollard.

The board reviewed Sands Anderson’s findings on the event and the circumstances around it at the time in a closed session weeks earlier.

Following last week’s meeting and the earlier review of the report, Mr. Young said that any further action by the board is unclear.

“We’re really kind of stuck,” Mr. Young said. “We’re at a place where we really can’t go forward, absent being able to have this kind of public discourse about what we believe could be improved.”

At the time, board members who voted against Mr. Young’s motion pointed to the consequences of publishing Sands Anderson’s report, which is still under attorney-client privilege, and the advice of their legal counsel as reason to not release it at this time.

“I’m not going to be manipulated to vote on something that we’re clearly being recom-mended to deal with in closed session,” 9th District Representative Nicole Jones said.

Those who voted against the motion also pushed back against potential characterization of their actions as not valuing transparency, public accountability or community concerns about potential future violence and tragedy.

“There is an implication that if we don’t support this we don’t care,” Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi said. “Nothing could be further from the truth here.”

Other board members expressed interest in publishing the information, but with specific caveats. Shonda Harris-Muhammed, who represents the 6th District, floated the idea of publishing a version of the report’s executive summary with names redacted.

“I support the community receiving a summary of information from our report,” Ms. Harris-Muhammed, who abstained from the vote, said. “I just feel very strongly that the titles and positions are enough.”

The Sands Anderson report is one of multiple investigations into the shooting and its potential causes that have been conducted so far, including one by the RPS Administration and another by the Richmond Police Department.