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Emails show 'grave concerns' about Wythe parking lot, lack of student supervision months before shooting

Parent: 'I feel like how many doors you have, that should be the math of how many staff you need to protect those doors'
Grave Concern -- George Wythe High School
Posted at 5:46 PM, May 05, 2023

RICHMOND, Va -- Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras has set up a makeshift office inside the hallway of George Wythe High School where he said he'll be working for the rest of the school year.

According to an internal email, Kamras said he wants to personally observe what's happening in the school and to reiterate his expectations about safety to the school administration.

George Wythe High School
George Wythe High School

A week after two students were shot by another student in the parking lot of Wythe near the woods, and several months after school officials raised what they called "grave concerns" about safety at the school, Kamras has directed an increase in security measures.

In an email Kamras sent to the Richmond School Board, he said officials have determined that one of the injured juvenile students did in fact briefly report to school the day of the shooting on April 27. He previously told board members that all students involved in the shooting were absent.

However, Kamras said the student left through a door around 10:55 a.m., just about an hour before police were called to Wythe around noon for a shooting. RPS policy states that students under 18 years old must be released to a parent in order to leave the building during school hours.

“I feel like how many doors you have, that should be the math of how many staff you need to protect those doors," said Tisha Erby, an RPS parent whose children will be attending Wythe next year.

 Tisha Erby, an RPS parent whose children will be attending Wythe next year, and reporter Tyler Layne.
Tisha Erby, an RPS parent whose children will be attending Wythe next year, and reporter Tyler Layne.

In response to the shooting, Kamras said he has deployed employees to physically sit in front of all 14 banks of doors at Wythe to monitor the exits throughout the day.

Additionally, he has requested that a school resource officer sit in the parking lot near the woods to prevent students from loitering there. He also will propose funding additional positions at Wythe.

“We need more bodies, meaning personnel, staff, security officers, police officers, the whole nine to protect these students," Erby said.

While Erby is supportive of the increased measures, she said it should not have taken a shooting to put them into action.

“This shouldn’t be a wakeup call, because we’ve been having it constantly," Erby said.

RELATED: School board chair begs parents to get involved to improve school safety

George Wythe High School
George Wythe High School

According to emails obtained by CBS 6 reporter Melissa Hipolit, RPS had been talking about increasing security at Wythe since the beginning of the school year.

On Oct. 19, 2022, School Board Member Stephanie Rizzi, whose 5th district includes Wythe, sent an email to Superintendent Kamras and her board colleagues with the subject line "Grave Concern."

Rizzi detailed that during a visit to the school, she observed children congregating in the parking lot and another group of about 15-20 children sitting in the woods.

She also said there was a door propped wide open with several unsupervised students standing around it.

"This is deeply problematic and unacceptable considering the challenges GWHS has been facing regarding security. Our children deserve better. I wish to see this addressed directly today," Rizzi wrote.

RELATED: Students shot outside George Wythe High School: 'Too many guns in the city'

Student shot outside George Wythe High School 02.jpg
Richmond Police investigate a shooting outside George Wythe High School in Richmond, Va. on Thursday, April 27, 2023

Rizzi's email came just weeks after a 17-year-old student at Wythe was found with a loaded gun at school on October 6. Police responded to the school to arrest that student in connection to the shooting of a 15-year-old, and that's when officers discovered the student had a loaded gun.

Kamras agreed with Rizzi's concerns.

"Everyone is working incredibly hard to secure Wythe and its many doors. But we have to do better," Kamras wrote in an email dated Oct. 19, 2022.

He then asked his security team to put together a plan ASAP.

George Wythe High School
George Wythe High School

RPS security supervisor Andre Nious responded that same day. He said the security team was concerned that "loads of kids" were hanging out in the woods that line the CSX train tracks adjacent to school property. He said the security team wanted the trees and dirt mounds taken down.

Nious added, "To properly address this issue, we need at least eight to nine [care and safety associates] at Wythe. We have been understaffed for several years. The CSA's at this location have worked tirelessly to address this problem, but there are 107 doors total that are impossible to address with only the bare minimum associates."

To this date, RPS said Wythe now has seven CSA's.

In his October email, Nious listed some potential solutions:

  • Full complement of staff to maintain all exits
  • An ATV for perimeter checks
  • More support during intake and dismissal
  • A presence near the parking lot and woods
Students shot outside George Wythe High School

CBS 6 asked RPS which measures were implemented back in October and is still awaiting a response.

The day of the April shooting, Rizzi said in an interview with CBS 6 she had been raising safety concerns about these very issues for years and felt something bad was going to happen if they remained unaddressed.

"I'm furious that it's now taken this to get people's attention. I knew that eventually something like this was going to happen," Rizzi told CBS 6.

Meanwhile, Erby said she wants the school board to step up to prioritize safety.

“School board members, these are your school buildings. Me as a parent, and the community vote you in and can literally vote you out, but you need to do your job. I know it’s overwhelming, you have your other day-to-day jobs, but these kids come first," Erby said.

Students shot outside George Wythe High School

Richmond Police have not released any updates in their investigation since the arrest of 18-year-old David Guiterrez last weekend.

Kamras said the student who was critically injured in the shooting is in stable condition and continues to make improvements.

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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