'Could this have been prevented?' Richmond School Board Chair discusses Graduation Day shooting report

CBS 6 Investigative Reporter Tyler Layne and Richmond School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi
Posted at 6:22 PM, Jan 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-18 19:25:18-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Chair of the Richmond School Board spoke exclusively with CBS 6 Thursday following the release of the third-party investigation report into the deadly Huguenot High School graduation day shooting.

Richmond Public Schools (RPS) was ordered by a judge to release hundreds of pages of findings and accompanying evidence Wednesday after CBS 6, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and activist Josh Stanfield filed a lawsuit claiming the withholding of such information was a violation of open records laws.

CBS 6 Investigative Reporter Tyler Layne and Richmond School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi
CBS 6 Investigative Reporter Tyler Layne and Richmond School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi

Stephanie Rizzi initially voted against releasing the report to the public and testified in court in an effort to keep the report private. Now, she says she supports "complete transparency" but empathizes with RPS staff members who were promised confidentiality if they participated in the investigation.

“From what I'm hearing, there are a lot of upset people now at Huguenot and district wide, because we didn't deliver on that promise," Rizzi told CBS 6 Thursday.

She added the release of the report has been retraumatizing for those who witnessed the tragedy that day.

"It just kind of made some wounds that we hoped were healing kind of open up again, and that doesn't feel great," Rizzi said.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Read Graduation Day shooting report here

Deadly shooting after high school graduation in Richmond, Virginia.

Local News

PHOTOS: Deadly shooting after high school graduation in Richmond

WTVR CBS 6 Web Staff
8:09 PM, Jun 06, 2023

The findings of the investigation, which was conducted by the law firm Sands Anderson, revealed numerous staff members at Huguenot High School were aware of a multitude of safety concerns surrounding Shawn Jackson, the student who was shot and killed following the June 6 graduation ceremony.

Homebound students, according to policy, are not allowed in school buildings or at school-sponsored events unless permitted by a principal or a desginee. Jackson was homebound partly due to the "threat of neighborhood violence."

His mother warned his counselor and school employees on multiple occasions about the threats against Jackson. She told them that it was "very unsafe" for him to physically be at school, that other Huguenot students "shot up" their home, and that there were kids in his class who "literally tried to kill him."

Shawn Jackson
Shawn Jackson

Despite those warnings, investigators found that school staff never completed a threat assessment prior to Jackson's participation at the ceremony, did not escalate security issues, and allowed Jackson to attend graduation against "required authorizations" and "without any consideration of known safety concerns."

The counselor told Jackson's mother she would "squeeze him in" the day of the graduation after acknowledging that allowing Jackson at the graduation rehearsal could potentially be "dangerous."

“The information and the findings that came to light within the investigation were so disheartening, and they were scary," said Charlene Riley, an RPS mother of three in response to the findings. “I’m outraged and mainly I’m shocked, because we knew that administrators and teachers and the school counselor and at least the principal were aware of the threats that were being made, and they chose to ignore them.”

Riley continued, "Right now, I would like immediate accountability from the superintendent... The school system is failing the students."

Several inconsistencies were identified between the information that was originally released to the public by RPS compared to what's known now through the third-party investigation.

Richmond School Board
Richmond School Board

Superintendent Jason Kamras' first internal report said a counselor had acted as the Huguenot principal's designee by approving Jackson's attendance at the graduation. However, the third-party report found no evidence to support that statement. The counselor reportedly never talked to the principal about it and was unaware of policies for homebound students.

Kamras also told school board members and stated in a July 2023 internal report that Jackson was homebound for mental health reasons. However, that is only partly true, because the report revealed Jackson was also homebound due to the "threat of neighborhood violence."

Additionally, the superintendent's internal report stated that all students were observed being wanded with metal detectors before entering the Altria Theater on June 6. However, multiple testimonies in the third-party investigation presented conflicting information.

And in a July statement to CBS 6, an RPS spokesperson said the district acted "in accordance" with district protocol by not completing a threat assessment prior to Jackson's participation at the ceremony, because there were "no reported safety concerns at the time." However, investigators found staff failed to initiate a threat assessment based off information that should have triggered one, per policy.

In response to the inconsistencies, Superintendent Kamras said in a November memo that they believed his administration's conclusions were accurate at the time as investigations developed but was working with "limited time and resources."

Richmond Graduation Shooting Report Released

Local News

Richmond releases deadly Graduation Day shooting report. Here's what we learned.

Tyler Layne
1:31 PM, Jan 17, 2024

School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi weighs in

“Do you think that there was misleading information that was initially put out?” reporter Tyler Layne asked Rizzi.

“I mean, I will say at this point that that initial report seemed very incomplete, especially to those of us who experienced the event, which is why we reached out to get someone to do a deeper investigation," Rizzi responded.

Rizzi said there were important details that were missing or inaccurate in the initial report, but she did not believe the district was intentionally providing false information.

“How do you expect that the board and the administration will be moving forward from this as far as any accountability measures or continued improvements to procedure and safety?” Layne asked.

"Definitely we're going to take a really close look at procedures. The district has invested in a lot of security devices and initiatives that we will start to definitely implement immediately. And we are working to make sure everyone understands the homebound policy. We need to make sure people fully understand what that is and how to follow policies to the letter. I can't predict how anyone is going to move forward besides myself. I do want to make it clear that I am speaking for myself and not the board. But yeah, I mean, it's given us a lot to think about. In terms of specific accountability, I can't answer that. I don't know," Rizzi said.

Richmond School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi
Richmond School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi

"There were some operational gaps identified in the third-party report as far as people understanding their role, understanding the policy, who do I report to for this, what is the oversight for this... Do you believe that there are internal operational gaps, and as you guys move forward, is that something that you have to address?" Layne asked.

"Absolutely. I mean, I think I've publicly spoken about that. I think that there are a lot of operational gaps. I think that there are really honestly, cases where employees are not sure exactly how to report things, who to report them to, what the actual chain of command is – not to say that people always have to follow that, but I mean, there are some people I think who are unaware of even what it is. And so yes, absolutely. I feel like we need to do a lot of work tightening up our operational functioning," Rizzi responded.

"When you see all the information compiled now and it's out there, do you think that this could have been prevented?" Layne asked.

"I talked to a lot of people about that, and most of the people I talk with say that if someone has been determined to do something like this, they will most likely find a way. What I can tell you is that on the RPS side, we will work as hard as we can to tighten protocols, to look at our policies and to look at what happens on the ground, to make sure that we do everything we can to prevent something like this," Rizzi said.

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

Tyler RPS lawsuit

Local News

Richmond judge to review graduation shooting report, after CBS 6 joins lawsuit

WTVR CBS 6 Web Staff
3:55 PM, Jan 12, 2024

EAT IT, VIRGINIA restaurant news and interviews



Watch 'The Jennifer Hudson Show' weekdays at 3 p.m. on CBS 6!

📱 Download CBS 6 News App
The app features breaking news alerts, live video, weather radar, traffic incidents, closings and delays and more.