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RPS Board Chair begs parents to get involved to improve school safety: 'They're hungry for it'

Posted at 2:43 PM, Feb 28, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Chrystal Reyes has her sights set on an Ivy League education. The junior at George Wythe High School on Richmond's Southside hopes to attend the University of Pennsylvania and become a veterinarian.

Before she gets there, she needs to graduate high school where she is worried about her safety.

"There have been a lot of safety concerns," Reyes said.

On the day Reyes was able to be interviewed, a fight broke out outside school as students left Wythe for the day. Reyes said that's not unusual.

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"That's very common in the school," Reyes said.

A presentation given by Richmond Public Schools' administration in October, showed just 14 percent of Wythe teachers felt safe at school.

In January, a photo circulated on social media that showed what many believed to be a student holding a gun inside of Wythe with a message that read in part: "You better watch out for your friends."

A spokesperson for the Richmond Police Department said an investigation found no threat located inside the school, so no charges were filed.

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Reyes' mom, Cynthia Reyes, said she saw the picture and felt helpless.

"I can tell you when I come and pick her up, and I see the cops everywhere, right away, my heart drops," she said. "I'm texting her like, Is everybody okay? Are you okay?"

In October, Richmond Police found a student with a loaded gun inside a Wythe classroom when they went to arrest him in connection with a recent shooting.

Wythe has metal detectors and the detectors were working that day, according to the school system. An RPS spokesperson said they never figured out how the student got the gun into the school.

Chrystal Reyes said she believed the student may have brought the gun in through one of the school's many side doors.

"People can go to the regular doors to get checked and open for their friends. I have seen that a lot," Chrystal Reyes said. "I would like to know why they have a gun. Why do they need to have a gun or wanting that feeling to have a gun, just to look cool? Are they scared of something?"

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Through a public records request, CBS 6 learned a teacher at the school brought up security concerns to RPS leadership three weeks prior to the loaded gun being found.

In her email, she said that five Care and Safety Associates (CSAs) were not enough to monitor the schools' 117 doors and 72 classrooms.

She also said the metal detectors were not being used properly.

The then-interim principal wrote back saying her concerns mirrored his concerns.

Richmond Schools Safety and Security Director Maurico Tovar, who resigned from the job in February, responded and said the school would get one more CSA, but on the day the gun was found, the teacher wrote again asking about the status of the new CSA.

"In my opinion, no, there isn't," student Chrystal Reyes said when asked if she felt there were enough CSAs to protect students and staff. "There needs to be enough staff and especially Spanish-speaking staff. Because [the student body is] mostly Hispanics."

George Wythe High School now has six CSAs on campus, according to a Richmond Schools spokesperson.

'I've done everything I can do'

"I mean, I've done everything I can do," Richmond School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi, who represents the Wythe community, said. "I have been advocating for more safety and security people in the school."

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Richmond School Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi discusses campus security outside George Wythe High School.

A public records request also revealed an October email sent by Huguenot High School principal Robert Gilstrap to RPS administration that detailed his security concerns at that school.

In his email, he wrote the school had been "battling some major problems all year and things seem to be ramping up instead of shutting down."

Gilstrap wrote that "we have felt a major increase in dangerous behaviors" since the last day of the previous school year, and he said he had requested "an increase in security as well as an improvement in our security measures."

He wrote he was "assured those requests would be honored in most cases," but wrote, "not only have those not been changed, it feels like things have drastically gotten worse."

Tovar responded, "we need to address the issues Mr. Gilstrap has raised," and said a new CSA would be starting there soon.

Richmond Public Schools has not yet responded to a CBS 6 request to learn what action was taken after the principal's email.

Rizzi said Richmond Schools' need surpasses what the district can provide.

"I know they don't have what they want in terms of security. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that we don't have the resources. We're very streamlined in terms of resources. We can't provide more than what we have access to right now," Rizzi said.

Rizzi said she got more alarms placed on doors at the school to try to prevent students from leaving school or letting friends in unnoticed, but she believes the best way to improve school safety is to address the root cause of the behavior.

"A lot of our kids think that they have to resort to that to survive, and that's real for a lot of children.  Survival is real," Rizzi said.

She implored parents and the greater Richmond community to get involved.

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"We desperately need parental involvement. That's what I would like to see way more than safety and security people. I'd like to see some parents," Rizzi said. "I'd like to see more volunteers and a more robust community supporting the school because that's one thing they do not get, and they're begging for it, they're hungry for it."

"You know, I really believe that if these kids see more people in this building, who love them, and who want the best for them, and who are there to help guide them, a lot of the issues that we see will just go away, won't exist," Rizzi added.

Parents like Cynthia Reyes, who said she knocks on people's doors to try to encourage them to do just that.

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"We hear the stories of people's traumas here. We know we live it day by day. Who's better to fix it from the inside? The same people that live here," Cynthia Reyes said.

Wythe is holding a community meeting, at 6 p.m. on March 1, to give parents the opportunity to meet the new school principal and ask questions about any topic, including safety and security.

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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