RPS board modifying conduct policy after Jonathan Young investigated, cleared for harassment complaint

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Posted at 6:15 PM, Apr 09, 2024

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond School Board is looking to revise its standards of conduct policy following an independent attorney's investigation into School Board Member Jonathan Young's behavior toward a student.

The probe found Young did not violate the board's harassment policy but noted his actions were perceived as "weird," "odd," and "awkward."

“I’m really, really grateful to Richmond Public Schools and to my colleagues for being responsible and doing the right thing and requesting this third-party objective investigation that, thank God, absolved me of any wrongdoing whatsoever," Young told CBS 6.

Though a determination showed he did not violate policy, Young recognized, “It’s incumbent on me to acknowledge that, irrespective of my intent or my approach or my enthusiasm, if someone else is viewing me in a way that's contrary to what I aim to achieve, then that's a problem. And of course, I have to hold myself accountable.”

The school board retained outside attorney Jim Guynn Jr. to conduct an investigation into Young's interactions with a 15-year-old girl while on a field trip in December 2023. The interaction resulted in an alleged harassment complaint against Young.

The purpose of the field trip was to build professional skills for students, and the students had professional pictures taken while there. According to the investigative report, Young attended the event to "facilitate bridging between students and the business community."

The attorney interviewed the student, her parents, staff, and Young and also accepted written statements from other students in attendance. The attorney said there was "very little difference" between versions of events.

According to Guynn's investigative report, obtained by CBS 6, the student reported that Young first approached her in a lounge where pictures were being taken.

They then got into the same elevator. Young began asking her about school and proceeded to take a picture with the student.

Young posted the picture online but later removed it at the request of the girl's parents and a teacher.

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Jonathan Young

Then at lunch, the report showed that the student was at the end of the line and said Young came up to her and said "There you are" along with a passage of scripture. The student reported that Young then grabbed her by the arm and whispered "They save the best for last" into her ear.

At this point, the student had become "uncomfortable in Young's presence and more uncomfortable when he appeared to join the table at which she was sitting." However, a teacher and another adult moved their chairs around so that "there was no seat for Young," according to the report.

A teacher who chaperoned the event reported that Young "also invaded the personal space of other young ladies" and "would stand too close to the girls when he spoke to them and had a tendency to rub backs, arms, shoulders, and hands."

However, Young told the attorney that there were many other people present when he interacted with the student and was "shocked" to hear that the student was uncomfortable.

He told CBS 6 that he treats all students and all conversations with excitement and tries to be motivating, welcoming, and inclusive when engaging with them.

“Do you think you did anything wrong?” reporter Tyler Layne asked Young.

“No, absolutely not," Young responded.

“You believe your actions were appropriate for that of a school board member?” Layne asked.

“Oh my gosh, yeah. Absolutely – to introduce myself to everybody in the room and to learn who they are," Young said.

However, Young said he appreciated the feedback from the investigation and has "learned from it."

The report showed that Young did not touch anyone in a private area and did not make "outwardly sexual" remarks.

Considering the language of the school board's harassment policy, which largely centers around unwanted sexual conduct, the attorney recommended that the alleged policy violation be determined "unfounded."

"None of Young's behavior as described by [the student], or her teacher or students violates a school board policy. Several of the witnesses described Young's behavior as "weird" or "odd" but none referred to it with a sexual connotation. And one can see how a 15-year-old would interpret his behavior as being too friendly," Guynn wrote.

The attorney recommended that Young "modulate his interactions based on the age of the student."

During an April 8 school board meeting, school board members including Young voted to approve an input process, review, and revision of the school board policy that governs members' "standards of conduct."

Board member Mariah White brought the idea forward, citing a "serious issue" that needs "attorney guidance."

"The board needs to be aware, and I think everyone knows the situation. As elected officials, we need to design our own board policies to create so that we can operate under our own policies and to address inappropriate actions as a board member that are dealing with RPS students. And we need to do this immediately," White said.

White did not specifically reference the incident involving Young.

Board member Dawn Page agreed that "this needs to be addressed now" and stated the current board policy regarding board member conduct "does not speak to what we're trying to address. The language is not detailed enough."

The school board's attorney will be collecting feedback from board members about the conduct policy. Then, at the next meeting, he'll present policy modifications for their consideration.

Young said he supported the actions that the board is taking.

"Let me give credit where credit is due. I think my colleagues want to have the same thing that I want, which is to lift up and champion, celebrate, protect our students and teachers," Young said.

Asked if there was a message he'd want to relay to the family of the student, he said, "I think the most appropriate thing for me to say is that, look-- I want to be very clear, Tyler, to be very clear. I want what is best for every one of our teachers, our staff, our students.”

Richmond Police said an incident report was not filed in this situation.

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