Richmond tightening criteria for homebound students after graduation shooting investigation

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Posted at 6:12 PM, Mar 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-18 18:12:26-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Public Schools (RPS) is making improvements to its homebound learning program after it was described as "confusing," "inefficient," and not setting students up for success.

The program was scrutinized as part of a third-party investigation by the law firm Sands Anderson into RPS' handling of the June 6, 2023, shooting outside of Huguenot High School's graduation.

The shooting left graduate Shawn Jackson dead. Jackson was a homebound student, receiving virtual learning due to mental health reasons and the "threat of neighborhood violence."

Per homebound policy, Jackson was not permitted at any school-sponsored events, but district staff allowed Jackson at the graduation anyway against its policies and without any consideration of safety concerns known by several Huguenot High School employees, according to the investigation report.

Investigators determined the homebound program had minimal oversight, employees were not trained on or familiar with homebound instruction policies, and students were only receiving two hours of learning in their core subjects per week.

In Jackson's case, investigators found that "academic demands" were "placed upon him that were likely inconsistent with his present medical status" due to information silos and the homebound process was "confusing and inefficient for parents, students, and staff."

One of the district's Chief Academic Officers, Soloman Jefferson, reported that the virtual academy, which housed the homebound program, had a "weird structure."

Jefferson told investigators that the district lowered the bar to "kind of push him across the line" and does not "set [students] up for the success that they need to operate in the real world."

But Jefferson added this was "not a [Shawn] Jackson issue," rather a "division quality issue."

On Monday, the administration presented new information to the Richmond School Board to clearly define eligibility for homebound and home-based services, which currently serve 65 students.

While homebound services are specifically reserved for students whose health needs are certified by a medical professional, home-based services are intended to serve a more expanded grouping of students including those who face disciplinary action and criminal charges.

An additional 19 students are currently receiving home instruction due to being involved in the court system, and 24 students are receiving home instruction due to administrative placement, according to the presentation.

The process to certify seniors for graduation is also changing.

Principals will now have to personally review all transcripts and disciplinary records to confirm students meet academic requirements and that there are no safety concerns associated with their participation in graduation. Senior-level leadership in the central office will then review and sign off on all cases.

Seniors who are homebound will have to go through additional reviews to participate in graduation. They'll have to submit documentation from a doctor confirming the student is capable of attending graduation or submit documentation from the court showing there are no community safety issues.

If any student is deemed ineligible to participate in a graduation ceremony, principals will communicate with the student's family and ensure they still receive a cap and gown along with their diploma.

The district is also dedicating staff who will get weekly updates on students who are court-involved or facing felony charges.

On Monday, the district also introduced enhanced security measures at graduations, including banning families from congregating after the conclusion of a ceremony. Families will have to leave immediately.

Here are the new protocols:

  • Each graduate will receive 6 tickets. All attendees must have a ticket to enter the venue. NO exceptions.
  • Graduates will not be allowed to enter the venue in their regalia.
  • No re-entry will be permitted once an attendee has exited the building.
  • No bags will be permitted into the ceremonies with the exception of a clear gallon-sized, zip-lock bag that may
  • be used for personal care items for infants and toddlers, keys, and cell phones.
  • RPS will not provide zip-lock bags; they must be brought by the attendee.
  • Metal detectors will be used at all venues.
  • All attendees including graduates, family members, RPS staff, Board Members, and any other guests will go through the metal detectors, be screened by security, and may be searched.
  • No outside food or drinks will be permitted, including water bottles.
  • No weapons of any kind (including knives) or illegal substances will be permitted in the venue.
  • No balloons, flowers, or amplified sound devices such as bull horns will be permitted inside the venue.
  • All minor children must be accompanied by an adult.
  • Absolutely no loitering will be permitted in the venue, outside of the venue, or in the parking lots during or after the ceremonies.
  • Attendees must exit the premises immediately following the conclusion of the ceremony.
  • Recommending that families have a designated meeting area away from the venue.

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