Problem Solvers

Actions

RPS Superintendent responds to criticism over bloody hallways: 'This is my responsibility'

RPS Superintendent responds to criticism over bloody hallways: 'This is my responsibility'
Posted at 5:49 PM, Jun 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-07 19:14:23-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- More than three weeks after an incident at Richmond Community High School that students and staff described as traumatizing and disgusting, Superintendent Jason Kamras agreed to a one-on-one interview with CBS 6 to address what went wrong.

On Sunday, May 15, a man broke into the school around 1 a.m., smashed windows, and smeared blood all over the floors and walls.

The crime scene evidence wasn't immediately cleaned up before children and teachers showed up for class more than 24 hours later. Parents and students shared photos and videos with the CBS 6 Problem Solvers saying it smelled horrible and school leaders didn't tell them what was going on or why there was blood in the school.

At a June 6 school board meeting, a Richmond Community High teacher spoke during public comment about the incident. She expressed disappointment that no one from the central office or the board came to check on staff and students after the fact.

“My staff, my colleagues, my students were traumatized by what happened in that building and traumatized yet again when nobody came to see about us," the teacher said. "I give RPS and 'F' in love and equity. You can't tell me that you're leading with love when nobody came to see about us."

In an interview with CBS 6 Tuesday, the superintendent took the fall for the failures.

“At the end of the day, this is my responsibility," Kamras said. "Bottom line is no student or staff member should have had any access to that area, not even visual access around the corner or anything of that nature. That didn't happen. That was a misstep.”

Kamras said the misstep, which has led to a state investigation into possible workplace safety violations by Virginia's OSHA program, boiled down to night security not following protocols when it didn't alert anyone of a blood spill that needed cleaning.

According to a timeline of events Kamras sent in an email to school board members and obtained by CBS 6 through a Freedom of Information Act request, night security only reported a break-in to Facilities Management and the administration. The timeline stated the employee did not report anything about blood.

RPS' existing "Incident Response and Report" procedures showed staff members are expected to record and document all preliminary findings of incidents with specific information regarding locations.

During Monday's school board meeting, 2nd District Representative Mariah White said disciplinary action was taken against the security personnel but questioned if Kamras would be held accountable.

“This is negligence," White said. “You took action with the night security, but now you are saying you’re responsible. What action are taking among yourself?”

CBS 6 asked Kamras if he has a response to White's comment.

“Obviously, I am taking this very seriously," he said. "My responsibility is to ensure that these kinds of things never happen again and to put in place the protocols, the training, and so on. I'm quite certain the board will hold me accountable for that.”

Parents also told the Problem Solvers they were frustrated with how school leadership and the administration communicated the incident to families. On May 16th, the principal sent a brief alert to parents about the break-in but did not address the blood.

Later that evening, RCHS Principal Kenya Massenburg pleaded with administration officials to send out a more detailed message to families addressing why blood wasn't cleaned up in several areas when students arrived at school. The central office staff went back and forth with Massenburg all night about the wording of the message and delayed sending it until Tuesday morning.

"We should have put out more information and been very clear, very explicit about what was going on," Kamras said. "I always believe whatever it is, just share it. People need to know. I feel that way as not just a superintendent but as a father. Every parent has a right to know exactly what's going on."

School board members took up a discussion about emergency protocols during Monday's meeting. They voted unanimously to direct the administration to document strengthened emergency communication protocols before the start of the next school year following a tearful plea from Vice Chair, Kenya Gibson.

“I’m sorry, I’m gonna get upset. I mean, you guys-- We need to see the written documentation. We owe it to every teacher and every student in the school district," Gibson said. "There's nothing, nothing, nothing more important than the safety of our students. If a school burning down and for a school to be in the state that it was in is not a call to action, I do not know what is."

However, Kamras said emergency protocols are already in place and only needed to be tightened.

“I actually think they're pretty clear, but they need to be reiterated and trained on and discussed further," he said.

CBS 6 asked Kamras if he could point to specific parts of the protocols that are being reviewed.

"Updating our blood borne pathogen training and training for administrators so they know exactly what they have the authority to do," Kamras said. "My number one word of guidance to our administrators is to do whatever you need to do to protect our kids full stop, and I will back you up on that. Oftentimes, there's going to be a lag between the time something happens at a school and the time it gets to me. I want our leaders to feel empowered to do whatever they feel is necessary to protect the health and safety of our kids and staff."

In an email to a parent in the aftermath of the blood incident, Kamras said "Trust is an easy thing to lose, and a hard thing to regain."

CBS 6 asked Kamras how he planned to win back the confidence of RPS families.

“Well there’s no switch you can flip," he responded. “Do we have more work to do? Absolutely. And we're going to keep doing it day after day after day. We're going to learn from our mistakes, and we make mistakes.”