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Safety director of Richmond Schools resigns after board members 'thoroughly disappointed' in his performance

Posted at 5:32 PM, Feb 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-10 14:16:31-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond Public Schools Director of Safety and Security Mauricio Tovar has resigned, multiple sources confirmed to CBS 6's Tyler Layne.

Superintendent Jason Kamras sent the school board an email Thursday afternoon alerting members that Tovar's resignation will be effective March 1. Kamras said he will appoint an interim director on Friday.

Kamras’ email did not specify a reason for his resignation.

The news followed a presentation Tovar gave to the school board on Monday that left some members "disappointed."

In the presentation, prepared in part by Tovar, the administration said RPS has transitioned from a "punitive" approach to safety and security to a "restorative" approach. Strategies related to a restorative approach, according to the presentation, include peaceful conflict resolution, mediation and de-escalation.

When board members, including Nicole Jones and Stephanie Rizzi, asked Tovar specific questions about how those strategies are implemented on a daily basis, Tovar was unable to answer the questions.

“He is the Director of Safety and Security and cannot speak to the processes in these schools when our young people are in crisis," Jones said during the meeting. "If he cannot tell us, that’s a problem.”

Board member Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed also raised concerns, saying she was "thoroughly disappointed" in Tovar's presentation.

"I don’t feel this team was prepared to address any of the school board’s questions tonight, and we have to do better," Harris-Muhammed said during the meeting. “We should be able to speak articulately about what every building in this district has in terms of procedures, and we are not there."

She said members of the public, as well as the school board, have been questioning RPS' safety protocols since 2021 but have received limited answers.

“We have to be courageous to address this foolishness," Harris-Muhammed said.

Harris-Muhammed said the board has had to "beg" to get their questions addressed and that she was "over it." She called on the board to come together to truly prioritize safety and security.

“Put the heat on and do it together, because we ain't playing no games," Harris-Muhammed said.

However one board member, Jonathan Young, said he believed the blame fell on his school board colleagues. He said the restorative safety approach that a majority of the board promotes “is not working.”

During his remarks to the board, Tovar said safety issues were not unique to Richmond as other districts across the nation are also dealing with problems with weapons. But he felt RPS was making progress.

"We've asked for more Care and Safety Associates to try and meet the request for services in schools. We try and allocate our number of CSA's to particular schools based on number of incidents, how large our school is, student population and such. We're always revisiting our search protocols. We have metal detectors in six of our schools. We work collaboratively with the police whenever there's an issue. Often, those investigations happen after hours," Tovar said.

Tovar added that his team has also limited the number of restraints on students and that a majority of staff have gone through special trauma-informed training geared toward reducing violence.

After learning about Tovar's resignation, Board member Jones released a statement on Twitter Thursday.

"A lot of our students have been impacted by certain incidents within recent weeks. I take the safety and security of our students as the highest priority. As a representative, I ask the questions that I believe any parent involved would be asking if it was their children who are impacted, furthermore, as someone who views our children as a top priority. If I have spent time on this board asking questions about the accountability of officials who are responsible for our school buildings and property, then I will go above and beyond asking questions of accountability for those officials who are responsible for the safety and security of the lives of our children," Jones wrote.

In an email to CBS 6 on Thursday, Harris-Muhammed said she has called for an emergency school board meeting to address safety concerns. Other board members including Jonathan Young and Kenya Gibson said they supported her request.

However, Board Chair Stephanie Rizzi said she is not planning to schedule a special meeting at this time.

An RPS spokesperson said the district would not comment on personnel matters.

RPS has dealt with a number of safety-related issues over the past year, some of which have fallen under the RPS Facilities Department, including a loaded gun brought into George Wythe High, a deadly shooting in the pickup line of Westover Hills Elementary, students exposed to bloody hallways at Richmond Community High, and a faulty fire alarm at Fox Elementary.

Earlier this week, an RPS mother also made an allegation that a 5-year-old was assaulted at Blackwell Preschool which has led to a criminal investigation.

Data showed 43 weapons have been recovered from students on school property since the start of the 2021-2022 school year, and nearly 4,000 student behavior events of a safety concern were reported in RPS last year.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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