(Updated 6:20 p.m.) Ricardo Roberts is, to say the least, an outlier in the 2021 School Board District B race.
Roberts has had multiple run-ins with school officials, including one charge of trespassing at an Alexandria City Public School that ended in acquittal in court last year. While other candidates include incumbent School Board members and others generally supportive of the direction Alexandria City Public Schools have taken over the last few years, Roberts’ policy suggestions mark a sharp and potentially controversial departure from many other candidates.
Roberts was a social studies teacher at J.H. Johnson Junior High School in D.C., where he was known as Coach Roberts for his love of coaching basketball. Even a cursory Google search, however, reveals that Roberts was charged with first-degree child sex abuse — a charge for which he was ultimately acquitted.
Roberts said the charge was the result of a conspiracy against him.
“We have innocent teachers are agreeing to things they didn’t do because they’re scared,” Roberts said. “They go up to court and… [prosecutors] try to get them to take things they didn’t do. Kids make false accusations against teachers every single day. Whether it’s prejudice or ‘he made me feel uncomfortable.'”
It’s a charge that’s led to one of Roberts’ policy proposals: putting cameras in every classroom.
“In order to be proactive you have to put a bubble in the classroom… a surveillance bubble like you’d have in a McDonalds looking over happy meals,” Roberts said. “It would help kids and teachers who are falsely accused.”
Roberts also has a hardline approach to punishment in schools that is at odds with the shift toward restorative justice within the schools, something he blames on “Black Lives Matter and all that craziness.”
While efforts at reducing arrests and prison sentences are aimed at curbing the School-to-Prison pipeline, Roberts’ approach is more Hammurabi in nature, with more of an eye-for-an-eye approach to discipline.
“You gotta use somebody as an example,” Roberts said. “You stop another assault. You [show them] you can’t stand up and slap somebody in the face and jump someone, you can’t rob someone, you know that’s against the law. So why would you permit it in the schools? We need to stop perpetuating the fraud that these kids don’t know what they’re doing. That’s why the drug dealers on the corner have kids, who can only go to juvie, sell the drugs and commit the crimes, because they know the consequences for them could be years in jail while they don’t get months.”
The District B candidate is running against six other candidates for the three open slots: former School Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz, Deborah Ash, Ashley Simpson Baird, Tammy S. Ignacio, PreeAnn Johnson and Bridget Shea Westfall.
Roberts has been a fixture at Alexandria School Board meetings for several years but recently has had a tempestuous relationship with leadership at George Washington Middle School. Roberts said his son was being picked on by other students and alleged that the school administration was involved with encouraging it. After showing up at the school following one incident, Roberts was reportedly barred from the premises, and later sued for trespassing on school property — a charge that was later dismissed by Judge Donald Haddock Jr. when it became clear during the trial last year that the scope of Roberts’ barring was unclear. The judge noted at the time that Roberts had a clearly fraught relationship with the school.
“I’m just letting you know that this relationship with the school is not going well, and I feel like it always takes two to tango,” the judge told Roberts at the end of the trial. “You’re the one that’s on the receiving end of this right now so I don’t want you to walk out of here encouraged that you’re right and that they’re wrong.”
Roberts said that there are no consequences for kids, that “they’re used to getting away with it.”
“They’re going to get in-school suspension,” he added. “They’re not going to get arrested for a crime because they’re trying to keep the numbers down. A kid who jumps up and slaps a teacher: they’re not going to have consequences. It’s just going to be a slap on the wrist.”
Another piece of Roberts’ educational plan is to shift the focus away from preparing students for college and emphasizes preparing more students for the workforce.
“Lets get our kids prepared to pay taxes in America,” Roberts said. “A nurse is making way more money… Where are the worker bees at? The worker bees are very important to the hive.”
Now, Roberts said he’s working on suing Alexandria City Public Schools and some staff at George Washington Middle School — even as he runs for the School Board.
“I have a vision of how things should go and I speak on the truth, and a lot of people can’t accept the truth, and a lot of people find it hard to accept change,” Roberts said. “I said to [the teacher’s association] ‘I don’t need teacher association support. You’re scared. I’m not scared to say what’s needed to be said.'”
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