Alexandria, VA

William Olson says that his nine-year-old autistic son was improperly interrogated by an Alexandria Police officer last year.

On Thursday, Olson and a number of students, parents, and representative from the Alexandria NAACP, Tenants and Workers United, and Grassroots Alexandria told the School Board at a public hearing that it should not renew its bi-annual memorandum of understanding with the Alexandria Police Department to provide school resource officers at city schools.

Olson’s son is a mixed-raced special needs student with an anxiety disorder, and was questioned on December 13, 2019, without the knowledge of his parents, he said.

Olson questioned whether police could adhere to rules set by the Alexandria City Public School Board regarding the detainment and questioning of students.

“The interrogation took place after (administrators) determined our child was not a threat to himself or others and had returned to class,” Olson said. “This interrogation resulted in our child suffering negative mental health consequences. Even when we informed both APD (Alexandria Police Department) and ACPS about our concerns about these events, neither seems to be sufficiently concerned about complying with the board policy requiring a reasonable effort to contact parents.”

The Board did not comment during the public hearing, and only received public testimony.

School resource officers were reassigned to the APD patrol division when the pandemic shut down the school system in mid-March for the remainder of the school year. The MOU would continue the agreement to provide officers at T.C. Williams High School and other ACPS schools when buildings eventually reopen.

“As a general practice, unless there is a clear and imminent threat to safety, requests from school staff for SRO or other law enforcement assistance are to be channeled through a school administrator,” according to the 2018 MOU. “SROs are responsible to lead the investigation and questioning of students related to suspected violations of criminal law.”

Lorraine Johnson, a T.C. Williams High School senior and student representative on the school board, said that Black and brown students are disproportionately targeted by SROs.

“We need better training for these officers and officers in the community,” Johnson said. “There has to be a longer, better and more effective training on how to deal with students of color and especially students with disabilities.”

In 2018, a SRO was put on administrative leave after discharging his firearm inside his office at George Washington Middle School. The officer was later reassigned by Police Chief Michael Brown. The officer is no longer an SRO.

LaDonna Sanders, president of the Alexandria NAACP, provided statistics obtained through the Freedom Of Information Act.

“An analysis of the 2018 data that we were able to obtain through a FOIA request revealed that there were 140 out of school suspensions, which is equivalent to 80% of all our school suspensions,” Sanders said. “A significant enough proportion of the suspensions involve referrals to law enforcement.”

Sanders continued, “We want the contract to end. Moreover, the racial disparities in law enforcement referrals were stark. Black students are nearly four times more likely to be referred to law enforcement than whites. Latinx students are twice as likely to be referred as white (students).”

The updated MOU must be signed by Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown and the Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. by November 2, 2020.

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