Alexandria, VA

The Alexandria School Board is set to vote on Thursday (October 29) on a revised memorandum of understanding with the Alexandria Police Department to provide school resource officers in the city’s public schools.

Among the changes are definitions of student “contact” with a police officer, since any contact with a student must be reported to ACPS. That includes:

1) questioning for law enforcement purposes; 2) detainment of a student(s); and 3) apprehension or arrest of a student(s). All contacts shall be considered reportable offenses, in addition to the reporting required by School Board Policy or by statutory requirement

The document also creates “measurable objectives” for SROs, meaning that the officers would have to complete statistical reports, data collection for quarterly performance reports, and after-action reports after incidents with students. ACPS employees would also receive training on the duties of an SRO. Additionally, an SRO would have access to a student’s education records only after receiving the written consent of the student’s parent/guardian or if the student is 18 or older. An ACPS administrator would also have to be present when an SRO questions a student.

School resource officers were reassigned to the APD patrol division when the pandemic shut down in-person school in mid-March for the remainder of the last 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.

Earlier this month, parents, students and community advocacy representatives railed against SROs, and said they foster an inappropriate culture of prejudice against non-white students. LaDonna Sanders, president of the Alexandria NAACP, filed a Freedom Of Information Act and found that in 2018 there were 140 out-of-school suspensions, and that a “significant enough proportion of the suspensions involve referrals to law enforcement.”

“We want the contract to end,” Sanders said. “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 draft MOU states that if students are suspected of a crime and are not compliant, SROs and law enforcement officers “should obtain a search warrant in all cases where initial consent was not obtained and probable cause exists that a crime has been committed.”

According to the draft MOU:

SROs have the authority to question students who may have information about criminal activity (on or off school property). As sworn law enforcement officers, SROs have authority to stop, question, interview, and take law enforcement action without prior authorization of the school administrator or contacting parents, especially when timely information will help prevent injury, death or evidence destruction. For all other non-exigent circumstances, when it becomes necessary for the SRO or law enforcement officer to interview a student on school premises, the school principal or their designee shall be contacted immediately…

Police vehicles should be parked in the garage. Parking in front of the school should be avoided unless required for traffic control support or police emergency. c. Long arms. Long-arms (e.g. shotgun, rifles) should not be openly displayed in the school or around the campus unless there is an emergency. d. Body cameras. Body camera video should not be used in the school setting unless there is a law enforcement purpose. If used, such recording(s) must be strictly controlled and protective of juvenile information per legal requirements.

It isn’t the first time Alexandria SROs have come under fire: in 2018, an SRO accidentally discharged his gun inside George Washington Middle School.

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

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