The Alexandria School Board last Thursday approved a revised bi-annual memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Alexandria Police Department to provide school resource officers in the city’s public schools.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. also said that all Alexandria City Public Schools employees will get racial diversity training.

“That is what’s going to help us to tackle some of those racial disparities, because unfortunately society has made black and brown people in general seem as if we are criminals, and that is the perception that people have in their minds,” Hutchings said.

Last 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.”

However, “In the event of a significant and articulable threat to health or safety school or for school officials may disclose any information from student records to the appropriate parties, including law enforcement officials, whose knowledge of the information is needed to protect the health and safety of a student or other individual,” according to the MOU.

The Board approved the MOU 6-3, and Board Members Michelle Rief, Jacinta Green and Heather Thornton voted against its approval. As previously reported, the MOU has “measurable objectives” for SROs, meaning that the officers have to complete statistical reports, data collection for quarterly performance reports, and after-action reports after incidents with students.

Still, Rief said that the MOU was improved by community feedback.

It goes farther in protecting the rights of students, it establishes more clearly defined goals and it identifies the data that’s going to be used to evaluate the partnership and it creates the new report form,” Rief said.

The school system will also hire school security officers, to “assist administrators with enforcement of civil code of conduct,” Jose Contreras, the ACPS director of safety and security, reported to the Board. He also said that ACPS recently received a grant to upgrade outdated security equipment.

ACPS employees will 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.

Board Member Margaret Lorber was uncomfortable with having guns and handcuffs in schools, but says it is appropriate for city public servants to teach in Alexandria schools.

“For those who are very concerned about the threat of violence from inside or without, we could have their guns and handcuffs stored somewhere so that in an emergency, if there was something in 60 seconds, they could get ahold of these things and meet the emergency need,” she said.

Alexandria Police Chief Michael L. Brown said it is APD policy for officers to be fully equipped to deescalate situations, meaning that they need to keep their sidearms with them.

“I would not feel comfortable, nor would I condone putting an officer in a situation in uniform — even a low-grade uniform like we do currently with the SROs with the soft shirts — with all the equipment that they are trained to use to protect life and property, including the students, as well as their own,” Brown said. “And I do respect your opinion on the handcuffs and the weapons, but frankly I would not condone that.”

According to the 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.

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