Alexandria leaders acknowledge serious security issues with elimination of school resource officer funding

Alexandria leaders have acknowledged that the city’s public school system faces major security issues with the elimination of school resource officer funding.

In a joint City Council/School Board Subcommittee Meeting Monday night, School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan was highly critical of Council’s 4-3 decision last month to divert the program’s nearly $800,000 in funding to Alexandria City Public Schools mental health and City health resources.

“I just want to own the fact that there is nothing that’s been happening in the school that is going to prevent… potential lives being taken if there was a violent act,” Nolan said. “I just don’t want us high-fiving each other, feeling like we did it, like we replaced what the SROs are providing, and that’s with safety.”

The decision means that SROs — police officers stationed inside T.C. Williams High School, Francis Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School — will no longer have offices in those schools. T.C. is also the largest high school in Virginia.

Nolan also cited a recent Washington Post article revealing that, with the pandemic receding, there has been an uptick in mental health-related issues and school shootings nationwide. She said she appreciated the proposed plan, but that it should not be replacing the SRO program.

“We do have situations where sexual assault happens outside of school, but a young lady feels exceptionally comfortable going up to a police officer,” Nolan said. “There’s also going to be fights that were normally deescalated by SROs that are going to take place, and we just cannot expect any of our staff to be able to deescalate those or break up fights or prevent that.”

Mayor Justin Wilson told ALXnow that he has concerns over security, and that Alexandria Police will incorporate the school system into their patrol operations.

“Obviously APD Patrol will continue to answer calls for service at these schools when they are called to do so,” Wilson said. “That dialogue will continue — with ACPS, APD and other entities, to ensure that we protect the safety of the students, faculty, support staff and visitors at our high school and middle schools.”

It is still unclear when APD officers will be inside of the schools, how often, or why.

“At this time, Alexandria City Public Schools is planning for the 2021-22 school year,” ACPS Chief of School and Community Relations Julia Burgos told ALXnow. “Our planning process includes working with the Alexandria Police Department to ensure there is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines a framework of police services at the schools as a matter of best practice.”

The School Board passed the bi-annual MOU, which kept SROs in place, last November. Then in April, School Board members asked City Council to respect their decision.

The program was eliminated by City Councilman Mo Seiflendein’s proposal, which was backed by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Canek Aguirre.

City staff also reported that the school system is anticipating a “three-fold increase” in the number of students getting mental health referrals, “particularly as students adjust to in-person learning.”

Chapman said that Council will likely not delay making a decision on the matter on July 6.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but (would be) very surprised if we had a majority that wanted to continue to push the decision down the road,” he said.

City Council will consider the following:

  • $567,000 — One therapist supervisor to the Department of Community and Human Services; two licensed mental health professionals; a human services specialist; and a licensed senior therapist for emergency services
  • $122,000 — One new public health nurse at the Minnie Howard campus
  • $101,000 — One new Alexandria Mentoring Partnership coordinator

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