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Tenants and Workers United upset by City Council restoration of school resource officer program

The Alexandria City Council’s reversal on a decision to reallocate funds meant for school resource officers toward mental health programs has upset those who fought for the move.

The council voted four to three to temporarily restore the program after several complaints by parents about violent encounters involving their children in Alexandria City Public Schools since the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. This move was a reversal of the decision made by the council in May 2021 to end the SRO program in favor of school-based mental health programs.

SROs are police officers that are assigned to Alexandria City Public Schools middle and high schools who are armed — unlike school security staff — and fulfill the duties of regular police officers. The program had been in place since 1997 but was recently a source of scrutiny, especially after an officer at discharged his weapon in George Washington Middle School. Further calls to remove SROs came after nationwide protests against police brutality in 2020.

Tenants and Workers United (TWU), an Arlandria/Chirilagua-based organization that advocated for dismantling the SRO program, expressed dissatisfaction in a press release made in response to the council’s decision. TWU had led a multi-year campaign which resulted in the vote for reallocation from the SRO program to mental health programs. TWU pushed for the move citing how SROs affected students of color and contributed to the student-to-prison pipeline.

“It’s deeply disappointing that the communities most impacted by violence and injustice, who know what solutions are needed to best support their communities, are ignored during decision making processes,” Mia Taylor, development lead for TWU, said in a press release. “This is an issue of democracy, racial justice, White Supremacy, and power and privilege. Once again, Alexandria City finds itself on the wrong side of history. Many low-income students of color have been through a year-and-a-half of severely interrupted schooling, loss and grief, severe poverty, lack of adequate food and resources, housing instability, stress, and even trauma. For these reasons, we have long anticipated a difficult return to school this year, but police are not the answer”.

TWU Executive Director Evelin Urrutia said there is a need for the mental health programs over the SROs due to students coming back to school from the coronavirus pandemic.

“We believe that kids deserve better, they deserve to have mental health in place, we have to take into consideration that we are in the middle of a pandemic and that a lot of our students have gone through so much and we need to focus more on positive programs for them,” Urrutia said. “We know that the SROs are not the best thing that we can bring to kids at this moment, not into our schools. We should be focused on how are going to work moving forward.”

Months after the SRO program had been defunded parents protested to restore the program after relating stories of fights, stories of extreme bullying, and other accounts of concerning behavior.

The restoration of the SRO program came after a six-hour city council meeting in which the SRO decision took up most of the time.

The full press release from TWU is available below the jump:

On behalf of our community, Tenants and Workers United wants to make clear that we stand by the original decision to reallocate funding from the School Resource Officer program to school-based mental health resources. We do not believe that armed police officers belong on school grounds. The presence of armed police at schools disproportionately pushes out and criminalizes students of color. There is data to support this, and we believe and trust our youth when they share their personal experiences.

The vote that the Alexandria City Council took [Tuesday] (October 12, 2021) is simply another example of how power and privilege run this city. Alexandria has yet to live up to its verbal commitment to racial equity and social justice.

It’s deeply disappointing that the communities most impacted by violence and injustice, who know what solutions are needed to best support their communities, are ignored during decision making processes. This is an issue of democracy, racial justice, White Supremacy, and power and privilege. Once again, Alexandria City finds itself on the wrong side of history.

Many low income students of color have been through a year and a half of severely interrupted schooling, loss and grief, severe poverty, lack of adequate food and resources, housing instability, stress, and even trauma. For these reasons, we have long anticipated a difficult return to school this year, but police are not the answer.

We must focus on moving forward, and better. Removing police from ACPS was a good decision. It is still the right decision.

We need a holistic approach to education and a clear focus on the root causes of the issues our youth face. We need community circles and restorative practices now more than ever; if implemented with fidelity, they can drastically change our school culture and climate for the better. We know this; there is data to support this.

We, too, want schools that are safe and welcoming for all students all the time. This can be accomplished without armed police officers. Unarmed security guards, a video security system, well-trained staff, and a community-focused school are the best ways to provide safety without fueling the school-to-prison pipeline and further traumatizing students, especially students of color.

It’s difficult for us to understand how it’s acceptable to spend $1 million on armed police instead of spending $1 million on holistic approaches, supportive programs, and community-building initiatives in our schools. That doesn’t make any sense; we cannot go back to an unaccountable system that has failed students of color for over 20 years.

Alexandria City and ACPS are not putting its resources where they need to be. We cannot fund punitive responses; we must fund restorative solutions. We must prioritize building community among students, teachers, administrators, and staff, and we must prioritize addressing social inequities and racial disparities in our schools, communities, and institutions. This is how we will resolve the issues ACPS is facing.

Mia Taylor, M.Ed.Development Lead – Lídera de Desarrollo

Tenants and Workers United – Inquilinos y Trabajadores Unidos

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