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Amid transparency concerns, School Board forms school law enforcement partnership advisory group

The Alexandria School Board gave its blessing to Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. on Thursday night (April 21) to form an advisory group to make recommendations on the controversial school resource officer program within Alexandria City Public Schools.

The 16-person school law enforcement partnership (SLEP) advisory group will be made up of students, ACPS administrators, Alexandria Police and members of the community. The group will evaluate the partnership between ACPS and police for the school resource officer program, and also on school safety initiatives, and deliver a report in December.

Hutchings does not want the meetings to be public or recorded, although he said minutes from the meetings would be provided to the Board. A link with SLEP information on the ACPS site is also in development, Hutchings said.

“What we want to make sure is happening is that there are authentic conversations happening ,” Hutchings told the Board. “We need people to be able to feel as if they can have these real discussions without the additional ice or heat or criticism that will come out of that, because people wanting to watch a long meeting like that (are) typically watching to give some type of constructive criticism. Typically, not always.”

Last month, a report revealed that 18 ACPS students were arrested in the first two quarters of this school year, in addition to 41 reported fights/assaults and 13 seized weapons. The weapons seized include a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray.

Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard Campus at 3801 W. Braddock Road was evacuated on Friday, Dec. 10, after a bomb threat. Here, Alexandria Police and a Bomb Dog look for anything suspicious outside the school. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Transparency issues

Member Kelly Carmichael Booz said that compiling the report behind closed doors raises transparency issues.

“I completely understand the challenges and the concern about making sure that folks feel comfortable to have open and frank conversations,” Booz said. “We also are in the business of transparency and making sure that we have access to the information that’s being provided. I do think we need to strike that balance there.”

Last month, Booz failed in a 4-4-1 vote to get the SLEP advisory group to report directly to the School Board instead of the superintendent, which would have made it a more public process.

Alicia Hart, ACPS executive director of facilities and operations, said that the decision to record meetings will be determined by a meeting facilitator. No facilitator has yet been awarded the contract, although she expects a number of proposals to come in soon.

“I’ll honestly have to defer to the external facilitator in terms of how they feel the meetings are best handled,” Hart said. “I don’t know if that’s the standard for our advisory groups or committees within the division. I don’t want to offer that it would be open to the public. I’d rather the external facilitator have the opportunity to present their framework for how they believe the meeting should occur.”

Board Chair Meagan Alderton said that certain meetings should be public, and others not, although the Board did not come to an official position on the matter.

“I do believe there is a balance to strike,” Alderton said. “We should probably select certain meetings that the public could come and sit in on it just to have that available, just because I don’t think we want to leave any room for being accused of not being open and transparent in that way.”

Hutchings said that there will be a link to the ACPS website regarding the SLEP advisory group.

The SROs — police officers stationed at Alexandria City High School and the city’s two middle schools — were defunded last summer and then brought back in October after Alderton and Hutchings pleaded for their return in the wake of numerous violent incidents with weapons in schools.

Since then, Hutchings has also advised the Board not to talk to the media and co-wrote a book that stated school systems should avoid being racist by abolishing policing practices.

There have been no SROs at Alexandria City High School since both SROs at the school were placed on leave after a “serious complaint” from a former student alleging “sexually inappropriate conversations” while she attended ACHS. Alexandria Police continue to rotate officers in and out of the school on a daily basis.

The SRO program is currently funded through June 30, 2023.

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