Alexandria Vice Mayor Amy Jackson took fire from one of her colleagues Tuesday night (June 14) against the appointment of former School Board Member Christopher Lewis to the Alexandria City Public Schools Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Committee.
Jackson said that Lewis already serves on the city’s Community Policing Review Board and recommended Mike Mackey, the director of the Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Service Unit.
Council ended up voting 6-1 (with Jackson in opposition) to appoint former Lewis as its representative on the 16-person SLEP Advisory Committee, which is tasked with reimagining the Alexandria Police Department’s relationship with the school system — including school resource officers at Alexandria City High School and the city’s two middle schools.
“I just don’t think that he is pro-police,” Jackson said of Lewis. “I don’t, and that’s fine. But when I’m looking for someone to put on this particular task force that helps see all the situations and all the perspectives of everyone in the city, finding someone that doesn’t have that outlook and is already close-minded to certain aspects of it, I would not want to see on this particular committee.”
Lewis, the CEO of Public Knowledge, was a School Board member from 2013 to 2019, and last month was named one of Washingtonian Magazine’s 500 most influential people. Lewis was in meetings today and could not comment on this story.
Councilman Canek Aguirre said Lewis has an unparalleled resume, and that Jackson’s comments were “egregious” and “insulting.”
“It’s rather egregious to say that he’s not pro-police,” Aguirre said. “I’d ask where in the past has he ever said that he’s not pro-police. He doesn’t say that. That’s very insulting.”
Mayor Justin Wilson said that both Mackey and Lewis are great to work with.
“My hope is that they (SLEP) are a solutions-oriented group trying to bridge some difficult issues in the community, and coming up with thoughtful policy designs that ultimately can be accepted by both the City Council and the School Board, ” Wilson said. “I think Chris has a good background can help bridge that.”
City Council adopted a number of resolutions Tuesday night aimed at curbing violence within Alexandria City Public Schools, including Wilson’s and Council Member Alyia Gaskins’ memo on their Youth Safety and Resiliency plan.
Gaskins said that the community is still reeling from the death of Alexandria City High School Senior Luis Mejia Hernandez on May 24.
“We also know that many of our young people right now are dealing with the loss of a friend, a classmate,” Gaskins said. “We have parents who are grieving the loss of their son. And so this is really an opportunity for us to as we say in the memo listen, learn, and act.”
Of the 18 arrests of ACPS students between August and December 2021, a vast majority of students arrested are Black.
Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. resigned last week and did not attend the meeting. He is out of the office until June 21.
Per the approved plan, staff will return to Council with a proposed timeline to start engaging kids, parents and ACPS staff on youth trauma and mental health within the school system.
“I think we are dealing with an urgent crisis,” Gaskins continued. “We have a great community that rallies and steps up when there’s a challenge, and this is our opportunity to do that once again, and to really build new relationships with our young people to let them know they’re cared about, and to take some important steps that invests in their mental health and their overall resiliency.”
Council also unanimously approved a gun violence prevention resolution, which encourages the school system to “review school curriculum, safety protocols, and professional development” related to gun safety and suicide prevention.
Wilson said that it’s time to step back, listen and learn from the community on what it wants regarding safety in schools.
“I think out goal should be to, first of all, step back, listen and learn,” Wilson said. “I think part of the message here is a little bit of humility in our policymaking and a recognition that for a community as diverse, and with a set of needs that we have in our city, there’s not going to be a set of policies that would guarantee that our community is going to be immune from this kind of violence.”
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