ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The City of Alexandria's Council has reversed itself on a controversial decision in May to pull police out of schools, reinstating them as of Monday, Oct. 18.
The school system announced Wednesday afternoon that School Resource Officers, known as SROs, will be back in Alexandria City High School and all the city's middle schools for the rest of the year.
"Our first goal is to work with the Alexandria Police Department to coordinate the swift return of our SROs to schools," said school system spokesperson Julia Burgos.
The debate over bringing police back was emotional after school leaders pleaded that the first months of this school year have been turbulent and frightening.
Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings Jr. cited a lockdown that occurred when a student was caught allegedly attempting to bring a loaded gun into Alexandria City High School on Oct. 6.
He added there have been fights and shootings involving students at nearby off-campus locations after school.
Alexandria City High Principal Peter Balas got emotional as he begged the City Council to send SROs back in.
"Our students are sending us warning shots. Literal warning shots! Please reconsider this. My staff, the students, are not okay,” Balas said pausing briefly before continuing.
Hutchings ticked off the incidents that have elevated safety concerns.
“There's an escalation of disciplinary infractions that are happening in our schools," said Hutchings. "We had a student that was shot down the street. We have a student that brought a loaded gun, almost, into our school building. We have a student that was shot this weekend as well. Those are facts. This is not anything that we're making up.”
ACPS Chief of School and Community Relations Julia Burgos thanked the City Council for reinstating the SRO program and shared the below statement:
"All SROs being assigned to ACPS schools will be fully trained and will have received the required certifications. SROs serve as a proactive safety mechanism while serving as trusted adults for our students. We are thankful that we have the time to work with the City Council and the community to explore the many resources on reimagining school policing. We will work together to establish a plan to engage our community on evaluating, refining and reimagining our policing practices in schools. Our first goal is to work with the Alexandria Police Department to coordinate the swift return of our SROs to schools. We look forward to having the SROs continue their role to provide a positive presence and preventative measures in an effort to provide a secure and safe learning environment for all our students and staff."
But, skeptics of school policing submitted a proposed plan Wednesday night to bring more mental health and social services into schools as an alternative to posting law enforcement officers.
Council Member Canek Aguirre complained there’s no data that shows School Resource Officers make a difference.
"What I'm trying to drive home here is that there is not this correlation between having the SRO in there,” Aguirre said.
The group Tenants and Workers United agreed, sharing a statement to Facebook that reads in part, "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.
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."
An angry Mayor Justin Wilson tried to cut off debate after more than three hours.
"This just sucks! This is disastrous!" Wilson said. "What person would watch this meeting tonight and say this is where I want to send my kids?"
The sharply divided council voted 4 to 3 to bring the SROs back.
Council members Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Mo Seifeldein and Canek Aguirre were opposed.