School resource officers will temporarily return to Alexandria City High School and middle schools in the Virginia city.
In a 4-3 vote, the Alexandria City Council voted to reinstate the program early Wednesday morning.
In May, the city council voted 4-3 to remove them for budgeting reasons because most students were attending school remotely due to the pandemic. The city then voted to spend the funds on mental health.
The decision came after multiple fights, a brawl and two incidents involving weapons at Alexandria City High School — the city’s only high school.
Peter Balas, principal of Alexandria City High School, asked the council to reinstate SROs, calling them essential.
“Our students are sending us warning shots — literal warning shots. Please reconsider this. My staff, my students, we’re not OK. Also our community is not OK,” Balas said.
Alexandria City Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings was on board with reinstating SROs.
“We know that teaching learning and leadership are thwarted when our students and our staff are not provided with the optimal learning environment,” Hutchings said.
Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker said she was against having armed officers within school walls, citing an incident at George Washington Middle School three years ago.
“A loaded gun went off at G.W. Middle School that belonged to an SRO. Thankfully no one was hurt, but if someone had been we would not be having this discussion right now because SROs would have already been removed,” Bennett-Parker said.
Council member Canek Aguirre was a staunch opponent of reinstating the officers, stating that the recent violence is not directly related to the absence of SROS. “There’s a large combination of things that are happening at once, it’s not a direct correlation to SROs.”
Aguirre cited the pandemic and having one lunchtime for students as possible contributors to the violence. He also said fights happened when there were SROs in the school.
The dramatic six-hour meeting frustrated Mayor Justin Wilson, who stopped the conversation on the issue and expressed disappointment.
“I’ve been up here for 11 years. I can’t think of a bigger waste of my time than what just happened for the last three hours,” Wilson said in the middle of the meeting.
He said he was hopeful for a solution, but called the process horrific.
“This is disastrous. What person would watch this meeting tonight and say, ‘This is where I want to send my kids?'” Wilson yelled. “This is horrible! This is absolutely horrible!”