Schools in Alexandria, Virginia, may keep school resource officers stationed on campus for an additional year while next steps for the program are examined.
The city’s school board is expected to ask the city council and mayor to fund a one-year extension of the current school resource officer program this week, which the board says will allow a working group time to collaborate and form a recommendation about the future of police in schools.
Alexandria City Public Schools is in the process of finalizing its recommendations for the School Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) advisory group, which the board says will include city and schools staff, students, parents and other community members, according to school board documents.
In a drafted letter to Mayor Justin Wilson and council members, School Board Chairwoman Meagan Alderton said the additional year “will give the SLEP advisory group enough time to form, meet and make recommendations on the school-law enforcement partnership, to receive community and stakeholder input on the program, as well as allow our two elected bodies to make sound decisions on the future of the SRO program.”
The topic of school resource officers in Alexandria schools has become divisive in recent months, with the city council acting against the school board’s wishes and voting in May 2021 to eliminate funding for the program. Months later, in October, the council voted 4-3 to reinstate the program.
Mayor Justin Wilson said funding for the SRO program is in the city manager’s proposed budget, but that the money hasn’t been appropriated, so the council would need to allocate the money before July 1 for the program to continue.
After a series of work sessions, Alexandria’s budget is scheduled to be adopted May 4.
The proposal, Wilson said, suggests “while the school board works on a community process to determine the future of how we ensure safety and security in our schools, they want to see the status quo retained until that process is concluded.”
Wilson said he wasn’t a supporter of removing the officers when the council voted to do so last year.
“We need to step back on a very, very difficult issue and engage with the community and determine the best way that we keep our community safe going forward, particularly our students in schools,” Wilson said.
After a series of episodes involving guns in October, parents and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings Jr. called for resource officers to return to schools.
Following multiple fights, a brawl and two incidents involving weapons at Alexandria City High School — the city’s only high school — the city council voted to resume the program.
At the time, Peter Balas, principal of Alexandria City High School, also asked the council to reinstate SROs, calling them essential.
In December, a pair of SROs at Alexandria City High School was placed on leave following a misconduct complaint, police said.
The city council voted to eliminate the SRO program in May 2021, citing higher instances of children of color being targeted. The funding originally earmarked for the program would instead be spent on mental health resources for students.
Now is the time, Wilson said, to evaluate what role police should have in school buildings.
“I’m hopeful we will be able to step back, exhale and have a reasonable conversation with all the stakeholders in our community about the best way to keep our community safe,” Wilson said. “That’s what the kids in our system deserve.”
WTOP’s Acacia James, Luke Lukert, Dick Uliano and Matthew Delaney contributed to this report.