The Alexandria City School Board has approved the formation of a community-based advisory group that will review and offer changes regarding the school system’s relationship with police.
After months of collaboration in developing a framework, the School Law Enforcement Partnership Advisory Group will begin accepting applications from parents, students and community members now.
The advisory group will have 16 members, including seven members of Alexandria City Public Schools. The nine community members will include parents of current students, as well as a representative to support a focus on Black male achievement, a representative with criminal justice reform expertise, a representative of the Alexandria Police Department and two student representatives.
The advisory group will eventually form several focus groups.
The school system began the school year without School Resource Officers — employed by the police department — but returned them to the city’s middle schools and high school after several October incidents involving guns.
Looking toward the future, school board members attempted to find the proper balance of security in a learning environment.
“It cannot be simplified to either/or,” said board member Abdel Elnoubi. “It’s about everyone’s right to feel safe. If students don’t feel safe, they can’t learn. If staff don’t feel safe, they can’t perform their jobs.”
Superintendent Gregory Hutchings said it was important that neither he nor school board members be members of the advisory groups, “because we can have influence — the moment we say something in a group, it becomes, ‘Now the group wants to do that.'”
“I think it’s going to be so important for us to have a diverse perspective,” Hutchings said.
Alicia Hart, the school system’s acting chief of facilities and operations, who has marshaled the effort to configure the advisory panel, said she would defer to the external facilitator, who has yet to be chosen, on the question of whether the committee’s meetings would be public.
“I don’t want to offer that it would be open to the public. I’d rather the facilitator have the opportunity to present their framework for how they believe the meetings should occur,” Hart told the board.
Hutchings said many of the committee members would be parents or students, and that “They take a very different stance than board members do when there’s a camera in front of them, or having an audience watching them.”
“What we want to make sure is happening is that authentic conversations are happening,” said Hutchings. “We need people to be able to feel they can have these real discussions, without the additional eyes, or heat, or criticism that will come out of that.”
Despite heightened scrutiny of school board activities in Northern Virginia in recent years, school board member Kelly Carmichael Booz voiced support for having the meetings open to the public.
“I can understand the challenges of having some actors not taking the information, or going in different directions with it, but I think the vast majority of our citizens in Alexandria are respectful and concerned, and I think this is a topic that people are on very different sides of the aisle on this discussion,” Booz said.
While school curriculum and other matters, such as equity, are discussed at public meetings, and often the subject of spirited debate, Hart suggested the topic at hand might merit a more low-key approach, since it will involve discussing security protocols.
“Remember, this is a school and law enforcement partnership,” Hart said. “There are things that we may not want to have publicly discussed, because they could impact our safety position.”
Hutchings suggested detailed minutes of the meetings might be the appropriate way of keeping the public and school board updated on the panel’s progress.
Hart said the application process for non-school system staff members would open immediately, advisory having its first meeting in May or June.
Recommendations and feedback from the advisory, its focus groups and public surveys would be presented to the superintendent and school board by December, Hart said.