In the first week of classes for Alexandria schools, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares is urging the city’s mayor and school system to “draw a hard line against crime” and take advantage of state funding for police officers in schools.
Citing the death of a student outside the school last May as “a tragedy [that] should never have happened,” Miyares, in a letter, also urged Mayor Justin Wilson and the school board to “work more closely” with local and state law enforcement “as partners in preventing and reporting violent criminal behavior in, and around, our schools.”
Classes began Monday in Alexandria, and new security enhancements were unveiled. The school system now requires middle and high schoolers to carry student IDs, and schools have specific entrances for students, staff and visitors to ensure each campus is able to monitor who comes and goes.
School safety, and more specifically the presence of police officers in school, has proven controversial in the city. School resource officers will be in four schools this year, after the resource officer program was reestablished following pressure from parents.
Security is top-of-mind for Alexandria officials after the May death of an Alexandria City High School student in a stabbing that was part of a fight involving dozens of young people in a community shopping center.
The school system has formed a school law enforcement partnership advisory group, and plans to discuss the future of police in schools during the school year.
Paula Gormley, a member of the group, called the death of the student “a terrible incident, of course,” and said, “we’re still looking at data as a workgroup. And I can say categorically that crime is the issue.”
“Typically, the events that occur on school grounds are not criminal acts, of course, depending on the schools, but often violations of policy, smaller types of offenses,” she added. “As we’re thinking about what should be the role of the SRO — should we have SROs — we’re thinking about a broader role than just law enforcer.”
WTOP has contacted the school system for comment on the letter.
In a statement, Wilson said: “As a parent of two ACPS students, I am always a strong supporter of efforts to ensure that our students are safe and thriving. If the Attorney General wants to be part of that discussion, we will welcome that!
“It is somewhat telling that the Attorney General sent his letter to the media a few minutes after he sent it to us. That tells me he’s not trying to be part of the solution, he’s trying to play politics with our children. We don’t need letters from Richmond. We need funding and good policies to support our students.”
Alexandria school board chair Meagan Alderton said in statement that the “well-being, safety and security of our students and staff is a top priority for Alexandria City Public Schools.”
“As an elected official, and a Black woman, leading the most diverse school division in the Commonwealth, I would expect that I be addressed specifically when our state leaders are referencing suggested changes for a school division that serves a majority of students of color. I was disappointed to see that Mayor Wilson was specifically named in this letter from Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares, and I was not given a specific salutation and addressed as the chair of the School Board.
…I would welcome a conversation with the Virginia attorney general to discuss solutions and positive steps to benefit ALL Alexandria City Public Schools students to continue supporting our racial equity work,” Alderton said.
Miyares said that he recognized the city’s “elected officials have not always supported the concept of SROs” but that he encourages local leaders to “strengthen your commitment to these dedicated men and women, and to proactively reject arguments against their presence in the city’s schools.”
School resource officers are most effective, Miyares wrote, when administrators and teachers collaborate to alert police to “potential and current criminal activity.”
School staff is uniquely positioned to recognize changes in students’ activities or behaviors, Miyares said.
Miyares also said the school board should remind school administrators and teachers of a Virginia law that requires them to report students who break the law on school property.
WTOP’s Neal Augenstein and Mike Murillo contributed to this report.