By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
At its Oct. 29 meeting, the Alexandria School Board approved a revised memorandum of understanding with the Alexandria Police Department to keep specially trained, armed police officers, known as school resource officers, in Alexandria schools.
The 2020-2022 MOU will take effect Nov. 1 and remain in effect until Oct. 31, 2022, according to an ACPS news release.
The process to reevaluate the MOU was part of a process that takes place every two years, in accordance with state law but, this year, involved a lengthy, passionate community conversation. Students, parents and community members raised concerns about the role of law enforcement in the city’s schools, inequitable disciplinary practices applied to Black and Brown students and the school to prison pipeline.
Some of the adjustments to the revised MOU aim to address some of those concerns.
Under the new MOU, school resource officers will not be able to question students without the presence of a school administrator. SROs must also verify a student has contacted a parent or guardian prior to questioning them.
Some of the changes made to the MOU also explicitly address questions around how law enforcement officers access student information. Under the new MOU, SROs can access student education records with the written consent of a student’s parent or guardian, or if the student is 18 or older.
In response to concerns about how having an armed police presence in schools could impact students’ mental health and sense of safety, SROs will no longer be able to openly display long-arms – e.g. shotguns or rifles – in schools or on school campuses “unless there is an emergency,” according to the MOU. SROs will also not be able to wear body cameras in schools unless there is a law enforcement purpose.
The new MOU also contains a notice of rights, similar to the Miranda warning, that will be read to students if they are questioned by an SRO on school property, although SROs are able to question students off school property, especially in time sensitive cases.
The notice of rights reads:
“While in the presence of a school administrator, the student will be informed generally of the purpose of the investigation, warned against self-incrimination in a developmentally appropriate manner, and also informed and advised that the student has the right to remain silent, that the student is free to leave an interrogation, and that the student has the right to stop the questioning and request that his or her parent(s) or guardian(s) or an attorney be present at any time during interrogation.”
ACPS’ partnership with the police department was established in 1997, and ACPS has four SROs in total stationed at T.C. Williams High School and its Minnie Howard campus, George Washington Middle School and Francis C. Hammond Middle School. Police officers selected for the SRO program receive 40 hours of training in addition to specialized training from ACPS.
In supporting the revised MOU, Veronica Nolan, vice chair of the school board, expressed frustration that the conversation around the value of SROs had been conflated with the issue of equitable disciplinary action in schools.
“I’m really baffled by some of the advocacy we have received because I can’t fathom why we’re even considering taking away resources from the very kids we all claim to champion,” Nolan said. “… “If you want to impact the school to prison pipeline and suspensions, it’s not the SROs that are causing it.”
Board members Michelle Rief and Heather Thornton were the most staunch critics of the MOU and general concept of having law enforcement in Alexandria schools on a daily basis.
Thornton and Rief both questioned the origins of SRO programs across the country, which are directly tied to the now controversial 1994 crime bill that resulted in overpolicing in communities of color.
“We’re at a point here where we can be bold and we can take the next step in reversing this failed policy, and that is, we can take law enforcement back out of our schools, instead of holding onto this artifact of the past,” Rief said.
At the school board meeting last night, school board member Megan Alderton put forward a motion, seconded by Nolan, to approve the revised MOU. The MOU was approved 6-3, with board members Jacinta Greene, Rief and Thornton voting in opposition.