To the editor:
Over the last several weeks, I have been following the articles and ongoing dialogue among readers regarding the Alexandria City Public Schools and Alexandria Police Department memorandum of understanding with great interest. I loved to see students voicing their opinions on a meaningful topic that affects their day-to-day lives.
And I was saddened to read in your Oct. 30, 2020 article “School Board approves MOU with APD, keeping police officers in schools” that, despite public opposition, the ACPS School Board approved a new MOU to keep School Resource Officers in our schools.
Wanting to learn more, I started doing some research, listening to the recordings of the board meetings and open hearing and reading both the old and new MOUs. What I learned shifted my opinion.
It is now clear to me that the ACPS School Board is receptive to feedback and committed to making evidence-based decisions for the good of its students. Specific concerns voiced by community members can be easily traced to specific revisions in the MOU. For example, one parent expressed alarm regarding SROs’ open access to student records which led to a new policy requiring written consent by a parent.
And the broad concern of student discomfort and racial disparities in SRO treatment was not ignored. Board members explicitly stated in their meeting that they heard and acknowledged the students’ anecdotes of disparate treatment by SROs. However, policy decisions are hardly made on anecdotes alone, so the Board asked for data from ACPS to corroborate the claims.
They realized no evaluation data exists at this time. But the new MOU that was drafted and approved by the board now includes detailed plans for evaluating the effectiveness of Alexandra SROs and their impact on students of color. This change to the MOU is, to me, the most exciting one because it outlines a plan for continued quality improvement discussions around the topic of SROs.
I am a relatively new resident of Alexandria, and this MOU review process has given me a new sense of pride in my community.
I saw a group of people, young and old, share their thoughts and opinions in an open forum. I saw a school board willing to listen to their constituents’ concerns and take measured, rational steps to address them.
My hope is that the organizers involved in this issue, especially the youth, see the new MOU not as a defeat, but as an example of effective lobbying and democracy at work. Another review process will occur in two years, giving them another opportunity to present their case. The conversation is not over but, for me, there was a satisfying end to this chapter.
-Lauren Markovich, Alexandria