School board keeps police in schools

School board keeps police in schools
Alexandria City High School. (File Photo)

By Lindsey Sullivan |

At its Oct. 29 meeting, the Alexandria School Board voted 6-3 to approve 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 school board reevaluates the MOU every two years in accordance with state law. Beginning the review of the MOU in late September, the school board invited the community to be a part of the process by conducting a community hearing, community work session and several surveys to hear the sentiments and concerns of parents, students, administrators, the APD and other community members about officers in schools.

Using the information collected from the community, the school board’s amended MOU addresses some of the concerns raised during the public engagement process.

The revised agreement adds explicit requirements for SROs conducting student investigations, limits when SROs can access student information and requires a more regular review of the MOU. The school board will now conduct quarterly reviews to assess whether the MOU is meeting its set goals, in addition to the bi-annual reviews already in place.

Proponents of ending the MOU included board members Michelle Rief, Heather Thornton and Jacinta Greene; several parents and students; and members of several social justice organizations, including Tenants and Workers United, Grassroots Alexandria and the Alexandria chapter of the NAACP.

Many of those against the MOU claimed that SROs have a disproportionately negative impact on students of color and advance the school-to-prison pipeline.

Other community members, however, including several school administrators, school board members, APD officers and superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D. refuted these claims. They say SROs play no role in the school-to-prison pipeline, because they are only involved in criminal instances where officers would be called regardless. All other disciplinary actions, including suspension, are handled by school administration.

Those in favor of keeping the MOU said SROs maintain school safety because of their ability to respond to criminal threats or violence. They also claim that SROs can help to prevent crime by building positive relationships with students and working to limit the number of students referred to the court system.

While Hutchings said disparities between students of color and their white peers do still exist in schools, he said it is an internal problem, not a result of SROs.

“If you look at the actual data workbook that we presented to the board last year when we were going through our strategic planning process, we were revealing that information, we were making that information public because we really want not only the community, but [also] our staff to understand, and for us to start working through, why is this a reality for us still?” Hutchings said.

The final draft of the amended MOU adds language that sets diversity and equity as part of its defined goals recognizing that “ACPS makes an enduring commitment to ensure that students and staff are respected for their diversity, dignity and self-worth.”

ACPS’ partnership with the police department was established in 1997. 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.”

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 over-policing 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.

Read the full school-law enforcement partnership MOU on the ACPS website:

Cody Mello-Klein contributed to this story.