To the editor:
All children deserve to go to school and feel safe and supported. For many of us, school offers a safe space where we are encouraged to learn and explore our strengths, get to socialize with our friends, even imagine our futures. However, as Black and brown youth, we also have to deal with feelings of anxiety, discomfort and fear that we are being carefully watched.
These feelings follow us from our communities and don’t disappear when we are inside our schools. Unfortunately, our schools spend thousands of dollars to surveil and criminalize us in our learning environments.
The purpose of school is to support and nourish the minds and success of the young people in our communities. Yet many of us are unable to focus on education because we are distracted by the armed adults walking the halls of our school. Students constantly feel distressed and unsafe.
During a normal school day, we are in fear that any minor incident will be the cause of a confrontation with a police officer. If Alexandria City Public Schools is already investing thousands and thousands of dollars on technology to improve cameras that surveil us and we already have security guard monitors, why is it that we still need to invest in the presence of SROs? Is it only to intimidate us?
Last year, we asked the School Board to vote an end to the Memorandum of Understanding with the Alexandria Police Department. Unfortunately, they went on to vote in favor of maintaining an edited version of the MOU. We even met with council members and the mayor to express our experiences with SROs as students of color.
We feel that our voices were not heard and our experiences were invalidated. Alexandria’s City Council now has an opportunity to redress this issue in their decision on how our city’s funds are distributed.
As Tenants and Workers United youth organizers and ACPS students, we hope to see funds for the SRO program in our schools divested and put toward health care and afford- able housing instead. This pan- demic has taken a massive fi- nancial and physical toll on our families. In our neighborhoods, residents struggle with money to pay rent because they can’t work now.
We have been policing our students in ACPS since 1997. Keeping schools safe is an important task, but is the current solution working? We acknowledge that the School Board made changes to the MOU with APD. However, do we, as a community, plan to continue paying thousands of dollars toward SRO funding even though they are not needed inside our schools?
We still fail to see any data that determines how having armed personnel in our schools benefit our students, especially our Black and brown youth, teachers, and their families. However, we do know that just in the 2019-2020 school year, 57 out of the 409 mostly Black and brown ACPS students suspended were referred to law enforcement. Data like this allows us to see the bigger picture of how SROs increase the chances of sending youth of color down the school to prison pipeline.
The reality is that much of our community is struggling right now. Funding SROs costs a lot of money and that money should be put to alleviating the housing crisis, supporting mutual aid and food distribution efforts, providing affordable access to vaccinations and medical care for families. It is in the hands of City Council to decide to invest in what is most needed and truly support our community.
-Alexandria United Teens, Tenants and Workers United