Our View: Overstepping their authority

Our View: Overstepping their authority
T.C. Williams High School. (Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)

Any issue involving public safety and race in the United States is inherently complicated. Racial injustice is clearly still with us, and that reality is rightly a key facet of every decision involving how our cities, neighborhoods and schools should be policed.

That said, every significant policy of any kind should be based as much as possible on data, input from experts with hands-on experience and from those most impacted by the policy under consideration. Good policy is based as little as possible on emotional responses and political posturing.

As part of the FY 2022 budget process, on May 3, Alexandria’s City Council approved by a 4-3 vote a motion made by Councilor Mo Seifeldein to defund the positions of six police officers, also referred to as school resource officers, in Alexandria City Public Schools. With council’s approval of the budget on May 5, that change is solidified.

This decision by City Council was extraordinary, on several fronts.

First of all, the Alexandria School Board is the elected body charged with making decisions about how the city’s schools operate, not City Council.

After a thorough consideration of this issue, with input from all impacted and interested parties – including students, parents, principals, teachers, Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings Ed.D. and the Alexandria Police Department – the School Board voted 6-3 last October to retain SROs in city schools. That vote was for a new memorandum of understanding with APD that kept SROs in schools but that also tried to address some of the concerns raised.

The School Board followed its process and made a decision on a matter under its purview.

So why did four members of City Council take it upon themselves to overrule the six also-elected members of Alexandria’s School Board who had already decided this issue?

This intervention by City Council in the operations of ACPS is wildly hypocritical given that during the past year council declined to weigh in on whether, when or how city schools should reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite pleading from frustrated parents for action.

It’s also worth noting that the four councilors who voted to remove SROs from schools are remarkably unqualified to make this decision. Or as School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan said slightly more tactfully in her letter to the editor in the adjacent column: “… they made a decision that frankly their backgrounds don’t qualify them to understand …”

To wit:

• None of the four councilors who voted to remove SROs from schools – Seifeldein, Canek Aguirre, John Chapman and Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker – have school aged children, nor children who have previously gone through ACPS.

• None of the four attended public high school in Alexandria.

• They are the four youngest members on council.

• Three of the four, Seifeldein, Aguirre and Bennett-Parker, are in their first terms.

Data also makes it clear that police presence is needed in Alexandria’s high school.

A Freedom of Information Act request made by a resident produced data, which was reviewed by Times staff, showing that since the beginning of 2015 there were 1,275 calls for service made to police at T.C. Williams High School. For comparison’s sake, by our calculation, students have been in the high school full-time roughly 930 days during that time span.

In other words, during the five plus years from January 2015 through March 2020, about 1.3 calls were made to police per day that students were in the building.

Most of the offenses appear to have been minor, but some weren’t: There were 105 assaults, 127 incidents of grand larceny and one reported rape. And lest we forget, a T.C. student was arrested inside the school building in March 2020 on two counts of first-degree murder.

Yes, police will still be called to T.C. Williams High School – on a daily basis if past trends continue. But by not being stationed inside the school, not only will the police response be slower, but their ability to prevent crimes by their presence will be lost.

If, after careful deliberation, the School Board had made the decision to remove SROs, we would have deemed it wrong but justifiable. But it’s inexcusable that four members of City Council overstepped both their knowledge and their authority