To the editor:
The school we dream of is full of counselors and teachers who all know our names and treat us with respect. Our classes would be engaging and interactive. One period a day would just be therapy or open time. And everyone would have all the food they need – and maybe even a Starbucks!
But the school we actually attend has school resource officers, and now metal detectors, that intimidate and don’t make us feel welcomed. Students don’t have an outlet for all that they are going through. We don’t have guidance or support on healthy ways to resolve conflict. Many adults don’t treat students equally – including our SROs. We feel tired, under pressure, and don’t feel like our mental health needs are met. For a while, we didn’t even know we had a school psychologist.
In 2021, young people from Tenants and Workers United won a victory when the Alexandria City Council voted to divest nearly $800,000 in funding for school police, and to reinvest those funds into mental health resources. It was the first time that local leaders were listening to students’ needs.
Yet almost immediately, city leadership retreated from this commitment. Earlier this year, the Alexandria School Board continued to retreat from this commitment to young people when it approved a proposed budget for the 2024 school year that includes minor increases in funding for student mental health supports and restorative practices.
At the same time, the board approved funding for security guards and metal detectors and adopted a recommendation that the city fund school police. It is a betrayal of the promises they made to us, our families and our communities.
ACPS currently funds only one full-time staff member to implement restorative practices for its 16,000 students. While we are grateful ACPS is adding another restorative practices staff member in the FY24 budget, we demand at least five. And that’s not all we think our district should be doing: we want at least 10 new school psychologists.
Everyone should know we have these resources, and everyone should have access to them. Students deserve more resources and trusted adults to lean on, and an environment where we won’t be immediately punished or arrested for making mistakes as kids. However, this budget does not reflect that.
We demand our city leadership remove police from schools and instead put more resources into trusted adults, restorative practices and mental health services. We deserve changes that will make us feel safe and welcomed every day. The school board can help change this, but only if they hear us and implement holistic changes.
We are tired of people overlooking us because we are young, but know all the ways our schools are actually not safe. What our school and city are funding – school resource officers, metal detectors and other security – are Band-Aids and don’t actually help us.
There has to be another way. Schools should listen to and work with young people like us, parents and community members to make schools a safe and welcoming place. We are here every day to learn and grow. That’s only possible if our leadership invests in young people, not police.
-Akilah and Jordan, Alexandria City High School