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Alexandria school board requests another year of funding for school police officers

The lunchroom at Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School in Alexandria City Public Schools. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)
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The Alexandria City School Board is requesting from the city government an extension of funding through June 2023 for the district’s embattled school policing program.

The program has traditionally sent five School Resource Officers, known as SROs, into Alexandria’s three public middle schools and one public high school at an annual cost of $800,000, funds that are supplied by the Alexandria City Council. The request for an extension in funding was to be sent Friday from board chair Meagan L. Alderton to Alexandria Mayor Justin M. Wilson.

The SRO program has been a subject of significant controversy and debate in Alexandria over the past year. The city council at one point voted to end the program entirely — over the protests of school officials — before reversing course and opting to reinstall police after a run of safety incidents at some campuses. At a board meeting Thursday, school officials said the district is working to reimagine its relationship with police, but that safety considerations require keeping a police presence inside schools as that work continues.

The letter to Wilson does not specify the amount of funds requested. At the Thursday meeting, Alderton — who said she drafted the letter — said she has previewed the issue with the mayor.

“It behooves us that if this is something we want to ask, that we ask it formally, so we ask it in writing,” she said. “If there are no objections, this is going to go to the mayor tomorrow. He knows — we’ve had this discussion.”

There were no objections from any board members, who appeared generally in favor of the idea, although no vote was taken.

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Wilson said in a phone interview Thursday that he believes the council will grant the request as part of its budget negotiations over the next month or so. He said the $800,000 for the SRO program is currently listed in a “contingent reserve” section of the budget, and that the council will have to specifically vote to dedicate the funds to the SRO program.

He noted the council is divided into members who oppose and members who support police in Alexandria schools, adding that he is of the latter group.

Still, he said, the SRO program will likely win funding because, “I believe there is a majority of the council that wants to give some space and time to allow the board and the community to come to a consensus on this issue.”

Wilson added, “Even people who believe that we need to get rid of the SROs recognize that the process by which it occurred last year was not optimum.”

Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. and his top officials said at Thursday’s meeting that they would use the time afforded by a one-year extension to form an advisory group that will review and revise the role of police in Alexandria schools. Officials will also conduct a community engagement process.

The Alexandria system began reevaluating its relations with police in 2020, when officials reworked the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the school district and law enforcement to require more reporting of data and to clarify student rights when dealing with SROs. In May 2021, though, the Alexandria City Council voted — against the wishes of school officials — to stop funding the SRO program, which ended it.

The school system of 16,000 started the 2021-2022 school year without SROs for the first time in three decades. That fall, Alexandria saw police respond to several incidents at schools, and in October a male student was arrested for bringing a firearm to school. After that, in a dramatic 1 a.m. vote, the Alexandria City Council opted to return police to the school system.

But in December, the two SROs at the high school were placed on leave pending investigation of a “serious complaint” of misconduct, which The Washington Post reported centered around allegations from a former student about sexually inappropriate conversations. The investigation ended and no SROs were returned to the high school, although police patrol outside, per Alexandria police spokesman Marcel Bassett.

At the board’s last meeting two weeks ago, Hutchings proposed establishing an advisory group tasked with reviewing and reimagining the relationship between the school system and the police force. But the board could not reach a consensus on his request, with members disagreeing over how much control the board should exercise over any such police advisory group. The meeting ended inconclusively.

At the same meeting, school officials presented data showing that police had been called to schools 96 times in the first half of the 2021-2022 school year and made 18 arrests. The data also showed that Black students at the middle and high school levels were significantly overrepresented in the arrests — comprising nearly two-thirds of the arrests despite making up about one-fourth of the student body.

On Thursday, Hutchings said he plans to return with a fresh proposal for a police advisory group at the next school board meeting, scheduled for April 21.