ALEXANDRIA, Va. (FOX 5 DC) - As Alexandria school leaders begged the city council to bring back school resource officers Tuesday night, four council members who voted to end the program back in May appeared to have already made up their minds..
But after an early morning vote, FOX 5’s Melanie Alnwick reports one of those lawmakers decided to vote in favor of temporarily reinstating SROs. Councilman John Chapman decided to vote in favor of temporarily reinstating the officers – making a 4-3 vote in favor of the change.
Earlier on Tuesday, FOX 5’s Lindsay Watts was at the meeting and said that around 7:30 p.m,, the schools' superintendent, city police chief and other school leaders began speaking before the council. Watts received an emailed statement from council members Mohamed Seifeldein, Canek Aguirre, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Chapman that said in part, "We will not be reimplementing the SRO program, but we offer instead a new path forward."
Council members went on to hear Superintendent Gregory Hutchings implore them to reinstate the SRO program immediately.
"The time is now," Hutchings said. "And I really believe us taking actions together and doing this in a methodical and strategic manner is the way to go. And we can do it."
Hutchings and other school leaders described escalating violence in and around schools that has left staff and students on edge.
Last week, a student bringing a loaded gun to Alexandria City High School and two students have recently been shot off-campus.
Hutchings said he spoke to a student who said he felt he needed to bring a gun to school for his own protection.
Council member Aguirre said early in the discussion that violence in and around schools was nothing new.
"I’ve been here superintendent, this is now my fourth year. I have not handled situations where students were bringing a gun into the school. I have not handled a situation where there were students shot down the street from the school," Hutchings said.
A former student at the meeting with her mother said she formed close relationships with SROs at her high school.
"Just taking them out in general I feel like it made it worse," said Lesly Cruz. "There was a gun brought to school. And I don’t know what council members are waiting for. For someone to get really shot?"
In May, the vote was four to three to favor of ending the SRO program. Council later decided to invest additional money to bolster mental health programs for students.
The emailed statement from the four council members included the following proposal:
1) A transitional addition of external police officers at all high school and middle school campuses. The City would also cover the cost of the off-duty officers employed by ACPS and would add additional funding for ACPS to expedite the hiring of the additional security guards proposed by ACPS. This is the proposed plan through the end of the school year, with a new long-term solution (School Safety Coaches) taking effect at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.
2) Funding and additional resources to support students, including for restorative practices; covering fees for vulnerable students to participate in afterschool activities, and a renewed focus on mentoring.
3) Funding to support teachers, including for optional training in de-escalation
4) An Immediate Review of the over $1 Million School Security Contract that ACPS uses to hire more than 40 security officers at ACHS.
5) A Transparent Open Data Portal. We ask ACPS to create and maintain publicly
accessible data, as allowable by law, on incidents involving violence and involving law
enforcement, including previous years.
6) Beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, School Safety Coaches, following the model established by Charlottesville, Virginia would be inside our secondary schools. The School Safety Coaches would be funded by the City, in addition to the mental health positions and resources previously defined and allocated earlier this year.