The Alexandria City Council voted Wednesday to temporarily put school resource officers back into middle and high schools, after hours of heated debate that frustrated the city’s mayor.
The council voted 4-3 to put the uniformed police officers back into schools through the end of the school year.
A decision last spring removed SROs from schools this school year. Funds were reallocated to mental health programs. Some parents revived a call to put the officers back into schools after a number of recent incidents, including a student who took a gun to Alexandria City High School.
Some school leaders also pleaded for SROs to be reinstated.
“The safety of our schools, students and staff make SROs an essential tool in our toolbox,” Alexandria City High School Principal Peter Balas said.
“Our students are sending us warning shots — literal warning shots,” he continued.
School board chair Meagan Alderton asked for council members to listen to what teachers want.
“Educators are tired of people not valuing and listening to their expertise. This is really a time to show we value our educators,” she said.
Councilman Canek Aguirre, who opposes restoring SROs, said he believes it’s an error to link recent violence in schools to the removal of SROs. He cited the effects of the pandemic and a new school lunch schedule.
“This is a perfect storm of issues going on. I highly doubt there is a correlation between the removal of SROs and what’s happening,” he said.
Mayor Justin Wilson was exasperated by the debate at the marathon meeting that ended after 1 a.m.
“I can’t think of a bigger waste of my time than what just happened for the last three hours,” he said midway through the meeting. “I thought we were going to have a productive conversation about how we move forward in our community on a problem. I don’t think we had that.”
“This sucks. This is disastrous,” he added.
Lesly Cruz told News4 her brother was beaten up at school recently.
"…the kid, like, starts punching him," Lesly Cruz said while showing News4 reporter Drew Wilder a video of the fight.
Cruz said her brother was sent to the hospital and diagnosed with a concussion.
"He said that he's actually really scared to die. He's thought about even bringing pepper spray in school because he just feels that it's a need," Cruz said.
She said she believes the violence in Alexandria schools is worse since the city removed school resource officers.
All SROs in Alexandria schools will be fully trained and certified, ACPS Chief of School & Community Relations Julia Burgos said.
“SROs serve as a proactive safety mechanism while serving as a trusted adult for our students,” Burgos said in a statement. “We are thankful that we have the time to work with the City Council and the community to explore the many resources on reimagining school policing. We will work together to establish a plan to engage our community on evaluating, refining and reimagining our policing practices in schools.”
Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilmen Aguirre, John Taylor Chapman and Mo Seifeldein proposed an alternative to restoring SROs: hiring additional security guards, funding efforts to support students and offering optional deescalation training for teachers.
The city manager will look at proposals on how to handle school safety.
Stay with NBC Washington for more details on this developing story.