Alexandria, VA – Just five months after they pulled all the police out of Alexandria City Public Schools, the council reversed itself early on Wednesday morning and voted to put school resource officers (SRO) back into middle and high schools, at least temporarily.
The move came after a number of fights in Alexandria City public schools were posted to social media in recent weeks, WJLA reported.
One video showed a vicious assault in a school cafeteria and another, a parking lot brawl with a group of students who were kicking another student who was down on the pavement.
In yet another incident caught on video, high school students attacked a man inside a McDonald’s restaurant near Alexandria City High School, formerly known as T.C. Williams, the inspiration for the movie “Remember the Titans,” WJLA reported.
The video showed a hostile verbal exchange between students and an adult male patron that rapidly evolved into students punching and kicking the man in the face and head.
Parents said they were terrified and have demanded the school system bring back the SROs, WJLA reported.
“When I watch these videos, I would say my reaction is shock, complete shock,” parent Jennifer Rohrbach said.
Rohrbach is one of countless parents who believe the solution to the escalating violence in the schools is the return of law enforcement officers to campuses, WJLA reported.
The Alexandria City Council voted to cancel the SRO program last May and reallocated its $800,000 budget to hiring more mental health professionals for the schools.
However, despite having let the SROs go early in 2021, Alexandria City Public Schools have yet to hire the first new mental health counselors, WJLA reported.
Angry parents have told the school board and the city council to note the uptick in violence in the schools that coincides with taking the law enforcement officers out of the schools.
The city council meeting on Oct. 12 lasted for six hours and ran into the middle of the night, The Washington Post reported.
School leaders and Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson agreed with the parents, WRC reported.
“The safety of our schools, students and staff make SROs an essential tool in our toolbox,” Alexandria City High School Principal Peter Balas told the council.
“Our students are sending us warning shots — literal warning shots,” Balas warned.
Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory C. Hutchings Jr. and School Board Chair Meagan L. Alderton told the city council that the SROs were needed to respond to the sort of incidents shown in the disturbing videos, The Washington Post reported.
Hutchings and Alderton also pointed to a recent incident where a student brought a loaded gun into a school.
“It has been proven in this short amount of time that we really do need our school resource officers,” the superintendent told the council.
Hutchings said Alexandria does not necessarily fit into a “national narrative” about policing, The Washington Post reported.
The mayor called the discussion about school safety a “disaster.”
“I can’t think of a bigger waste of my time than what just happened for the last three hours,” Wilson said about halfway through the meeting that ran until after 1 a.m. on Wednesday morning.
“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,” he added.
“I’m sorry we had to do this, quite honestly,” Wilson said. “This has been a horrific process from the beginning.”
After hours of heated debate that ended at about 1 a.m. on Wednesday, the city council voted 4-to-3 to reinstate SROs in middle schools and high schools through the end of the 2021-2022 school year, WRC reported.
The city manager is tasked with evaluating the security options for next school year.
Alexandria City Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, along with several city council members has, proposed hiring additional security guards, funding efforts to support students, and offer de-escalation training to teachers on a voluntary basis, WRC reported.