As school resumes in Alexandria, so does the debate over school resource officers

Alexandria City Public Schools plans to study the roles of school resource officers and decide the future of the position.

In Alexandria, the debate over school resource officers continues to be divisive. But for now, after city leaders approve funding for one more year, officers will remain on middle and high school campuses.

Over the next school year, Alexandria City Public Schools plans to study the roles of school resource officers and decide the future of the position.

One of the ways the school system does this is to use its new School Law Enforcement Partnership Advisory Group.

“Our job is to reimagine the role of ORS in the school,” said Paula Gormley, who is a member of the group, which is made up of school and city officials, law enforcement, parents , students and other members of the community.

As a member parent, Gormley ticks two boxes: one as a mother of two students in the school system and a second for her career in criminal justice and law enforcement.

Gormley said the band members have been selected and each member is preparing for their first public meeting on September 12.

Among the questions she asks are how school resource officers are used in schools and when decisions are made to refer a student to diversion programs or the juvenile justice system.

“There is a level of discretion in some of these areas,” Gormley said. She also asks if these decisions are made with “fairness in mind, and what should fairness look like?”

Although the new group does not yet have data on schools in Alexandria, she cited national research on the position. She says the data shows more dismissals and arrests at schools involving students of color.

“We’re trying to rethink that,” Gormley said.

Currently, School Resource Officers are employees of the Alexandria City Police Department and work in schools under a memorandum of understanding between the department and the school system.

Gormley said she also wanted to know how and when school resource officers are used in the Alexandria schools disciplinary process, which she says should be prohibited.

“It’s something we want to draw a clear delineation with,” she said.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said he thinks a joint process between the city and the school system would have been a better way to deal with the issue of school resource officers. Ultimately, the school system chooses to go the task force route.

“I’m going to keep an open mind about this and hopefully we come up with a recommendation that has broad community support,” Wilson said.

He said the current school safety debate is “uniquely” focused on the use of school resource officers. He believes they are just one of many elements of student safety.

“It’s become very polarized,” Wilson said. “Either you are for these policemen in our school, or you are against these policemen in the school.

“I think there’s probably a solution we can find that addresses a lot of the concerns on both sides of this issue,” he added.

For Gormley, she is optimistic that the group’s recommendations will be well received by the school system.

“If our recommendations are reasonable and easy to implement, then I see that we are more successful than if it is a grand design that will cost the school in terms of resources.[s],” she says.

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