ALEXANDRIA, Va. (7News) — Parents pushing to bring school resource officers back into Alexandria schools held a rally on Monday afternoon, the first of two demonstrations they've planned for this week.
The debate over SRO's has resurfaced amid reports of several recent fights at Alexandria City High School, and a shooting that took place just a few blocks off campus and injured a student last week.
"We're out here today because we are parents and citizens who are concerned about mounting violence in Alexandria schools," said parent Liz Fuller. "There's been brutal fights, where administrators and security guards have gotten pushed down along with the students."
RELATED: Safety concerns on & off campus after a student is shot near Alexandria City High School
Alexandria City Council voted to remove school resource officers from ACPS schools last spring.
Back then and again right now, the issue has divided the Alexandria community.
"I think school resource officers are a presence," said J.C. Herz, another parent who wants city council to restore the SRO program in Alexandria schools. "I think their not being in school just means there's a delayed response when and if something happens at school."
On the other side of the debate, social justice organizations like Tenants & Workers United have maintained that school resource officers can be intimidating to students of color.
On its website, Tenants & Workers United is described as an Alexandria-based nonprofit that's spent more than 30 years "organizing low-income communities of color -- low-wage workers, immigrants, women, and youth -- to build power so people can become change agents in their own lives".
"One of the things that we have learned and often hear from our students is the impact of school resource officers in the schools, and how that makes them really feel," said Evelin Urrutia, Executive Director of Tenants & Workers United. "Like getting into school, and the first thing they see is someone with arms, someone with a gun. We already know that's happening with students of color, the policing presence, and this is intimidating our students."
Alexandria City Public Schools spokesperson, School and Community Relations Chief Julia Burgos, released the following statement to 7News in regards to the renewed debate over SROs:
School safety and security is a top priority for our schools. We respect the City Council’s decision to remove funding for the School Resource Officers (SROs) and have continued working with our team to maintain a safe and secure environment for students and staff in ACPS buildings. School administrators have addressed any incidents this year in accordance to standard protocols, with disciplinary issues being handled within the school unless there is criminal activity, in which case, the police are consulted. Since the loss of the SROs at the high school and middle schools, the ACPS Office of Safety & Security Services has coordinated with the Alexandria Police Department to review police procedures when police receive calls for assistance from the schools.
Monday's rally in support of school resource officers was timed to coincide with a joint subcommittee meeting of the school board and city council. During that virtual meeting, ACPS School Board Chair Meagan Alderton clearly stated her stance on the issue.
"I'm concerned. We need our school resource officers. They - we need them. And I think we need to try to come to some place where we can figure out having them in a way that works for everyone," said Alderton. "I'm not feeling right now that our staff feels as though this is a situation that is working for them, and it's not a situation that's working for the kids."
ACPS Vice Chair Veronica Nolan echoed that concern.
"I am here today to advocate and beg city council to reinstate our SROs and the program, because I'm exceptionally concerned for the safety of students, the school community, and the school staff," said Nolan. "I can anecdotally share in my six years as a school board member, I have never heard of this many altercations in one month, let alone in a year's time."
It would take council action to reinstate the school resource officer program in Alexandria.
"Will city council help us? I'm asking on behalf of the school division, I'm telling you we need these school resource officers back in order to keep our schools safe," Nolan asked during Monday's virtual meeting. "Will you help us?"
Council Member John Taylor Chapman, who was among the four council members who voted to remove SROs from Alexandria schools, responded to that question.
"I think from this meeting, any subcommittee meeting we're in, we report out and talk about the issues from there," said Chapman. "I think what we probably need to do is figure out some formalized action, that if this body wants to put forth anything they do that, or as Chair Alderton kind of mentioned, figuring out how we logistically start to have that bigger, broader conversation."
Parents who organized Monday's rally are planning a second demonstration, set for Tuesday evening outside city hall, ahead of an in-person meeting of the full city council.
Mayor Justin Wilson, who voted against the removal of school resource officers in the spring, has previously told 7News that conversations are ongoing among council members. He also said they've heard from people on both sides of the SRO debate over the last few days.
The mayor has said he would support reinstating the program, but notes that it would take a majority council vote to make that happen.
"The actual way that council would undo this if you will, if we wanted to do that, would be to make a budgetary decision to restore the actual positions and then make some kind of policy statement about how those positions are to be utilizied," Wilson said during Monday's virtual meeting, in response to questions from school board members. "Obviously that would take a majority of council to be supportive of that."
Tuesday's council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at city hall.