One US city is taking action on funding policing alternatives in schools as the nation prepares to return to in-person learning. Schools in Alexandria, Virginia will reallocate funds away from the school safety officer program following a 5-1 vote by the Alexandria City Council on Tuesday (July 6).
The decision comes as school districts across the nation reckon with police presence in schools and the needs of students, especially after a year in quarantine and virtual learning.
According to The Washington Post, Alexandria will be redirecting $800,000 to hire therapists and support mentorship programs. The money was previously used to keep school resource officers at schools in the city.
“We want to shift from a punitive system to a restorative system,” Alexandria Council member Canek Aguirre told the outlet. “This isn’t an indictment of the officers … This is another way to try and get more positive role models in our school system,” Aguirre added.
Some members of the Alexandria School Board disagreed with the City Council’s decision to remove the officers from schools. Since school officers are considered city employees, the city council, not the School Board, manages the contracts with the school police.
The mental health initiative will create seven new positions to serve the district’s 16,000 students’ mental health needs. Four therapists, a public health nurse, and a supervisor who will oversee school referrals, will join a volunteer coordinator who will boost mentorship for students in Alexandria.
Prior to the council’s vote, each high school in the district had five school police officers and each middle school had three officers. Officials have cautioned that the hiring of therapists won’t be an exact swap of roles the officers once had, and is instead focused on improving mental health outcomes for students.
“This is about, ‘How do we make a stronger system? How do we bring things together so that we do have a stronger network of support for students and their families?’” Kate Garvey, director of the city’s Department of Community and Human Services, said.
Calls to fund resources, not police rang loudly last year following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Since then, several cities, including Denver, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, in addition to Alexandria, have reduced the number of officers present in schools.