D.C. Council member Zachary Parker expressed concerns that funds are often being spread too thinly across District public schools, much to the detriment of families living in Wards 5, 7 and 8. (Courtesy photo)
**FILE** D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (Courtesy photo)

Community members at W.B. Patterson Elementary School in Southwest continue to reel from allegations that officers of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) harmed male students during an event on school grounds last week. 

As the investigation continues, some people, like a community member who requested anonymity, called the visit in question a positive experience in an open space that solidified bonds between the officers and the third graders — some of whom were in danger of succumbing to the pressures of gangs and bullying. 

The community member with knowledge of Thursday’s assembly told The Informer that photos of the bruised third graders that have been circulating online were related to another incident. They went on to say that the allegations threaten to taint the work school administrators and teachers have done to support students and their families.   

“The officers were a great example of what was needed,” the community member said. “They were simply here to talk to students about avoiding gang activity and what it means to be a bully. They encouraged [the students] to do well in school and focus on their journeys. They reinforced their support as mentors and motivators. There weren’t any negative or aggressive interactions. After the event, it appeared as though the students responded positively based on their conversations with others in the school community.”   

The Allegations

Last week,a Patterson Elementary School parent told a local news outlet that her son revealed to her  that an MPD officer took him and two other third graders to a computer room, accused them of admiring gangs, and engaged them in a physical confrontation that busted her son’s lip and chipped another student’s tooth. 

The Informer unsuccessfully attempted to establish contact with parents of Patterson students alleged to have been harmed by MPD. 

According to a letter that Dr. Victorie Thomas, the principal of Patterson Elementary School, sent to parents, the alleged incident had been referred to MPD and reported to the Child and Family Services Agency. D.C. Public Schools’ (DCPS) Central Services Comprehensive Alternative Resolution & Equity (CARE) Team has also been dispatched to provide students and families with support.   

DCPS didn’t respond to an inquiry about the status of the students directly involved in the alleged incident. MPD said its Internal Affairs Division is currently conducting an investigation. 

Examining Legislation

Last week’s incident intensified ongoing discussions about the necessity of having police officers in District schools. 

D.C. Council legislation approved after George Floyd’s murder has incrementally removed school resource officers (SROs) from District schools. However, public and public charter school administrators have appealed to Mayor Muriel Bowser and the council to change course in light of increasing incidents of on-campus physical conflicts. 

In her fiscal year 2024 budget proposal, Bowser allocates funds for only 40 SROs. Much to the chagrin of advocates, the budget proposal doesn’t include enhancements for school safety. 

As the D.C. Council continues to gather input from community members and agency leaders at hearings, Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5) has expressed a desire to expand the scope of what schools can provide its students and faculty in the realm of safety. 

During the latter part of March, Parker introduced the School Safety Enhancement Amendment Act. If passed, the legislation would direct the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to facilitate the creation of guidelines used to review school safety plans. 

It would also put the onus on the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education to create a system through which emergency agencies can share information with schools and child development centers. 

Other elements of the legislation include the installation of a school safety director at every District school. At the high school level, a school safety assistant director would accompany the school safety director.  School safety teams, under the direction of these leaders, would be required to create procedures for clearer and more effective coordination with MPD. 

Parker, who said he has been in communication with council colleagues about the alleged incident at Patterson Elementary School, said he drafted the School Safety Enhancement Amendment Act out of concern about SROs’ ability to manage the crises that students experience. 

He touted the legislation as research based and inclusive of insight from the Office of the Student Advocate and local nonprofit Black Swan Academy. 

“There is no proposal to change from the status quo and I’m hearing that we need an alternative that expands capacity [for keeping students safe] in schools,” Parker said. “The qualifications for director would be decided by OSSE and a working group. We know it would need to be someone familiar with our schools, with the [ability] to improve safety. We’re hoping we can allocate funds for FY 2024 since there are no enhancements for school safety.” 

Patterson Elementary School serves children between pre-K3 and 5th grade who live in the Congress Heights, Bellevue and Washington Highlands communities. Enrichment provided by the school includes Academic Power Hour, Reading Recovery and Reading Partners, BURST and Level Literacy Intervention, and Creative Curriculum. 

Students also receive special education support, in addition to opportunities for artistic expression. 

In the aftermath of the alleged incident, administrators at Patterson Elementary School continue to reassure community members that students are safe on school grounds, whether they are around their peers or adults. 

“I want to assure you that the safety and well-being of our students are our top priority; and I recognize that this news is concerning,” Thomas said in the letter sent home to parents last week. “Patterson’s dedicated mental health team members are available to support any students who are impacted by what they may have seen — we are here to provide them with the time or space to react and share their feelings.”

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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