In the wake of last week’s fatal stabbing of Alexandria City High School student Luis Mejia Hernandez, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. has advised School Board members to not talk with the media.
No arrests have yet been made after the May 24 incident, which resulted from an afternoon brawl with 30-to-50 Alexandria City High School students in the McDonald’s parking lot of the Bradlee Shopping Center.
Hutchings wrote the Board the following note:
You may receive media inquiries regarding recent events. Please do not speak about the incident. I’ve spoken with our communications team to please refrain from using the term ‘no comment’.
However, please say ‘I will refer this media inquiry to our communications team’ then forward to Julia (Burgos with ACPS communications) and Kathy (Mimberg of ACPS communications). Thanks a million!
Sent from Dr. Hutchings’ iPhone
Many School Board Members and City leaders tweeted about Hernandez’s murder, including Mayor Justin Wilson who wants to implement immediate solutions.
Wilson said that he talks to the media “all day long,” and that elected officials report to the voters and are accountable to them.
“I appreciate that each of the seven members of Council offer diverse perspectives on the issues facing our community,” Wilson told ALXnow. “I would hope that the media would reflect that in coverage, based on conversations with each member.”
The incident occurred on the same day as the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which gained national attention and placed responding officials under intense media scrutiny.
School Board Member Abdel Elnoubi was the only Board member to respond to ALXnow’s request for comment.
“My position hasn’t changed on this,” Elnoubi told ALXnow. “I understand that Dr. Hutchings may be worried if we say something, it may be attributed to the division. We don’t work for the division though, we oversee it and we work for the people of Alexandria, we represent The people. As elected officials, we are free to choose how, where and what to communicate with the community, which gets to hold us accountable. In times like these, the community needs to hear from its leaders and policymakers.”
School safety and transparency have been key issues within ACPS under Hutchings, This is the second instance this year that Hutchings has asked the Board to not talk to the press — both times due to controversial subjects.
In March, the school system was under scrutiny after right-wing outlet National Review broke a story accusing ACPS of covering up a suspected sexual assault case. Hutchings then told Board members to pass on all media questions to ACPS communications — as he said Board members need to be careful out of concern for the school division.
In the meantime, ACPS is also mapping out its future with school resource officers with the high school’s four campuses and the city’s two middle schools.
In April, Hutchings scolded the Board for their edits of a staff report on his plan to create a School Law Enforcement Advisory Group, which will make recommendations for SROs in schools to Hutchings by this fall.
Hutchings emailed Board Members that there were legal issues with their making edits outside of a Board meeting, and that the edits were “extremely problematic,” “inappropriate,” and “disrespectful.”
At the time, Elnoubi responded to Hutching’s directive by telling ALXnow that he will not be a rubber stamp for Hutchings and the school system, and that he is accountable to his constituents.
School resource officers were briefly defunded by City Council last summer, and the first few months of the school year were punctuated by violent events, including two robberies, three drug offenses, a bomb threat and 13 pulled fire alarms. There are no SROs at Alexandria City High School’s King Street campus since both officers were placed on leave after a “serious complaint” from a former student alleging “sexually inappropriate conversations” while she attended ACHS.
ACPS has wrestled with an increase in violent crime incidents this school year. According to a school safety report released in March, 18 ACPS students were arrested in the first two quarters of this school year, in addition to 41 reported fights/assaults and 13 seized weapons. The weapons seized include a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray.
Earlier this year, Hutchings co-authored the book “The Anti-Racist Counternarrative Public Education Needs Now: Six steps for escaping the trap of attacks on ‘critical race theory’.” In the book, which Hutchings will not discuss with media, Hutchings wrote that school systems should avoid being racist by abolishing policing practices.
Police Chief Don Hayes says that police are needed in schools.
“I think they’re needed now,” Hayes told ALXnow. “My hope would be one day we won’t be needed, that we won’t have to go to the schools, and that will be great. I think that’s what they’re working towards, as far as putting this community advisory group together, and figuring out what can they do better to deal with all the safety issues that they might be having in the schools. We’re willing to help them with that so that one day we don’t have to have SROs in the schools, and they can be taken out of the schools and be back out in the neighborhoods, and we can really continue to do our community policing part.”
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