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City Council stepping in to prevent youth violence within Alexandria City Public Schools

In the wake of the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez, the Alexandria City Council is taking an active role in reducing violence in schools, according to a Council memo that will be discussed tonight (June 13).

Up for discussion is the creation of “a citywide, multi-year plan with clear objectives, activities, agency roles and contributions, and performance metrics” by this September, as well as a youth safety and violence prevention summit by the end of July.

The memo was written by Mayor Justin Wilson and Council Member Alyia Gaskins, and will be  in a joint session between Council and the School Board.

“In the aftermath of a spate of recent violence, including the tragic death of Luis Mejia Hernandez on May 24th, it is clear that we must do more to promote youth safety and resilience, prevent youth violence before it occurs, and respond more effectively when we fail to prevent violence,” wrote Wilson and Gaskins. “In the short-term the Alexandria Police Department will continue its work to investigate recent acts of violence and provide appropriate security interventions to make future acts of violence less likely. To sustainably support the resiliency of our youth and prevent violence, we need to listen as much as we talk.”

Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. will not attend the session, which will discuss improving student safety and resilience. Hutchings, who announced his resignation last Friday, is out of the office until June 21.

Wilson and Gaskins wrote that the city needs to collaborate with all of its departments, as well as state agencies to “mobilize all available resources.”

“The City is uniquely positioned to pull together public agencies, local businesses, philanthropy, faith- and community-based partners, parents, youth, and interested community members to reduce youth violence and improve outcomes for our youth and neighborhoods,” Wilson and Gaskins wrote in the memo. “Given the urgency of these issues, it is the expectation that the summit will take place by the end of July and the draft plan come before Council in September.”

Council will also discuss the formation of the 16-person School Law Enforcement Partnership Advisory Group — a controversial Superintendent-led group tasked with reimagining the relationship between ACPS and the Alexandria Police Department. School Resource Officers have been a controversial subject within ACPS since Council briefly defunded them last year.

According to the memo, the City Council and School Board will discuss:

  •  How does ACPS and City work together to identify gaps in systems and process that result in violence and trauma for our youth?
  • What are the expected products of the SLEP Advisory Group and how will they be received and considered?
  • How should ACPS and the City work in partnership to reduce community gun violence and mishaps?

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.

In his resignation announcement, Hutchings said his role as superintendent limited his ability to speak freely and openly about what school systems need to be more equitable. Earlier this year, he co-authored “Getting Into Good Trouble at School: A Guide to Building an Anti-racist School System” and called for abolishing policing in schools.

In an interview with ALXnow, Police Chief Don Hayes says police are needed in ACPS at this time.

According to the memo:

In the short-term the Alexandria Police Department will continue its work to investigate recent acts of violence and provide appropriate security interventions to make future acts of violence less likely. To sustainably support the resiliency of our youth and prevent violence, we need to listen as much as we talk. We must engage a diverse range of stakeholders to listen to the experiences of our young people and center their voices, learn what is at the root of youth trauma and violence, and act. With this rigorous engagement, we can design and refine the systems and reforms required to:

  • Address youth trauma and mental health
  • Coordinate across sectors to identify challenges, needs, and opportunities
  • Develop sustainable strategies to align services and existing initiatives
  • Identify metrics and transparent processes to hold ourselves accountable
  • Target investments at identified gaps
  • Prioritize equity

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