The 2021-2022 school year was “crazy”, says René Islas, the parent of four Alexandria City Public Schools students.
Islas leads The Community Group, a new movement of locals with a list of safety recommendations for the city and school system. After a school year punctuated by violent events, Islas said ACPS needs to work on prevention, justice, and accountability.
“Last year was a crazy year,” Islas told ALXnow. “I can’t tell you how many times I picked up one of my four children from school because they felt that it was either wasted time or unsafe.”
One of Islas’s children even chose to hide during lunchtime out of fear of being hurt by a fight, and he forgets the number of times he picked up his children early from school.
“On many occasions, there were substitute teachers that were not teaching the children,” he said. “There was no one in control of the school or my kids, so I’d go and pick them up.”
On July 16, The Community Group met at Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library to whittle down their list to these action items they want ACPS to implement:
- Increase transparency publishing timely data
- An early warning and timely response system for at-risk youth
- Maintain School Resource Officers
- Increase personnel in schools
In May, Islas created the group’s “Community Views of Safety in Alexandria Schools” survey. Many of the responses to the survey, which got 179 responses, were by aggrieved parents.
Below are some of their written comments in that survey:
“While in middle school, my son was struck by 3 boys in the bathroom. We reported it but nothing was done.”
“My kindergarten student was physically harmed by another student. We were able to resolve a bullying situation with the school, and are satisfied. I am more concerned with reports of sexual assaults, physical beatings of students, and weapons brought into schools or discharged on or near school property, and also it would be very beneficial to parents if we had more communication to us on incidents occurring at Alexandria schools.”
“My spouse was accosted at a varsity football game by a gang of students. My oldest son (Class of 2021) was assaulted at GW in 7th Grade.”
“Some kids on my child’s school bus (elementary school) are just out of control. They use F word all the time and some of them are in 1st grade, tell the bus driver to shut up, someone smoked, someone threw a rock at the bus driver etc. I talked to the assistant principal at least 3 times, she talked to the kids many times but no improvements. I’m worried about the middle school (Hammond) he is going to in a few years with these kids.”
Islas has a meeting set up next week to talk with City Councilwoman Alyia Gaskins, he says, and has widely distributed the results of the survey to City Council and the School Board. Gaskins recently co-authored a citywide memo with Mayor Justin Wilson on improving school safety.
“Parents just want to know, to have some visibility into what’s happening in school,” Islas said. “We need more action. We’re trying to spur that along and offer some solutions that are sensible, that they can act on, and we’re happy to help in any way that we can.”
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.
Islas also wants more documentation released, like on the two final quarters of the school year.
“We have safety data from the first two quarters, but not the third or fourth quarters,” Islas said.
On the early warning system, Islas says that the school system should be aware if kids don’t turn in their homework, or are tardy, or exhibit alarming behavior.
“If the kid has been absent from school for several days, somebody would be notified to find out why and how and discern how they can help the child,” Islas said. “Instead of waiting until there’s a major incident, and they have to call the police and all of those things. Does that make sense?”
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