Alexandria City Public Schools is has a “crew” problem — organized groups of kids that are participating in criminal behavior, according to Police Chief Don Hayes.
If the description sounds like a gang, there’s not much difference. Hayes says that the school system is also dealing with gang activity.
“We have gangs, and we also have groups called crews with young males going around and just doing violent acts, but also just instigating crimes, things like that,” Hayes said on Monday night (September 26) at Agenda Alexandria‘s discussion on school safety. “We know that they are not just in our school system, but our neighborhoods.”
In the meantime, ACPS is also contending with an opioid crisis. Between April 1 and May 1, there were six opioid overdoses of minors in Alexandria. Each ACPS school carries has the prescription medicine Narcan, which can reverse an opioid overdose through injection or intranasal mist.
“I would say we do have a fentanyl crisis in the city, as evidenced by the opioid workgroup,” said Julie Crawford, the ACPS chief of Student Services and Equity. “It’s challenging as a school system to be able to identify the exact substance without getting the information from our students. But we know that many things that students may think are not as harmful, like marijuana, which of course we know is harmful, we don’t want our students using is more likely to be laced with fentanyl.”
Safety in schools has been a top issue in Alexandria since full in-person schooling resumed at the beginning of the last school year. ACPS began the 2021-2022 school year without school resource officers, after they were defunded by the City Council in last year’s budget. What followed was an uptick in incidents with weapons in schools that prompted School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and former Superintendent Gregory Hutchings to plead for their return in October 2021.
The discussion, which was moderated by Alexandria journalist Michael Lee Pope, comes on the heels of a new safety report detailing arrest and security incidents in the final two quarters of the 2021-2022 school year. There were 46 students arrested and 68 injured last school year, and 194 incidents that provoked a police response, according to the report. The school system will now begin compiling the data on a more regular basis, using the 2021-2022 school year as a baseline for future improvement.
Hayes said that the police presence of school resource officers at Alexandria City High School’s campuses and at the city’s middle schools has resulted in a safer beginning to the school year than last year.
“I believe that here are going to be incidents that are going to happen but I believe that because of partnerships that we’ve developed there, because of our presence there, because of extra security specifically for the high school,” Hayes said. “I know for a fact this year has been less eventful than the past two years, and even before the pandemic happened, and I think it’s getting to a point now where we are looking better.”
Herb Berg, the ACPS superintendent from 1995 to 2001, said that the pandemic created a crisis of education within Alexandria’s school system.
“We have 15,700 kids who lost two years of education,” Berg said. “That is a crisis of huge magnitude… I think the city council and the mayor needs to be asking for a meeting with the City School Board, and the superintendent and best minds in the city to put their arms around this issue. These kids have lost an education, and you’re not going to be able to make it if you don’t make it the number one priority.”
The School Board is set to receive the recommendations on the reimagined partnership between ACPS and the police department with a recommendation from the Superintendent’s School Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Group in mid-December.
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