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ACPS officials say new safety policies are working

Alexandria City Public Schools officials say that their strategies to make school safer are working, although it will take time to tell if they’re right.

Flanked by city, school and police officials, interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said at a student safety forum on Wednesday night that crime incidents are down this school year.

Kay-Wyatt didn’t present data to back up the claim that schools are safer, but said that it’s because of a new identification requirement for students and staff at Alexandria City High School, staggering dismissal times, designating entrances for students and staff at schools, and providing all ACPS students with a mandatory 30 minutes of daily Social and Emotional Learning (SEAL) time.

“While we see that incidents are down, I remain very hopeful,” Kay-Wyatt said. “I believe that it’s (due to) of some of those SEAL lessons that are in place and other supports that we put in place throughout the school year to make sure that we are supporting families and students.”

There were 46 students arrested and 68 injured in the 2021-2022 school year, with 194 incidents that provoked a police response, according to an ACPS safety report. The school system is, in fact, using the 2021-2022 school year as a baseline for future improvement.

Transportation-wise, the city recently approved the installation of speed cameras in five school zones, as well as reducing speed limits in school zones to 15 miles per hour. The city is also working on walk audits for potential pedestrian improvements on roadways near Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School, George Washington and Francis C. Hammond Middle Schools, and both ACHS campuses.

By December, Kay-Wyatt will also receive recommendations on a reimagined partnership between ACPS and the police department, the latter of which provides school resource officers to the high school and the city’s middle schools. In the meantime, a proposal will be presented to the School Board to continue the SRO program as it stands until the end of the school year.

“Last year was very challenging, extremely challenging,” John Contreras, ACPS Director of Safety and Security Services, said at the forum. “It was a very challenging year and this year is a bit calmer.”

Contreras also did not present any safety data on this school year.

While the school system might feels safer, it will take time to collect the data to really see what’s working, said School Board Member Abdel Elnoubi, who attended the meeting as an audience member.

“You’ve got to give it time,” Elnoubi said.

One high school student at the event said that SEAL lessons aren’t working, and that the information being presented to the community is being “sugar-coated.”

“They have us do community circles to share our emotions, but it’s high schoolers,” another student said. “Nobody want to talk about how they feel. It’s just an awkward experience.”

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