After significant outcry from a school system concerned about weapons in schools, the Alexandria City Council took a dramatic 4-3 vote around 1 a.m. this morning (Wednesday) to temporarily return school resource officers (SROs) to two middle schools and Alexandria City High School until the end of this school year.
Councilman John Taylor Chapman was the lone vote to reverse course, going against Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilmen Canek Aguirre and Mo Seifeldein, who voted to keep away SROs.
“I’ve seen the smile of kids that do not fear adults in school, whether that’s law enforcement or not, and that’s what we can do,” Chapman said. “I would challenge all of us to see that future and make that change.”
SROs are police officers assigned to Alexandria’s high school and middle schools. The program started in 1997. Unlike security staff, which remain at the schools, SROs carry weapons and can fulfill the regular duties of a police officer. The SRO program has been under scrutiny for years, particularly after an officer fired his weapon in George Washington Middle School, but the push to remove police officers from schools ramped up after nationwide protests against police brutality last year.
School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that the school year so far has been punctuated by violent incidents, including a recent shooting of a student at the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center, a student being arrested with a gun on ACHS grounds, a student being arrested with a knife at ACHS, a firecracker incident that led to the evacuation of a football game, brawls inside ACHS and George Washington Middle School and more.
“Fighting is really not the reason why we need school resource officers in our school buildings,” Hutchings said. “We are not trained to deal with guns or violence or gang initiation, or things of that nature in our school buildings.”
Alexandria City High School Executive Principal Peter Balas begged Council to bring back SROs, and said that students are literally sending warning shots. He also said that gang initiations with fighting are taking place. Balas said that many of his 4,370 students have been traumatized by the pandemic and social/political upheavals over the last couple of years.
“Our students are sending us warning shots, literal warning shots,” Balas said. “My staff, the students, we’re not okay.”
I have never seen anything like this.
— Peter Balas (@PrincipalTitan) October 13, 2021
City Councilman Mo Seifeldein introduced the measure in May, redirecting $800,000 from the SRO program toward student mental health resources. Seifeldein said he was heartbroken by Council’s latest decision.
“I am truly heartbroken, I think for the first time, about a discussion in our city,” Seifeldein said. “I cannot emphasize enough how sensitive this discussion is, and the way this has been discussed… has not been the best way of presenting it to the public. I am heartbroken, but I am looking forward to the path my colleagues have worked so hard on charting.”
Councilman Canek Aguirre acknowledged that Council’s May decision was messy and that he was dismayed and frustrated by the position. Aguirre wanted more data from the school system to show a direct correlation between the SROs being gone and an increase in violence, and said that it can also be the result of a shared school-wide lunch period at ACHS, a staffing shortage and security officers not doing their jobs.
“My issue here is that you are trying to draw a direct correlation between the removal of SROs and everything else that’s been going on,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre said much of the blame for how the situation ended up lay on the School Board, which he accused of not properly planning for the removal of SROs.
“I’m dismayed and frustrated that we’re even in this position,” Aguirre said. “Schools knew that with the new lunch period and everything that was going to happen we were going to have problems. Instead of getting new bodies into the building, they decided to pay for overtime for police officers, which is time and a half. Instead of coming to Council and saying, ‘You guys made your decision, we really need these additional bodies, we’re having trouble finding the money now before the school year starts,’ I would have said ‘Yes, 100%. City manager, get that money ready.'”
Councilwoman Amy Jackson said she’s been calling for the reinstatement of SROs since the defunding decision was made in May.
“[The schools] have asked for help and it is our job to help,” Jackson said.
The decision to restore SROs to schools came near the end of a six-hour City Council meeting, where the SRO decision took up much of the discussion. The meeting also laid bare tensions not just between the City Council and the School Board, but between various members of the City Council. When Hutchings said he would go back and rewatch the discussion, Mayor Justin Wilson urged him not to waste his time.
“I’ve been up here 11 years I can’t think of a bigger waste of my time than the last three hours,” Wilson said. “I thought we were going to have a productive conversation about how we move forward in our community about a problem we’re hearing about from far too many people in our community about, frankly on both sides of the SRO decision. We had a discussion where we’re all trying to score points on an issue decided in the spring. I’m sorry that we had to do this, quite honestly.”
Wilson called the process “horrific” and shames the city’s leadership.
“This is not the way we collaborate with another elected body,” Wilson said. “This is not the way we collaborate with staff, this is not the way we collaborate with the police. This sucks. What person would watch this meeting tonight and say ‘this is the school system I want to send my schools to’ that’s governed by this relationship? This is horrible. This is absolutely horrible.”
Vernon Miles contributed to this story
Kelly Carmichael Booz says experience matters, as the former Alexandria School Board member has thrown her hat in the ring to reclaim her former District B seat.
“I don’t think we can afford as a school district after this last year-and-a-half to have a board that doesn’t have experience coming to the table,” Booz told ALXnow in an interview. “If I’m elected and if the Alexandria citizens from District B support me, I can start on day one running with and understanding of the process.”
Booz, who served on the Board from 2012-2015, lost her reelection. For her day job, she’s the director of two digital learning sites for the American Federation of Teachers, producing professional development and lesson content to 1.8 million educators around the country.
“During the pandemic, I also started thinking about running because I saw lots of conversations happening with the School Board in trying to get students and schools reopened,” she said. “I mean, this was a challenge. This was a no-win situation.”
Booz said she also struggled last year by working at home with her husband and two children. She says that she essentially became a virtual class assistant for her daughter’s second grade class at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, even going so far as to train the now-retired teacher how to operate Zoom. She also paid for her daughter to learn in a pod with other second grade girls and for her son to attend kindergarten at a daycare center in the city.
“I bring being a mother to the table,” she said. “I bring the experience of totally understanding how difficult and challenging it was to do virtual learning at home. I bring the experience of understanding the whole digital landscape, because it’s what I do for a living. And, you know, I think combined with my experience of serving on the School Board, I’m in a good position to really help make sure that we’re focused on learning, recovery, and social and emotional recovery.”
The pool of District B candidates is a little crowded. Booz faces six other candidates for the three open slots: Deborah Ash, Ashley Simpson Baird, Tammy S. Ignacio, PreeAnn Johnson, Bridget Shea Westfall and Ricardo Roberts.
Booz says Alexandria City Public Schools should have opened sooner to full-time instruction than on August 24 this year.
“I would say it took me at least year-and-a-half to really understanding the ACPS process,” Booz said, recalling how long it took for her to get used to the position after being elected in 2012. “I can’t imagine serving during a pandemic. That said, we’ve seen countless examples across the country where schools were able to get some more younger children back into schools successfully.”
Critical of superintendent
“He’s a nice guy, and his heart is absolutely in the right place for our community,” Booz said of Hutchings. “I think he’s had an impossible job. There are things that I have agreed with what he’s done, there’s things that I have did not agree with what he what he has done, or I would have liked to have seen some better communication happening.”
Booz said Hutchings brought the community together for the renaming efforts — and that she wished the same level of communication was made last year regarding the pandemic.
“(Hutchings) had these kind of sprint cycles and would basically say that, ‘We’re going to put something in place and we’re not gonna even revisit this conversation for another four weeks or five weeks,'” Booz said.
Booz is also against the colocation of affordable housing on school grounds.
“Housing does not belong on school property,” she said. “I would never support that, even if it’s housing for teachers. If we need to find some other location for teachers, let’s do it, but not on school property.”
Booz also supports having school resource officers in ACPS.
“When you have three head principals of three large schools saying that we need SROs in our schools, you’ve got to listen to your leadership,” she said. “We hire them for a reason. You gotta trust your leaders. If they’re saying we need it, then I need to trust that they’re saying that we need it.”
Booz and all of the other candidates running for the School Board will appear at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in a virtual candidate forum.
Election day is Tuesday, November 2.
Alexandria seniors can now get free transportation from Alexandria Yellow Cab to get their COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot.
“The City’s Division of Aging and Adult Services is coordinating transportation for City of Alexandria residents to and from vaccination sites in or outside of Alexandria,” the City reports. “Individuals do not need to be signed up for Senior Taxi for this service.”
VDH says that unvaccinated Virginians make up a majority of new cases. So far, 93,630 residents have been fully vaccinated and 105,859 residents have been partially vaccinated. More than 68% of residents over the age of 18 have been vaccinated, and so have nearly 80% of seniors.
Seniors are allowed to bring a companion with them, and are asked to make a vaccination appointment by calling 703-746-5999 at least two days in advance.
COVID-19 by the numbers
In the meantime, the cases in Alexandria have climbed to 13,938, an increase of 177 cases since this time last week. The death toll remains at 148.
There has been no change in the 20 cases reported in Alexandria City Public Schools in October. There were also 64 cases reported last month in ACPS.
The seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases for every 100,000 people is 15.8, which is up from 13.9 last week. There have been just over 200 cases reported in the last two weeks, and the seven-day average of positive COVID-19 tests is 3%, according to the the Virginia Department of Health.
Alexandria has experienced high transmission for more than a month, while Manassas Park and Fairfax City are seeing moderate transmission, and Arlington, Fairfax County and Kings and Queens County have moved from high to “substantial” transmission.
The Alexandria Health Department also recommends that pregnant women get vaccinated.
Alexandria Police have arrested a 38-year-old Fairfax County man for allegedly shooting an adult male multiple times in the lower body in an apartment building in the 3800 block of Cameron Mills Road in Arlandria.
“The suspect fled the scene in a vehicle before officers arrived,” police said in a release. “The victim was taken to the hospital. His injuries are not life-threatening.”
The incident occurred on Sunday, October 10, at around 2:20 a.m. at the Lloyd Apartments in the 3800 block of Cameron Mills Road. It also occurred near to where a juvenile was shot in the 500 block of Four Mile Road Sunday afternoon.
Rudy Bueso Macedo, who lives in the Alexandria part of Fairfax County was arrested on Monday and charged with Malicious Wounding, Use of a Firearm in the Commission of a Felony, and Unlawful Discharge of a Firearm, according to police. He is being held without bond in the Alexandria jail.
Anyone with information about the shooting incident is asked to contact Sergeant B. Jackson at 703-746-6616 or email [email protected]. Tips can also be given to the police non-emergency line at 703-746-4444.
An adult male was injured and a juvenile arrested last week after a fight at the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center.
The incident occurred at around 2:20 p.m. on Tuesday, October 5. The victim was treated for injuries at the scene.
“A juvenile suspect was taken into custody,” APD Senior Public Information Officer Amanda Paga told ALXnow. “Officers are still looking for several other suspects. It remains an active investigation.”
The incident follows the September 21 shooting of a juvenile at that same McDonald’s, which is a short distance from Alexandria City High School.
Northern Virginia Community College wants to close the achievement gap, and its new vice president of academic affairs and chief academic officer has a plan.
Eun-Woo Chang started work in July by visiting all six campuses and meeting with staff. His job is to take charge of NOVA’s academic initiatives, and says that the college’s ADVANCE program, which allows for a smooth transition to a four-year degree at George Mason University, will be expanded with advisors to help Hispanic students.
“This is going to be a model,” Chang told ALXnow in a recent interview. “If we are successful, we are going to implement this to the other ethnic groups, as time goes.”
Grant funding will help, Chang said, as NOVA has secured millions in grants for the project from the U.S. Department of Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. NOVA has also received $40 million from the Virginia legislature to expand its health and trades programs.
With 72,000 students spread across its campuses, NOVA was forced to up its online offerings during the pandemic. In-person classes resumed in August 2020, and a lesson learned from the experience, Chang said, was to increase availability for Zoom classes.
“Forty percent of our classes are in person, 40% of percent of our classes are in a Zoom environment, and virtual classes make up 20% right now,” he said. “We anticipate that virtual online format is going to grow even more.”
All of this is part of NOVA’s adherence to the Virginia Community College System’s Opportunity 2027 Strategic Plan. NOVA’s graduation rate last year was 29%, a 2.6% increase over year before. Approximately 64% of students in NOVA are minorities.
Chang, who was previously in academic leadership at Ashland University in Ohio and Mercer County Community College in New Jersey, moved to the area in 2008 when he was hired as a program director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation.
He also says that having First Lady Dr. Jill Biden teaching at NOVA helps the school’s profile.
“It’s an honor for us to have her as a faculty member here,” he said.
Chang says longevity is the key to his success.
“As long as they don’t kick me out, I’ll stay here,” he said. “The longest serving provost has been here more than 15 years. And then the shortest serving provost is five or six years. So, there is a longevity, and that’s why we are successful.”
Photo via NVCC
Updated at 5 p.m. Alexandria Police have made no arrests after a male juvenile was shot in Arlandria early Sunday afternoon.
The incident occurred before noon, and the juvenile was shot at the Park Vue of Alexandria apartments in the 500 block of Four Mile Road, which is near Casa Chirilagua and Four Mile Run Park. The victim’s injuries are non-life threatening.
Anyone with information about the shooting can contact Detective Trevor Griffin at [email protected]. Tips can also be given anonymously by calling the police non-emergency line at 703-746-4444.
APD makes an arrest in Sunday morning shooting on Cameron Mills Rd
Read more: https://t.co/8W4XUQ04yA
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) October 11, 2021
River Farm gets taken off the market — “Local residents cheered over email and text messages Wednesday after learning that the American Horticultural Society’s board — or what remained of it — decided not to sell its 27-acre property overlooking the Potomac River.” [Alexandria Living]
Northern Virginia AFL-CIO presents award to Rep. Don Beyer — “When the bus drivers in Alexandria – the DASH workers (who had been trying to unionize over decades, actually), Alexandria City hired a union buster and Congressman Beyer stepped in and was very forceful with his language in making the city aware that the DASH workers had a right to organize.” [Zebra]
Let’s Meat On The Avenue is restocked again after Saturday outage — “It wasn’t just restaurants impacted by Saturday’s #ArtOnTheAvenue outage. After having to toss much of their inventory, @LetsmeatDelRay is restocked and open! Picked up some beautiful pork chops for dinner. What’s your #artontheavenueafterparty stop today?” [Twitter]
Free food pop-up distribution points announced — “ALIVE! provides bags of food for specific neighborhoods or apartments, in collaboration with community partners, in the parking lot at each pop-up emergency food distribution location.” [City of Alexandria]
Today’s weather — “Mostly cloudy skies. High 77F. Winds E at 5 to 10 mph… A few clouds. Low 63F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]
New job: Lot attendant/Porter — “We have full and part time positions available.” [Indeed]
(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) Alexandria City High School is back to normal operating status after a lockdown Tuesday morning when a student was arrested outside the school with a handgun.
The school released the following note at around 12:30 p.m.:
The status of the Alexandria City High School (ACHS) building has changed from lockdown to “secure the building” mode. This means that the school day reverts to normal status inside the building but no one is allowed to enter or leave the ACHS King Street school campus while the building remains secured. Updates will continue to be shared as more information becomes available.
ACHS Executive Principal Peter Balas confirmed in a note to parents that a student was arrested outside the school.
“We want to inform Alexandria City High School families that we received a call this morning to notify us about a student who possessed a weapon outside of the school building,” Balas wrote. “We immediately contacted the Alexandria Police Department, and APD is on capus and conducting an active investigation.”
Balas continued, “The student was not in the building at the time of the call and has since been taken into custody by APD, and the weapon has been confiscated.”
Balas said that there is no immediate threat and that the school is in lockdown out of an abundance of caution.
ALXnow has sent questions to Alexandria Police and Alexandria City Public Schools for an update.
On Friday, Balas wrote a letter to the community that a recent shooting of a student at the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center and the firecracker incident at a recent ACHS football game has added to a “heightened sensitivity” within the school.
Alexandria Police are investigating a former employee at a doctor’s office in the West End, who is suspected of computer trespassing after allegedly changing his computer passwords after getting fired.
The former employee, who was an aide at the office, was fired on September 17 for “failing to adequately perform her job,” and was escorted out by Alexandria Police after becoming “irate” and “disorderly,” police reported in a search warrant.
Three days later, the doctor wasn’t able to log into his Google account. He contacted the company, and found that the recovery account for his email belonged to the former employee.
Police then tried to contact the employee multiple times unsuccessfully. The crime is a Class 1 misdemeanor, but if damages are estimated at more than $1,000 it is a Class 6 felony. The former employee has not been charged.