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(Updated 9:40 a.m.) Alexandria City High School and the Minnie Howard Campuses are on lockdown and will have an asynchronus learning day.

According to the school’s website:

For the safety and security of our students and staff, the Alexandria City High School King Street and Minnie Howard Campuses are currently on lockdown status and today, October 14, 2021, will be an asynchronous day. This is due to an anonymous threat that the Alexandria Police Department (APD) received. APD is currently conducting a threat assessment to determine credibility. More details to follow when the assessment is complete.

This is the second lockdown in the last two weeks. Last Tuesday, the school was put into lockdown when a student brought a loaded handgun onto the campus and was stopped at a school entrance.

On Twitter, Alexandria City High School Principal Peter Balas online education site Canvas for school assignments.

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(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.

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Alexandria City High School Executive Principal Peter Balas says that violence within the school is being handled and students caught fighting are being dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

In a letter to the Alexandria City High School community on Friday (October 1), 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. He also said 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.

“We have all been affected by the conflict among some students in our school and in the community,” Balas wrote. “With the unfortunate incidents at the football game and shopping center, there is heightened sensitivity among students and staff adding to the pressures of this unusual school year.”

Balas did not mention the security situation at the school, which is the largest high school in Virginia.

Many have criticized City Council’s defunding of the School Resource Officer program, which left no police presence inside of the high school and two middle schools, although police have been called several times this year because of fighting. In one instance, a juvenile was arrested for trespassing and assault and battery on ACHS grounds.

“As the Executive Principal of ACHS, I want to assure you that I do not, and will not, tolerate unsafe behaviors that disrupt the learning environment or the events that make high school a special time in most teenagers’ lives,” Balas said. “Please know that we all take these situations very seriously and deal with each case and each student with the utmost seriousness. Each incident of this school year has been handled by my administrative team and all sorts of consequences are considered.”

Balas said that his team is working with the ACPS Department of Student Services & Equity to plan “additional in-school activities that promote restorative practices” to support students “with their individual needs.”

“The events of the past two years have left many of our students, dare I say, most of our students and maybe even all of our students, feeling the impact of trauma,” he wrote. “The effects of trauma are varied. For teenagers who are still developing coping skills, the effects of trauma can manifest in behaviors that are oppositional and even impulsive.”

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Update on 10/2/21 — The videos of the fights at the school have been removed from Instagram, and have since been removed from the story. 

A number of recent student fights at George Washington Middle School have been posted on Instagram.

The videos have been taken by children at the school and show teachers and other students breaking up incidents. They have been posted by an Instagram user named gwmsfights2022.

The first video was posted on September 4, and the videos were taken this school year, as the school appears to be operating at capacity and students are wearing face masks. The most recent video was posted five days ago.

Alexandria City Public Schools is aware of the posts and reported them to Instagram. The school system said in a statement that, while there are no police on school grounds, the security situation at the school is under control.

“School administrators have addressed any incidents this year in accordance with standard protocols for disciplinary issues,” ACPS said in a statement. “School safety and security is a top priority for our schools. ACPS leadership works with our security team to maintain a safe environment for students and staff in our buildings. Student involvement in incidents is investigated by school administration to include witnesses and handled using a tiered system of support for all students involved.”

ACPS would not say how many students have been suspended at the school this year.

Many believe the fights are the result of no school resource officers within Alexandria City Public Schools. In a move that was decried by the School Board earlier this year, City Council defunded SROs in a 4-3 vote.

There was a protest on SROs earlier this week outside City Hall, as several violent incidents have alarmed parents and political candidates. In a recent interview with ALXnow, School Board Chair Meagan Alderton also said that she wants to salvage the student-police relationship.

“Not sure if it’s the lack of SROs or the fact that we kept the public school kids out of school for two years, but neither one of those decisions seem particularly good to me right now,” an ACPS parent told ALXnow.

This is not the first of fighting videos that has surfaced since school started on August 24. ALXnow recently posted a video of a brawl at Alexandria City High School.

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(Updated at 10:40 a.m. Alexandria City High School’s rates increased to their highest levels ever, not the highest in Virginia) Alexandria City High School has a lot more than just a new name to be proud of. This week, the school system announced that its recent graduating class saw the highest on-time graduation rate and the lowest student dropout rate in the school’s history.

“ACPS saw a nine-percentage point increase in the on-time graduation rate, from 82% in 2020 to 91% in 2021, and a nine-percentage point decrease in the overall student dropout rate, from 14% in 2020 to 5% in 2021,” ACPS reported. “The previous highest on-time graduation rate for ACPS was 86% in 2013 and the previous lowest dropout rate was 8% in 2019.”

The school system has been challenged by the pandemic on multiple fronts, and the figures reflect a student body that was mostly studying at home for a year.  To contend with the challenge of nearly the entire student body studying at home, ACPS developed a Graduation Task Force, which “monitored the graduation status of all ACPS students, identifying those who needed extra support and developing plans to help them stay on track for graduation,” according to ACPS.

The graduation rate for English learners increased by 19%, Hispanic students saw a 15% increase and economically disadvantaged students saw a 10% increase, according to ACPS.

“These historic gains in the 2021 graduation and student dropout rates reflect the daily hard work and determination of our students and staff. They deserve our congratulations and our deepest thanks,” School Board Chair Meagan L. Alderton said.

The 2021 graduation rates are as follows:

  • Black: 93%
  • Hispanic: 84%
  • White: 98%
  • Students with Disabilities: 95%
  • English Learners: 90%
  • Economically Disadvantaged: 88%

“We are thrilled that more than 90% of our students graduated in 2021, and that the number of students who dropped out of school was just one-third of what that rate was in 2020,” said Alexandria City High School Executive Principal Peter Balas. “We know there is still work to be done but I want to acknowledge the remarkable gains of our students, especially our Hispanic students and English learners, as we report the highest graduation rate ever for ACPS.

https://twitter.com/ACPSk12/status/1443682038238912518

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Weeks of tension and frustration over violence in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) boiled over last night with a small crowd of parents shouting at City Council members to restore the school resource officer (SRO) program.

In May, the City Council voted 4-3 in favor of reallocating funding away from SROs, a program started in 1997 that installed police officers in Alexandria’s high school and two middle schools. While the schools have additional security staff, SROs were authorized make arrests and carry weapons — a fact that made headlines in 2018 when an SRO accidentally fired his gun inside George Washington Middle School.

As ACPS returned to full in-person school days, several incidents of violence have renewed calls from some parents and community members to restore the program.

“My daughter with special needs is at ACPS,” said Jennifer Rohrbach, who drops her child off at school every day. “I witnessed two fights while dropping off my daughter. The lack of support for these kids, it’s distressing and upsetting. For me, as a lifelong Alexandrian… to hear those screams of distress, it’s unnecessary. There have been fights before, but not to this level.”

Rohrbach shared stories circulating among parents about extreme accounts of bullying and concerns about a “devious licks challenge” on TikTok. Rohrbach said the removal of SROs, intended to help reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, has made the schools unsafe for all students. Though she wore a shirt supporting Republican Mayoral candidate Annetta Catchings, Rohrbach said she’s traditionally liberal and that the protest was non-partisan.

“A lot of defunding the program was about the African American population, but this is about all kids,” Rohrbach said. “Now no one is being served. I’m looking for safe schools for all students.”

Catchings was one of those protesting in support of restoring the SRO program.

“I’m out here in solidarity with parents,” Catchings said. “On the drive over, I thought back to the start of my campaign holding an ‘Open ACPS‘ sign… we have to make school a safe environment that isn’t toxic.”

One of the protestors, Roxana Guerra, is the parent of a 7th grader at George Washington Middle School. Guerra said she’s been in a state of constant anxiety after her son was assaulted in school.

“Two weeks ago, my son was bullied,” Guerra said. “His mask was pulled and he was slapped in the face. I didn’t find out until another parent told me, then the dean confirmed it… that he was hurt. I have anxiety every day and hope that he comes home safe. Finding this out by a third party was concerning, and anything could happen if these kids are coming in with weapons. I want our kids to be safe.”

Others at the protest noted that parents are so on edge a firecracker set off an evacuation from Alexandria City High School’s stadium during a football game.

“I’m a native Alexandrian, a product of ACPS,” said Liz Fuller. “The violence in schools is shocking. Children are not safe in school… Administrators are being pushed down in fights, security is being pushed, children are suffering brain injuries. The City Council has to listen to parents. They need to be held accountable. They defunded SROs with no plan.”

Protestors cornered City Council members who voted to defund the program as they entered City Hall, demanding that they change their position. Two, John Chapman and Canek Aguirre, briefly spoke with the crowd. Amy Jackson, who had voted against defunding the program, received more of a hero’s welcome from the crowd as she entered the building. Read More

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Police outside the McDonalds where a shooting occurred, staff photo by James Cullum

What a busy week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was on a juvenile who was shot outside the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center on Tuesday, Sept. 21. There have also been a number of concerning incidents at Alexandria City Public Schools, including a juvenile who was arrested for trespassing and assault and battery at Alexandria City High School.

Meanwhile, while the COVID-19 transmission rate remains high, public events are still happening in Alexandria.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Police: Juvenile shot at shopping center near Alexandria City High School
  2. Police dispatched three times for fighting at Alexandria City Public Schools in less than a month
  3. Police: Six hospitalized after overdoses on Alexandria-Fairfax border
  4. Poll: What do you think of Metro’s proposed Blue Line crossing to National Harbor?
  5. BREAKING: Flooding reported in Alexandria
  6. Interview: Port City Publius opens up about Alexandria
  7. BREAKING: Video shows brawl at Alexandria City High School cafeteria just two days after school starts
  8. Juvenile arrested for trespassing and assault and battery at Alexandria City High School
  9. Multiple violent charges dropped against Fairfax County man held without bond for assaulting police during arrest
  10. Preserving Arlandria’s affordability against gentrification could cost upward of $100 million
  11. JUST IN: One person injured after shots fired in West End Tuesday afternoon

Have a safe weekend! 

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Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, photo via Google Maps

(Updated 12:10 p.m.) Douglas MacArthur Elementary School has been closed for today at least as crews work to clean water damage in the building.

The school, currently located in the former Patrick Henry facility on 4633 Taney Avenue, has been closed today from water damage and it’s currently unclear when the school will reopen.

“Douglas MacArthur Elementary School must be closed today to allow our facilities and maintenance team to clean up from water damage in the building,” Alexandria City Public Schools said on the school’s webpage. “Teachers will post resources and activities for students on Clever and Canvas by noon. More information will be communicated to families as it becomes available.”

A notification was posted on the Douglas MacArthur Elementary School Twitter page but has since been taken down.

“At this time, we have a contractor that has come in to assess damage and clean the building,” an ACPS official said. “That is all the information we have right now, and we will update families once more details become available.”

Photo via Google Maps

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(Updated at 10:15 a.m. on Friday) A juvenile was arrested for assault and battery and trespassing at Alexandria City High School on Friday, September 10, according to the Alexandria Police Department.

“At ACHS this school year, there has been one incident where a juvenile was arrested for assault and battery and trespassing on September 10, 2021,” Alexandria Police said. “Due to the strict confidentiality of juvenile criminal justice records, we cannot provide further information to explain those charges or where the juvenile suspect or victim resides.”

Fighting in and around Virginia’s largest high school has been in the news lately.

A juvenile was shot after school outside of a McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center near ACHS on Tuesday, September 21. No arrests from that incident are reported.

A juvenile was also arrested after a fight at the McDonald’s at around 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, September 22.

Some say the violence is due to the defunding of school resource officers by City Council. Consequently, there will be a demonstration regarding SROs outside City Hall on September 28 (Tuesday) at 5 p.m.

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The Alexandria School Board on Thursday (September 23) will vote Thursday on a number of policy and regulatory revisions on the treatment of transgender students.

Among the changes are proposals to not segregate extracurricular activities by gender and allowing students to dress according to their gender identity or gender expression. Student athletes would still, sometimes, be segregated.

“Dress expectations should allow students to dress in a manner consistent with their gender identity or gender expression, including attire required for school-related programs, activities and events,” ACPS notes in a staff memo. “An organization may only impose membership qualifications based on sex where based on competitive athletic skill or where the activity involved is a contact sport. However, membership shall not be denied solely on the basis of gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”

The Board is making the changes to adhere to Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE’s) Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools, since the General Assembly now requires that all public schools in Virginia have inclusive policies regarding transgender students by the fall of 2021.

“Teachers, administrators, and other personnel employed on a full-time basis who support and interact with students are required to complete a mental health awareness training or similar program,” notes an ACPS memo. “In order to promote a positive school climate where all students feel safe and supported, regular education about transgender students will be included in such training.”

The regulatory revisions highlight eight issues, according to ACPS:

  1. Compliance with applicable nondiscrimination laws;
  2. Maintenance of a safe and supportive learning environment free from discrimination and harassment for all students;
  3. Prevention of and response to bullying and harassment;
  4. Maintenance of student records;
  5. Identification of students;
  6. Protection of student privacy and the confidentiality of sensitive information;
  7. Enforcement of sex-based dress codes; and
  8. Student participation in sex-specific school activities and events and use of school facilities. (“Activities and events” do not include athletics.)
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