Newsletter

It’s been more than a month after the school resource officers were placed on leave at Alexandria City High School, and police have yet to replace those officers.

The officers were placed on leave shortly before the winter break after a former student alleged having “sexually inappropriate conversations” while she attended ACHS, according to the Washington Post.

Police said that the investigation of the officers is ongoing, and were vague as to what the plan is for the future.

SROs continue to work in the city’s two middle schools, and the memorandum of understanding between the police and schools remains in place. But there are no SROs at ACHS, which has more than 4,000 students and is the largest high school in Virginia.

“The SROs for ACHS have not returned, but we will continue working with the ACHS staff, to ensure students and staff are safe,” APD public information officer Marcel Bassett told ALXnow. “The plan is what it always has been for APD, which is to protect and serve all members of the Alexandria community.”

SROs are police officers with sidearms who receive 40 hours of specialized training with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Service’s Center for School Safety. They work alongside unarmed security personnel, and are trained in deescalation, seizure and arrests on school grounds, operating during active shooting incidents and working alongside kids with emotional and behavioral issues.

SROs were briefly defunded by City Council last year, and were brought back after outcry from the school system after a number of incidents with weapons in and around schools.

ACPS deferred all questions to the police department.

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Alexandria City Public Schools received 88,000 KN95 face masks for all students and staff last week, not long after newly installed Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order removing face mask mandates in public schools.

Alexandria, along with Arlington and Fairfax County, defied that order and are still requiring students, staff and visitors wear masks indoors. The Alexandria City High School athletic department has also reinstituted mask wearing during practices and competition.

“The Universal masking, of course, is critical in all of our ACPS buildings and on our vehicles,” Julie Crawford, the ACPS chief of student services and equity, told the School Board last Thursday night. “We want to stress how important properly secured masks are to decreasing the transmission rate, especially for in-person activities.”

The 88,000 KN95 masks consist of both adult and student-sized masks, according to Alicia Hart, the ACPS acting chief of facilities and operations.

“Due to the limited supply, the first priority for the KN95 mask distribution is for ACPS students and staff,” Hart said. “As additional masks arrive, provisions for visitors will be considered. Please note that there are no non-essential visitors to our schools at this time.”

Hart could not say how long the shipment will last, but said ACPS will make more orders if necessary.

“We will continue to make additional orders as necessary, which is our standard practice with all PPE (personal protective equipment) needs,” Hart said.

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Three years after Alexandria’s School Board voted to stick with one high school, plans are headed to Alexandria’s City Council that could help shed light on what that one high school system looks like.

As a quick refresher: the Minnie Howard campus currently hosts 9th-grade classes but will be expanded to act as a larger satellite campus for Alexandria City High School with a total of 1,600 students.

The current school will remain in operation while the new school is built to the east in areas that are currently athletic fields. Once the new building is constructed, the current Minnie Howard building will be removed and replaced with new athletic and recreational facilities, along with a bus loop and parking.

“The DSUP submission seeks to provide additional classroom space for the growing high school population, as well as community meeting space, public recreation space and address site
circulation for pedestrians and motorists,” a staff report said. “The new five-story high school will be approximately 313,355 square feet and is designed for a capacity of approximately 1,600 students in grades 9th through 12th and 200 faculty.”

The report said the intention is for both campuses to function as one high school, with students in all four grades attending each campus.

“A typical student day will vary depending on course offerings at each campus and student’s course selection,” the report said. “Students may spend full or half days at one campus or travel back and forth. Both the Minnie Howard and King Street campuses will offer some of the same and some varying class options.”

A shuttle service will connect the two campuses, potentially running after each class period. Transportation for staff and teachers between campuses has not yet been determined, the report said.

Recreational fields at the new school will include a synthetic turf — with lighting baked into the approval — and tennis/pickleball courts, basketball/futsal courts and a grass practice area. After some contention, the final designs include two pools in a two-story aquatics facility. The pools at the school and gymnasium will be accessible to the public after school hours and on weekends.

Last April, the City Council approved a pinwheel concept for the school.

“The core of the pinwheel will consist of a three-story atrium topped by a two-story atrium space above,” staff explained in the report. “This will function as the heart of the school and center of circulation between the three wings and between the five different floor levels.”

The school will also have a fairly unique approach to student dining to break up Alexandria City High School’s notorious lunchtime crowds.

“The new high school will be introducing a new concept to student dining,” the report said. “In lieu of a single large cafeteria, smaller dining spaces will be provided on each floor so students will be able to dine in smaller groups and lunch hour capacity can be accommodated at the same time. Food will be prepared in a single kitchen and then delivered to each floor.”

The staff report recommends approval of the project’s request for a master plan amendment and other zoning requests.

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A simulation of in-person schooling in Nov. 2020. (Photo via ACPS)

Alexandria City Public Schools is sticking with its proposed 10.25% salary increase for all employees, and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. says that number will not change based on potential guidance from Governor Glenn Youngkin.

“Regardless of what the governor says or does, we have positioned ourselves to continue to increase compensation for our staff,” School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said at a budget retreat last week. “This is the type of proactive intentional work that will, I think, makes us successful to be able to sustain what it is we’re trying to do right now.”

Last month, outgoing Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, proposed raising teacher pay by 10.25% in Virginia’s new two-year budget, all made possible by billions in federal Covid relief funds. Youngkin, a Republican who was sworn in earlier this month, said he wants raises for teachers.

Youngkin is under fire for ending the mask mandate in public schools, and Alexandria and neighboring Fairfax and Arlington Counties have rejected that order.

“Whether (Northam’s proposal) continues to move forward or not, we will still be proposing the actual market rate adjustment and step increases,” Hutchings told the Board.

Should Youngkin accept Northam’s plan, it’s likely that localities throughout the state will try to hit that 10.25% increase over the next two years or else risk losing significant state revenues, ACPS Chief Financial Officer Dominic Turner told the Board.

The fiscal year 2023 $345.8 million combined funds budget is comprised of the $316.2 million ACPS operating fund, $17.6 million from the grants and special projects fund, and a $12 million school nutrition fund.

ACPS will conduct a public hearing on the Combined Funds Budget on Jan. 21, followed by a joint City Council/School Board Subcommittee meeting on Jan. 24. The School Board is expected to pass it (with revisions) on Feb. 18, and then go to City Council for deliberation until it passes the city’s budget in early May.

Image via ACPS

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Morning Notes

Say farewell to the Fairies of Del Ray–just for now! — “You might have noticed the petite doors and houses and stained glass windows hidden in the crooks of trees and crannies of rocks in the Del Ray neighborhood.” [Zebra]

I-395 Seminary Road ramp conversion OKed by VA board — “The conversion will allow solo riders to use the ramp for a toll and HOV-3 carpoolers to continue using it for free.” [Patch]

Youngkin, Psaki respond to Northern Va. school systems’ announcements on mask requirements — “Youngkin said he would use state resources to force the school systems to comply, though he did not specify how.” [WTOP]

Obituary: Bill Stokes — “International business consultant dies at 57.” [Alexandria Gazette]

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In a release to parents and staff put out today (Sunday), Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) said everyone in Alexandria schools will still be required to wear a mask despite an order issued by Gov. Glenn Youngkin to the contrary.

The state executive order came as a result of a back and forth between Virginia Democrats and Republicans over requiring masks in schools. Both Arlington and Fairfax County have issued similar messages to parents and staff.

ACPS and other school districts’ legal authority to defy the state order is still in question.

The full release from ACPS is listed below:

Dear ACPS Staff & Families,

We hope you are enjoying the holiday weekend and we look forward to welcoming everyone back to school on Tuesday.

We want to address any questions or concerns about whether masks will continue to be worn in our schools in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) will continue to abide by the health and safety guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Alexandria Health Department (AHD) and continue to require all individuals to wear masks that cover the nose and mouth in ACPS schools, facilities and buses.

Masks, combined with multiple other ACPS mitigation measures, have been effective in helping to protect the collective health and safety of our students and staff and keep our schools open for in-person learning. This continues to be our commitment as we grapple with the challenges that this pandemic has posed for our schools.

We have begun to receive shipments of KN95 masks for students and staff, and expect deliveries to be completed by Wed., Jan. 19. ACPS will continue to be diligent in exploring all options to place additional orders for the KN95 masks and continue to work with a community partner to secure additional masks through a donation. We have also delivered additional surgical masks to schools for double-masking as an alternative option.

Thank you for all you do to help keep our schools safe and open! For up-to-date information about ACPS’ health and safety guidelines, please visit www.acps.k12.va.us/domain/1607.

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It’s been a busy week in Alexandria with City Council coming back into session for the first time in 2022.

With a majority of the Council being new, there are fresh names and perspectives stories about city decision-making. Highlights from this week’s City Council meeting included a first look at plans for the city to — kind of — invest in a luxury hotel and bids to develop broadband internet access citywide.

The city was also hit with a few particularly notable crimes, like a man who attacked several people with a hammer near Mark Center and a woman shot near a West End 7-Eleven.

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  1. Woman shot during suspected shootout near South Reynolds Street 7-Eleven
  2. With hotel market in freefall, Alexandria considers financing luxury hotel in Old Town
  3. Man with hammer attacks several victims in The Shops at Mark Center
  4. JUST IN: Three arrested after bystander shot outside West End 7-Eleven
  5. JUST IN: Alexandria man charged with December murder of woman in West End
  6. Traffic Alert: Woodrow Wilson Bridge openings planned Tuesday night and Wednesday morning
  7. Amid declining enrollment, ACPS proposes employee raises in new budget proposal
  8. The Institute for Defense Analysis to open new Potomac Yard headquarters later this month
  9. Redevelopment plans announced for Community and Human Services office in Del Ray
  10. JUST IN: Juvenile arrested for alleged hit-and-run that injured Alexandria firefighters
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(Updated at noon, Jan. 12) In the midst of declining enrollment, Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. wants to give all ACPS employees a raise.

That’s the gist of Hutchings’ $346 million fiscal year 2022 Combined Funds Budget, which he presented to the School Board last Thursday night (Jan. 6). The proposal is a nearly 4% increase over last year’s budget, and asks for approximately $248.7 million from the city. The City Council ultimately provides ACPS with 80% of its operating fund.

Hutchings is asking for a 2.6% salary step increase and a 2.5% market rate adjustment for all eligible ACPS employees. The school system is also continually adapting to the pandemic, as exponentially rising case numbers recently prompted the School Board plans on reverting to virtual formats on a school-by-school basis.

“Enrollment is projected to continue to decline,” noted a staff presentation to the School Board. “FY 2023 Operating Budget proposes maintaining school staff to provide continued supports due to effects of Covid-19 Pandemic.”

Systemwide, ACPS enrollment fell 3% (474 students) between summer 2020 and now (fiscal years 2021 and 2022) — a challenging period of the pandemic after more than 16,000 students transitioned to fully virtual, hybrid and then in-person learning. The school system now projects an increase of only nine students at the beginning of FY 2023 in July.

“This budget is aligned with the priorities set by the School Board for the 2022-23 school year,” Hutchings said in a press release. “It provides the support our students and staff need to succeed and mirrors our core values that ensure ACPS is empowering, equity-focused, innovative and results-driven.”

The school system is not alone in wanting raises for staff, as the Alexandria Fire Department and Police Department are also struggling with retention and Mayor Justin Wilson says the city needs to do more with less in the days ahead.

ACPS will conduct a public hearing on the proposed budget on Jan. 21. The School Board is expected to pass it (with revisions) on Feb. 18, and then go to City Council for deliberation until it passes the city’s budget in early May.

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Alexandria School Board members say they want to keep in-person instruction going, but amidst a surge in Covid cases the Alexandria City Public Schools system now has an official plan to revert to virtual learning on a school-by-school basis.

“There may be cases in the future where we have to transition into a virtual learning setting due to that and we want to just prepare for that,” Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., told the Board Thursday night.

The ACPS Protocol for Transitioning to Virtual Instruction is a roadmap for how schools will operate based on COVID infections within a particular school. Like stoplights, the plan is broken up into three zones — green for in-person instruction; yellow for the consideration to transition to virtual learning; and the full-blown transition to virtual learning.

More than 15,000 ACPS students haven’t been back to school since Friday, Dec. 17. This week’s snowstorm prompted ACPS to take immediate action by reverting to virtual learning, like a test run in case schools have to do the same thing because of a rise in Covid infections.

“The decision to transition temporarily to virtual learning will be made after careful consideration of the factors that impact instruction and operations at each school on a daily basis as conditions warrant,” ACPS said. “Note that regardless of the instructional plan, all students will bring home their devices at the end of every school day.”

With Covid numbers surging since Thanksgiving, the Health Department expected cases to rise again after the winter break. That break was extended, so to speak, after in-person classes were switched to virtual all week after Monday’s snowstorm. Just prior to the winter break, 174 reported cases within the school system in December alone. There have been 411 positive cases reported within ACPS since school began in August.

“I strongly believe that it is of the utmost importance to keep our schools open for in-person learning,” Vice Chair Jacinta Greene told ACPS staff at the meeting. “But there are segments of our community that are truly afraid right now to send their their kids to school. And many we’re not going to send them back this week. You know, had we not had snow they weren’t going to send the kids back because of the extreme surge and Omicron cases.”

Greene asked about the possibility of hybrid learning (both virtual and in-person instruction) for families who are concerned about exposing their children by sending them back to school. Hutchings said that the hybrid model, which ACPS used in the fall of 2020, was not successful.

“The hybrid model, it was just not the best practice,” Hutchings said. “It was not providing for our students who are home, a lot of times (teachers) couldn’t engage with the students who were in class.”

ACPS also reported to the Board that, upon returning to school, all students and staff will get brand new N95 surgical masks.

“I am so exhausted by Covid,” said Board Chair Meagan Alderton. “I just look forward to this being over. I can’t emphasize enough the effect that this has had on our education system. It’s almost dumbfounding at times. I feel like I don’t have words anymore, but I just appreciate everyone for digging in. I appreciate families as well. The uncertainty causes a lot of anxiety, and you know the more that we are all in this together the end will come hopefully sooner rather than later.”

The full ACPS description of the plan is below the jump.

Read More

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As it turns out, Wednesday was the last day this week kids would return to Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) as both students and teachers get their snow day.

At 5 p.m. today (Thursday), ACPS announced that school would be fully closed on Friday. All activities in school or on school grounds are canceled, and ACPS officials told ALXnow that there won’t be virtual school tomorrow either.

The closure comes ahead of anticipated snow tonight.

Students had today off as well for a work-day with faculty and staff, but most staff will have tomorrow off.

“All essential personnel, including building engineers, custodians, maintenance shop employees and security staff must still report if safe to do so,” ACPS said on its website.

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