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Alexandria Police cruiser (staff photo by James Cullum)

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. wants another year of funding for the school resource officer program — time he says that will allow Alexandria City Public Schools to map out its future without a rush.

Hutchings says the extension will allow for the formation of a School Law Enforcement Advisory Group next month, which will closely study the SRO program and hammer out a proposal for a new bi-annual memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Alexandria Police Department in December.

“What we are asking the Board is to inquire that request with the City Council to extend the timeframe for our SRO funding so that we can have the adequate time to really work through the advisory group, and bring a recommendation to the board that’s not in a rushed format,” Hutchings told the Board Thursday night.

In the meantime, the $800,000 program will continue as-is, with the specially trained police officers stationed within Alexandria’s two middle schools and the Alexandria City High School Minnie Howard campus. There are no SROs at Alexandria City High School’s King Street campus since both officers placed on leave after a “serious complaint” from a former student alleging “sexually inappropriate conversations” while she attended ACHS. The determination on returning SROs to ACHS is up to Alexandria Police, which has rotated detail officers in and out of the school on a daily basis.

Some are unhappy about the extension, including Sindy Carballo Garcia, a youth organizer for Tenants And Workers United.

“It’s still unacceptable that the data keeps on showing the same results, that among all students being arrested, primarily black students are the ones that are that are being arrested in disproportionate percentages,” Garcia told the Board during the public comment portion of the meeting. “It is unacceptable that we do not prioritize programs such as mental health and restorative practices, and fully invest in them to implement them correctly to meet the needs of students by truly supporting students and having trusted trained adults that understand and serve young people.”

The advisory group will be formed and presented to the School Board at its meeting on April 21.

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Alexandria City Public Schools is requesting an extension of its controversial school resource officer (SRO) program through the end of the 2022-2023 school year.

School Board Chair Meagan Alderton says that the extension is part of the reimagining of the $800,000 program, as Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. will work to develop a School Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Group and formulate an SRO plan to present to City Council next year.

The SROs — police officers stationed at Alexandria City High School and the city’s two middle schools — were defunded last summer and then brought back in October after Alderton and Hutchings pleaded for their return in the wake of numerous violent incidents with weapons in schools. The SRO program is currently funded through June 30, 2022.

Once formed next year, the advisory group (comprised of ACPS staff, police, students and members of the community) will report to Hutchings, who will take their recommendations to the Board, which will send a finalized plan to City Council for approval. The advisory group will also make recommendations on the bi-annual memorandum of understanding between ACPS and the Alexandria Police Department.

“This will give the SLEP advisory group enough time to form, meet and make recommendations on the school-law enforcement partnership, to receive community and stakeholder input on the program, as well as allow our two elected bodies to make sound decisions on the future of the SRO program,” Alderton wrote in a memo to City Council. “Additionally, the importance of having a security presence in our schools in order to provide safe and secure environments for students, staff, families and community should be maintained while the most appropriate structure for safety within our facilities is determined.”

There are still no SROs at Alexandria City High School. In December, both SROs at ACHS were placed on leave after a “serious complaint” from a former student alleging “sexually inappropriate conversations” while she attended ACHS, and Alexandria Police have since rotated officers in and out of the school on a daily basis.

Council’s vote to defund SROs created a rift between City Council and the School Board that both bodies have publicly expressed a desire to mend.

Mayor Justin Wilson says the SRO program needs to be carefully deliberated.

“In the aftermath of the Council’s decision in October, I have made it clear that I think we need to pull together an inclusive community process to determine a path forward for our City on school safety and security,” Wilson told ALXnow. “Once we put together that process, I certainly support providing the space and time for that process to conclude.”

The extension will be discussed in a School Board meeting tonight (March 24).

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After right-wing outlet National Review broke a story accusing Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) of covering up a sexual assault case, city leaders are hitting back and saying the story misses some critical details.

The story, which was widely shared on social media, said a 14-year-old suspect was arrested in December for aggravated sexual battery, rape and forcible sodomy in connection to an October incident at the Minnie Howard campus of Alexandria City High School. The article also includes quotes from parents who said they were left in the dark and there was no communication about the issue.

https://twitter.com/InezFeltscher/status/1504811046166573060

In the aftermath of the article, ACPS social media posts were flooded with comments referencing the article and accusing ACPS of a cover-up. Local leaders, however, say the National Review article misconstrues what happened.

A release from the City of Alexandria notes that the defendant in the case was acquitted in court and, pursuant to state law, details of incidents involving juveniles must remain confidential.

The incident was, however, brought up at a March School Board meeting detailing security incidents that took place during the last school year. The National Review article acknowledges the meeting but criticizes school leadership for raising the incident as an “aside” and for not responding to parents asking questions about the incident.

The story broke not long after Superintendent Gregory Hutchings advised School Board members not to speak directly with the media.

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A car crash near Alexandria City High School’s King Street campus briefly sent the school into “secure the building” status.

In an email, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) said the school was put into secure status after three people ran towards the school post-crash.

“For the safety and security of our students and staff, the Alexandria City High School (ACHS) King Street Campus was briefly placed in ‘secure the building’ status today due to a car accident near the school that led to three subjects running in the direction of the school,” ACPS said in a release. “We have now returned to normal operations.”

The release said the “secure the building” status meant school operations continued inside the building but no one was allowed to enter or exit the school while it was being secured.

“The decision to secure the ACHS King Street campus was taken out of an abundance of caution, and the building was in this status for approximately 30 minutes,” ACPS said. “The Alexandria Police Department (APD) was on site assessing the situation, and we appreciate their quick response and collaboration with ACHS administration.”

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Updated at 6:30 p.m. — The Alexandria School Board on Monday (March 14) was advised against talking to the media, as the Board received a refresher on their operating procedures.

Board members were told that they have to be careful of what they say out of concern for the division as a whole, prompting some members to question toeing the line of Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. and staff.

The Board’s operating procedures stipulate that any questions from media related to personnel, student matters, school programs and exceptional/emergency events should be fielded by Board Chair Meagan Alderton and the ACPS communications team. School Board members are discouraged against discussing division-wide topics in an effort to minimize the fallout of inaccurate information going out into the community.

Hutchings said that the media has taken his comments out of context and that it’s important that media questions be forwarded to his staff. He also said that media training is available for Board Members.

“I think you always have to, because their (media’s) time is actually time-limited,” Hutchings said. “I can just tell you, I get bombarded from people at events as soon I step off the stage, and I say, ‘You gotta wait until I talk to my team first, because I want to make sure what the pros and cons are of it.'”

Member Kelly Carmichael Booz was confused as to whether the Board is being coerced against talking to the press.

“I keep hearing mixed messages that we shouldn’t talk (to media), and that it should go back to the Board Chair and that it should go back to communications and we shouldn’t be giving our individual opinion,” Booz said. “Then I hear we’re going to get media training.”

Board Member Abdel Elnoubi said that, as elected officials, Board Members are accountable to their constituents and can talk to media.

“We are accountable to our constituents,” he said. “Officials should be able to talk to our community openly without filtering anything if we don’t have to, or if we don’t want to.”

Board Member Willie Bailey, a former City Councilman, said that talking to media is a “slippery slope.”

“Let me tell you something,” Bailey said. “I’ve played this game. I am not talking to the media. If my constituents want to beat me up for that, they can, but that’s what we got the communications team for. If the communications team wants to tell me what to say, and this is the question that the media is asking, and this is an hour before they turn on the camera and put the mic in my face? What are your questions? This is all that I’m going to answer — this question — and leave it alone, but I’m going to speak to the communications team just to make sure.”

The work session was not listed on the School Board Meetings page, as required by their own operating procedures, and it was not recorded for public use. A recording of the media-related portion of the meeting is below.

Meeting facilitator Lori Cromwell also said talking to media is a slippery slope, and told Board Members that they should — out of concern for the division — revert to the School Board Operating Procedures protocol when talking to the media.

“You’re going to have to use your judgment on that,” Cromwell said. “But I think if you have the time, I would definitely do that just so your comfort level in responding is consistent and cohesive with what communications is saying, or what other people are saying that are involved in leadership.”

Alderton did not speak on the matter at the meeting, and did not respond to questions via email.

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There were just 75 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Alexandria since this time last week, according to the Alexandria Health Department.

There are now 29,809 reported cases of the virus in Alexandria, up from 29,734 last Monday. The number of deaths remains at 184, and the seven day average of daily new cases is now 21, down from 84.5 this time last week.

On Thursday, March 10, the Virginia Department of Health retired a number of its Covid dashboards, and will no longer list cases by locality. New data specific to Alexandria will have to be pulled from the city’s Health Department’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Last Friday (March 11) marked the second year of the pandemic, and Mayor Justin Wilson said that the city is moving into a new phase. Face masks and distancing are no longer required in schools or government buildings — a sharp turnaround from the worst days of the pandemic, which were just two short months ago. There was a record-setting 12,822 positive cases in January, followed by a steep drop-off to 1,227 cases in February.

Alexandria now has a “Substantial” transmission rate from VDH and a “Low” community level of transmission from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There have also been 603 cases reported within Alexandria City Public Schools since Dec. 1, an increase of 10 cases. Of those, 517 are children and 104 are staff, although the numbers listed on the school system’s dashboard don’t add up.

Vaccine stats

  • There are 24,733 unvaccinated Alexandria residents
  • About 76% of residents (116,537 people) are fully vaccinated
  • 84% (129,147) of residents got at least one dose
  • 62,440 residents got booster shots

Find vaccine providers in Alexandria here. If you feel sick, get tested.

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It’s been a busy week in Alexandria, with some controversies at the school, city, and even state levels.

At ACPS, a new report detailed the arrests and safety incidents that have occurred in this school year, and then last night some School Board leaders butted heads over a lack of transparency in the creation of a new advisory board to review school safety issues.

Things have been more congenial on the new City Council, but the Council did draw the ire of anti-abortion activists after a planned proclamation, later scrapped, would have honored women’s healthcare providers.

Lastly, Monique Miles had seemed like a rising local Republican star after the former City Council candidate snagged a state-level attorney position, but some of those aspirations came crashing down after Miles was axed from the job after the Washington Post reported that Miles had expressed support on social media for the rioters that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Miles spoke with the Alexandria Times this week and discussed the backlash and firing.

Top stories

  1. Alexandria wants to start charging businesses rent for use of ‘parklets’
  2. Alexandria’s (possibly) worst park could be getting money for a makeover
  3. New report details arrests and safety incidents in ACPS
  4. Alexandria taking a new look at one of its oldest types of mixed-use development
  5. Report: New affordable housing having positive impact on Alexandria property values
  6. Canceled proclamation draws ire of anti-abortion activists in Alexandria
  7. Alexandria leaders plan around upcoming Yellow Line shutdown
  8. Carlyle and Old Town hosting St. Patrick’s Day bar crawls
  9. Snugglebug French Bulldog ‘Lilac’ needs a new home
  10. Gordon Lightfoot, Kevin Bacon and more coming to Birchmere
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As of Monday (March 7), Alexandria City Public Schools staff are no longer required to wear face masks in schools.

Staff were informed of the rule change in an email on Friday (March 4) that wearing masks in ACPS facilities and vehicles is optional, with few exceptions. Additionally, all ACPS staff (not including substitutes) will get paid emergency leave if unable to work due to COVID-19.

“Effective Monday, March 7, 2022, due to the updated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, masks will be optional for staff in ACPS facilities and vehicles, with a few exceptions,” wrote Melanie Kay-Wyatt, the ACPS acting chief of human resources. “Specifically, ACPS will continue to require school health staff to wear masks when they are providing medical services to students. These staff members are being notified separately of their mask requirements. ACPS strongly encourages all staff to continue to wear masks.”

Teachers will not divide classrooms based on masking status, ACPS recently announced.

The change comes a week after the face mask mandate was lifted for students on March 1 — the same day that Alexandria made the wearing of face masks optional in city government buildings.

Wearing masks is still encouraged during periods of “Substantial” and “High” transmission, which the city has experienced for much of the pandemic. Alexandria and its neighboring jurisdictions currently have a “Low” community level of transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The School Board, which is reviewing the changes at this Thursday’s meeting, is still pursuing a lawsuit against Governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order removing face mask mandates in public schools.

Substitutes get a raise

ACPS has also increased pay for substitutes.

Daily substitute pay has been increased from $110 per day to $124.50, and long-term substitutes has been increased from $157.59 to $172.09 per day.

“The nationwide substitute teacher shortage has reached such a critical level that ACPS will increase substitute pay for the rest of the 2021-2022 school year,” ACPS told teachers. “In July 2022, ACPS will review the need for extending the substitute pay increase for the 2022-2023 school year.”

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Eighteen Alexandria City Public School students were arrested in the first two quarters of this school year, in addition to 41 reported fights/assaults and 13 seized weapons. The weapons seized include a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray.

That’s according to a School Safety Data report to be presented to the School Board on Thursday. The report reveals 18 arrests within ACPS between August and December, 34 injuries, and also a sexual assault allegation at the Alexandria City High School-Minnie Howard campus in October.

“Upon notification of the allegation, the alleged aggressor was removed from campus,” ACPS said in the report. “This student was placed into virtual learning as APD investigated the allegation. This student was officially charged with an offense related to this allegation on January 13, 2022.”

The report sheds light on a period that led School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. to plead with City Council to reverse course on its decision to defund the school resource officer program. The SROs — police officers stationed at Alexandria City High School and the city’s two middle schools — were briefly defunded last year when Council redirected $800,000 from the program toward mental health resources for students.

There were 71 incidents at Francis C. Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School during the reporting period, 59 incidents at ACHS, 49 incidents in elementary schools, and 12 incidents in K-8 schools. Some fights at ACHS and George Washington Middle School were even recorded by students and posted on Instagram.

“Fighting is really not the reason why we need school resource officers in our school buildings,” Hutchings told Council in October. “We are not trained to deal with guns or violence or gang initiation, or things of that nature in our school buildings.”

SROs were brought back in October, but two months later the two officers at Alexandria City High School were placed on leave after a former student alleged having “sexually inappropriate conversations” with them while attending ACHS, according to the Washington Post. The allegations are still under investigation. While there are no SROs at ACHS, police rotate in and out of the school throughout the day.

Incidents also include two robberies, three drug offenses, a bomb threat and 13 pulled fire alarms.

The report will follow a staff presentation on the formation of the School Law Enforcement Advisory Group, a 12-person body that will act as a liaison between the Board and police on the SRO and public safety issues.

Safety data the last two quarters of the year won’t be available until another report is released this summer.

Not included in the report is an allegation that a Francis C. Hammond Middle School student was caught selling marijuana joints to classmates last month. The middle schooler was searched and found to be in possession of 10 joints containing marijuana, and told police that she was supplied by an Alexandria City High School student, according to a search warrant.

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After missing quarterly reporting deadlines on school safety, Alexandria City Public Schools says it will deliver a report this week.

In a joint City Council/School Board work session on Wednesday night, some Council members were not pleased that ACPS has not delivered quarterly performance reviews on the school resource officer program. At the meeting, ACPS staff announced that the Board will soon receive a report on school safety data and the proposed school law enforcement partnership (SLEP) advisory group. The report has not yet been made public, and should be posted today (March 3) or tomorrow as an agenda item for the upcoming meeting.

The SROs — police officers stationed at Alexandria City High School and the city’s two middle schools — were briefly defunded last year after a disjointed process that saw Council go against the wishes of the Board and redirect $800,000 from the program toward mental health resources for students. The vote created a rift between City Council and the School Board, but after numerous violent incidents with weapons in schools, School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. pleaded for their return.

“I think that we still have a long ways to go to make sure that we are getting this reporting done properly,” City Councilman Canek Aguirre said at the meeting. “I think what everybody agreed on last year is that the process sucked and there was almost little-to-no process.”

The memorandum of understanding between ACPS and the police stipulates a requirement that the City receive the reports, and that there should be meetings in August, November, February, and May of each school year for staff to “review performance and discuss reporting data.”

SROs were brought back in October, but two months later the two officers at Alexandria City High School were placed on leave after a “serious complaint” from a former student alleging “sexually inappropriate conversations” while she attended ACHS, according to the Washington Post.

There are no SROs at ACHS, which has more than 4,000 students and is the largest high school in Virginia. Still, APD officers are present at the high school, with officers rotating inside and outside of the school throughout the day, according to John Contreras, ACPS director of safety and security services.

Alicia Hart, ACPS executive director of facilities and operations, said that the lack of reporting is due to the program getting shut down last year. She said quarterly meetings between ACPS and APD are still being held.

“I absolutely agree there is an opportunity for us to make sure that we are caught up for the next go around,” Hart told Council.

Alderton said she previewed the report, and that it has some surprises.

“I had a chance to preview it, and I have to say, I think people are gonna find it very interesting,” Alderton said. “We’re not just looking at numbers, we’re looking at impact and who the impact is on. We’ll see some interesting information about disproportionality that may have some surprises.”

Councilman Kirk McPike said that the SRO program is city funded, and that there should be transparent discussions around school safety.

“This is a program that exists within the schools but it is funded in a part of the city budget,” McPike said. “We all saw last year what happens when the Council and the School Board roll in opposite directions on this issue, and it’s incredibly important that we find ways not to do that because we’re talking about safety in our schools, which is a paramount concern, not just for people on both our bodies but the entire city.”

The school year has been marked by violent incidents, including the 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.

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