Alexandria, VA

In an effort of minimize COVID-19, Alexandria City Public Schools will reopen for in-person classes one full week after Spring Break, which runs from April 5-9.

ACPS announced on Thursday (March 25) that all students will go back to virtual learning until in-person classes resume on Tuesday, April 13. The announcement also said that community transmission for the week ending March 20, 2021 has increased to a “high level from last week’s substantial level.”

“After review of current community health metrics and our desire to limit a potential community spread within our school buildings, we have decided to continue to follow our proactive approach of prioritizing health and safety, and transition to virtual learning for all students for the week after Spring Break, April 5-9,” ACPS said in a release.

ACPS continued, “With members of our school community potentially traveling outside of the National Capital Region, transitioning temporarily to virtual learning is a precautionary step to protect against COVID-19 transmission in our school buildings after Spring Break.”

The move angered a number of parents.

“This is an absolute joke,” one parent wrote in the Open ACPS Facebook group. “The fact that this was a unilateral decision on (Superintendent Gregory) Hutchings’ part, not raised at the most recent school board meeting, and out of step with other jurisdictions is just asinine.”

ACPS also said that it is working to expand its hybrid learning to accommodate more students starting on April 20.

“We understand and share the desire of many families to welcome back our students who would like to be part of hybrid learning,” ACPS said. “More information will be shared soon with families of the students who will be able to join the hybrid program according to an instructional prioritization matrix.”

ACPS is also asking anyone who travels to self-quarantine to get a COVID-19 test after returning and then self-quarantine for a week. Those who choose not to get a test are advised to quarantine for 10 days.

“Our success in keeping school buildings open and safe depends on all students, families and staff being extra vigilant about implementing mitigating measures and following the health guidelines,” ACPS said.

Photo via T.C. Williams Minnie Howard Campus/Facebook

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Alexandria City Public Schools plan on opening for five-day instruction this fall, Superintendent gregory Hutchings, Jr. reported to the School Board on Thursday night.

Hutchings said that the transition back to in-person hybrid instruction on March 2, March 9 and March 16, has been “seamless,” and that the Board will receive a logistical update in April.

“We’re planning to come back to five days a week,” Hutchings told the Board. “We’re looking at the CDC guidelines that, hopefully, will allow us to do that with no guidelines. We’re also working to plan for five days a week, if we have three-foot social distancing and if we have six feet social distancing (as well as no restrictions).”

Today (Friday), the CDC shortened its distancing guidelines for kids in schools with face masks to three feet, a move that the school system anticipated.

Hutchings said that the school system will continue hybrid instruction next fall.

“We also understand that some of our families are still going to want in the fall their children to be a part of some type of virtual experience,” he said. “They still may not be comfortable, or may not be able for their children to return back into an in-person learning setting, and we are planning to develop our virtual curriculumvery different from the curriculum that we currently have in place, but a true virtual curriculum for students who may not return into our school buildings so that we can still provide a rigorous and engaging virtual learning experience.”

Some parents want in-person instruction five days a week starting now.

“We are thrilled our kinder student us back in school, even though it is only two days a week,” said Bill Blackburn, whose son attends Mount Vernon Community School in Del Ray. “My son’s only complaint was not being able to talk while eating lunch. All things considered, things went well for us and we hope to see more kids and more teachers back in person sooner rather than later.”

Governor Ralph Northam was in Alexandria in January to see some ACPS staff get their first round of inoculations. As previously reported, around half of the school staff were uncomfortable returning to work when surveyed last fall, and Hutchings has been concerned with capacity and staffing issues.

ACPS will also open a poll on March 22 to see how many staffers have been vaccinated. The employees will have the following choices:

  • Choose not to disclose vaccination status
  • Declining vaccination
  • Waiting for first vaccination appointment
  • Received first dose, waiting to receive second dose
  • Completely vaccinated
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The Alexandria School Board on Thursday, March 18, will conduct a public hearing on the proposed new names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.

The 5 p.m. public hearing will allow testimony from residents on what they think about proposals by Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings to respectively rename them “Alexandria High School” and “Naomi Brooks Elementary School”. The two finalist names were chosen from a list that ACPS released last month.

While efforts to rename T.C. Williams High School began in the 1990s, a renewed push this year was tied in with nationwide discussions about renaming honors to the Confederacy and other symbols of racial oppression.

Thomas Chambliss Williams was an avowed segregationist who worked to limit the number of Black students in segregated schools. Matthew Fontaine Maury, who was a pioneering oceanographer during the 19th century, was also a leader in the Confederacy during the Civil War.

A recent ALXnow poll on the issue found that, out of more than 800 respondents, 67% liked the high school name but not the elementary school name; 20% were happy with both names; 8% didn’t like either name; and 5% liked the elementary school name but not the high school name.

https://twitter.com/ACPSk12/status/1371493556528025602

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Students have returned to T.C. Williams High School, but the empty halls and spaced-out classrooms are a grim reminder that the “return to normal” is still a goal on the horizon.

T.C. Williams, a school which typically packs in 3,200 students, now sits just under 500 students. Principal Peter Balas said 475 students came to school this week.

Today (Tuesday, March 16) marked the return for general education students whose families opted to return, joining English as a Second Language (ESL) and special needs students who had been in the school for the last two weeks.

Those entering the schools have their temperatures checked at the door, with any students or staff with higher-than-normal temperatures led to a secure health annex. At other schools ACPS has already had to deal with contact tracing and limiting potential spread.

“We’ve had a couple of students and teachers test positive over the last couple weeks,” Superintendent Gregory Hutchings said.

Some students are in classrooms where they are spaced out and sit behind plastic shields, learning from teachers who are at the same time live-streaming to students tuning in on ACPS-issued laptops at home. Others sit in the vast cafeteria. Traditionally packed with kids, it now serves as an “internet cafe” where in-person learners take classes with virtual teachers.

Despite the noticeable changes, administrators said spirits are high as staff and students return to the buildings.

“We’re excited to be back,” said School Board Chair Meagan Alderton.

Hutchings said the school district is working on examining how the first week of in-person classes goes and building future plans for the schools based on that. ACPS is currently drafting plans for summer schooling and the start of the 2021-2022 school year.

Currently unknown is how many of the school’s teachers are vaccinated. Hutchings said a survey will be put out on March 22 with a poll asking teachers whether they’ve been vaccinated, whether they’ve been trying to and haven’t, or whether they have no intention to get vaccinated.

Currently, ACPS says vaccines are optional for returning staff.

Some teachers have reported difficulty getting access to the vaccine, with the city’s supply trickling in as the waitlist grows. Hutchings said the city has been working with the Department of Health to have teachers prioritized early on for vaccination.

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Morning Notes

Animal Welfare League gets 50 cats from Texas shelters — “Among the lingering effects of the winter outages is the strain on animal shelters. According to AWLA, the Texas shelters are seeing a surge in surrendered pets. The animals come from eight animal shelters in Texas. By transferring animals to Virginia, these shelters can better address the continued needs of homeless animals.” [Patch]

School Board public hearing on renaming of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School on March 18 — “There will be a School Board Public Hearing on March 18 at 5pm, where community members have their final opportunity to sign up to speak or submit comments about the renaming of schools.” [Twitter]

Police advise alertness as schools reopen Tuesday — “The remainder of ACPS students participating in hybrid, in-person learning head back to the classroom. Keep alert for kids walking, stop for kids getting on school buses, and slow down in school zones. Slow down, eyes up!” [Twitter]

Community meeting set for McArthur Elementary construction updates — “The Douglas MacArthur building at 1101 Janneys Lane is CLOSED! It is an official construction zone. Please do not utilize the playground or trespass on the premises. A community meeting will be held on Wednesday Mar. 25 at 6:00 via zoom with construction updates.” [Twitter]

Del Ray Vintage and Flea Market returning in April — “The Del Ray Vintage and Flea Market is set to return Saturday, April 10. Founded by Lauren Fisher and Amy Eggers in 2019, the market will occur monthly until December.” [Zebra]

Today’s weather — “Cloudy skies early. A few showers developing later in the day. High 44F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 40%… Cloudy. Slight chance of a rain shower. Low around 40F. Winds ENE at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Pastry Chef/Baker — “Seeking a full time pastry and/or bread baker for high quality artisan bread and pastry company. We are looking for a creative self starter who has attention to detail and a variety of skills from cookies and brownies to cakes, ice cream, mousses, desserts and pies- laminating skills a plus but not necessary.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Nothing Bundt Cakes opens in West End — “Nothing Bundt Cakes sells a variety of bundt cakes, bundt cake towers, mini bundt cakes and bite-size bundt cakes. There are nine basic flavors, including traditional vanilla and chocolate, plus marble, confetti, red velvet, pecan praline, white chocolate raspberry, carrot cake and more.” [Alexandria Living]

Councilman Canek Aguirre kicks off reelection campaign — “We have to invest in our school buildings. We have to invest in our city buildings. And that’s definitely something that we have to continue to do because it’s just going to get more expensive.” [Alex Times]

Mayor endorses Sean Casey for Sheriff — “Watching Sean Casey kick-off his campaign to be our next Sheriff. @DanaLawhorne is leaving very large shoes to fill, but I am confident Sean will be a great Sheriff for our City.” [Twitter]

Motorcyclist hospitalized after Saturday morning crash — “The Alexandria Police Dept is investigating a traffic crash between a vehicle and a motorcycle at Seminary Rd and Fillmore Ave that occurred around 8:45am. Motorcyclist was taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. Streets should reopen soon.” [Twitter]

ACPS makes new rules on outdoor eating and play before March 16 reopening — “With Alexandria City Public Schools set to bring back all students who have opted for hybrid in-person learning on March 16, district staff provided an update on the division’s hybrid learning plans at the March 4 School Board meeting.” [Alex Times]

Today’s weather — “Generally sunny despite a few afternoon clouds. High around 50F. Winds N at 10 to 15 mph… Mainly cloudy with a mixture of rain and snow showers developing late. Low near 35F. Winds light and variable. Chance of precip 40%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Pet Bather — “Minimum of six months bathing experience in a professional grooming salon-we will not consider applicants without experience” [Indeed]

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What an eventful week in Alexandria.

Thursday, March 11, marked the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic in Alexandria. As the vaccine rollout slowly improves, the most recent news is the allowance of restaurant workers to get the vaccine. Just over 38,000 doses have been administered in the city, and of that 14,661 residents have been fully vaccinated. The city also wants 80% of residents vaccinated by July 31.

Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne also announced that he will not seek reelection this fall, bringing an end to his 43-year law enforcement career. Lawhorne’s protege Sean Casey is now running for the seat in the June 8 Democratic primary.

Criticism against the proposed renovation of the Taylor Run Stream continued this week, and even City Councilwoman Amy Jackson has decided to join residents in opposition.

More than 220 people participated in our poll this week on school resource officers. More than half of respondents said that ACPS should hire more SROs, 30% said the program should be eliminated and 11% believe SROs should only work part time.

In case you missed them, here are some other important stories:

Our top stories this week:

  1. Inova to Launch New Vaccine Clinic Inside Revamped Victory Center
  2. Battle Royale: Princess Street Development Duel Returns to City This Month
  3. Just In: Captain Sean Casey is Running for Alexandria Sheriff
  4. Alexandria Police Arrest Seven People and Seize Drugs, Guns and Cash
  5. Development Questions Remain for New Braddock West Project Headed to City Council
  6. City Could Help Turn Hotels Emptied by Coronavirus Into Affordable Housing
  7. Just Listed in Alexandria
  8. Do You Like the Suggested Names for T.C. Williams and Matthew Maury?
  9. A Year Late, Contractor Eyes Spring Completion for King Street Metro Access Improvement Project
  10. Superintendent Proposes New Names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary
  11. Councilwoman Amy Jackson Argues With School Board Over MacArthur Elementary Construction Schedule

Have a safe weekend!

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Morning Notes

Alexandria Students Win C-SPAN Documentary Contest — “Five Alexandria students are winners in C-SPAN’s 2021 StudentCam competition. The national contest, in its 17th year, encourages middle and high school students to create short films on subjects of national importance. T.C. Williams High School’s Helen Russell, Alison Avelar, and Elena Gutierrez will receive $250 as honorable mention winners for the documentary, ‘Dear Mr. President: History, or Progress?’ about the renaming of schools, statues, and monuments.” [Zebra]

Some Alexandria Museums to Open in March — “The Alexandria History Museum will reopen on March 25, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum and Alexandria Archaeology Museum will reopen on March 26, and Friendship Firehouse Museum will open on select Saturdays.” [Patch]

Textile Company ‘Tulusa’ in Running for $50K FedEx Grant — “I went from being a solopreneur to providing work for 10 people. In less than a year, we’ve sold and donated over 13,000 masks. After the initial burst of mask-making, I now employ four people, all of whom lost jobs because of the pandemic. And I want to keep growing, expanding our line to include wallpaper, melamine servingware and even more products that will make your home a beautiful place to be. That’s where you can help.” [Facebook]

Local Baker Starts Bake-at-Home Cookie Delivery Service — “It occurred to me there is something perfect about having a single warm cookie when you want it and on demand. What if I could make this dough and make it available for customers to order in small batches?” [Alexandria Living]

Last Days to Try Cozy Loft at Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap — “Lena’s Wood-Fired Pizza & Tap, located at 401 E. Braddock Road, converted a 4,500 square-foot space on a second story of their restaurant into an Aspen-style resort. it gives diners a chance to experience a world away from their own. And the fact that reservations have been full many days speaks to how much the space means to customers.” [Zebra]

Today’s Weather — “Cloudy skies. Slight chance of a rain shower. High around 70F. Winds WNW at 5 to 10 mph… Partly cloudy during the evening followed by cloudy skies overnight. Low around 40F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Driving Instructor — “Driving Instructor needed for OldTownDrivingSchool.com. We are looking for a patient, enthusiastic Driving Instructor to teach high school students. Must obtain a Virginia driving instructors license. Skills as a teacher or coach a plus.” [Indeed]

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A mounting effort to decrease the role of school resource officers (SRO) in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) is gaining traction as some on the City Council have joined community activists in questioning the role of security officers in the schools.

The discussion comes as schools nationwide are considering alternatives to school resource officers or eliminating the position entirely. Alexandria’s SROs made the headlines in 2018 when one accidentally shot his gun inside George Washington Middle School.

City Councilman Canek Aguirre suggested that the position be changed from a full-time job at the school for a few of the most busy times, like arrival and dismissal, but aren’t positioned throughout the day in the school

The issue was raised at a public hearing on the budget earlier this week by representatives from Arlandria-based Tenants and Workers United. Youth organizers at the event said SROs are an intrusive presence that make some students feel unsafe.

The position was created in 1997 at George Washington Middle School with the opposite goal. According to the city:

All officers selected to the SRU attend a 40-hour School Resource Officer School. This training is provided by the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services- Center for School Safety. The SROs also receive additional specialized training from the ACPS and other training sources on a wide range of subjects: dealing with kids who have emotional & educational issues, school policy, laws of search, seizure & arrest on school grounds, how to prevent and deal with an active school shooting incident and many other related topics.

The program has expanded over the years and today there is one SRO sergeant and five SROs.

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Alexandria students on Monday asked City Council to reallocate funds intended for school resource officers at public schools.

Francis C. Hammond Middle School eighth grader Karen says school resource officers make her uncomfortable. Karen is a youth organizer with Arlandria-based Tenants and Workers United, and was also joined by a number of other students in voicing their discontent at City Council’s public hearing on the budget.

“They always have me on high alert because I felt threatened by their existence,” Karen said. “They are always just like in the hallway with no purpose or mission, they get involved with nothing that has to do with them or a problem that the higher-ups can deal with.”

Council could only receive public testimony and could not comment at the meeting. The SRO issue recently came up, though, at a City Council joint meeting with the School Board.

At that meeting, City Councilman Canek Aguirre created a stir when he questioned the Board and its staff on the SRO bi-annual agreement that was approved last November.

“You don’t have to be (housed) in the building, frankly, to be able to show up during lunch or arrival or dismissal, which (is when) officers are engaging the students most, which is arrival, lunch, and dismissal,” Aguirre said. “I think that we can create schedules for these officers where they still have an opportunity to show up during some of these times.”

TWI is asking that the SRO funds, which fall under council’s purview in the police department’s budget, be reallocated toward restorative justice practices, after school programs, counselors, social workers and affordable housing.

“The purpose of school is to learn and succeed, how, how is it that I’m supposed to learn when I’m constantly being distracted by an armed adult?” asked T.C. Williams High School ninth grader Abenaa Buabeng. “I truly hope you can take on your leadership and make the right decision, because we as young people learn from you are leaders so we can be proud of you for your right choices.”

The fiscal year 2022 budget will be passed on May 5.

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