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Alexandria Police at Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard Campus. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria City Public Schools saw a 26% increase in student arrests last school year, and a disproportionate number of arrested students are Black males.

There were 58 ACPS students arrested last school year, according to a school safety report to be presented to the School Board on Thursday. There were also 32 weapons-related incidents, 100 students injured, 112 fights/assaults and five reports of sexual misconduct.

The news follows an ACPS report revealing that most of Alexandria’s middle and high school students feel unsafe.

There were 451 incidents requiring a police response within Alexandria City Public Schools in the 2022-2023 school year — 188 incidents in the first two quarters of the year and 263 incidents in the final two quarters. That’s a 17% increase over the 385 incidents in the 2021-2022 school year.

While 25% of ACPS students are Black, most of those arrested are Black males.

Middle School Arrests (27)

  • Black male — 14
  • Hispanic male — 4
  • Black female — 4
  • Hispanic female — 3
  • White male — 2

High School Arrests (31)

  • Black male — 18
  • Hispanic male — 6
  • Black female — 4
  • White male — 3
  • Hispanic female — 2

Weapons seized include a handgun, two BB guns, stun guns, tasers, knives, pepper spray and a box cutter.

ACPS made a number of safety improvements in the 2022-2023 school year, like new ID requirements for students, designating entrances and exits at schools, installing metal detectors, and renewing its partnership with the police department to provide school resource officers.

Incidents in the 2022-2023 school year include:

  • 112 fights
  • 116 incidents characterized as “other” (parking lot accidents, trespassing, mental health episodes, property lost/damaged)
  • 100 injuries requiring medical assistance
  • 32 confiscated weapons
  • 21 reports of controlled substances recovered
  • 19 threats (verbal/cyber/social media)
  • 16 missing student reports
  • Seven reports of suspicious activity
  • Five alarms pulled
  • Five reports of sexual misconduct
  • Three thefts
  • One report of possessing prohibited materials

There were 175 incidents reported at the Alexandria City High School campuses, 183 incidents at the city’s two middle schools, 43 incidents at K-8 schools and 50 incidents at elementary schools.

The Alexandria City High School marquee (staff photo by James Cullum)

First days back at school are always bumpy, but Alexandria City High School had a particularly rough start with an evacuation first thing in the morning.

Fortunately, the evacuation didn’t last long, but students and staff were outside of the building for around 25 minutes on their first day.

According to a message from Principal Alexander Duncan:

I want to inform you that the fire alarm at Alexandria City High School (ACHS) King Street Campus sounded at 9:40 a.m. today, resulting in students and staff evacuating the building for about 25 minutes. The evacuation was conducted in an orderly and safe manner, and the school resumed normal operations, with students and staff beginning to re-enter the building at 10:05 a.m.

The Alexandria Fire Department (AFD) responded to the alarm immediately and, once the AFD determined that it was safe for students and staff to return to the building, they provided the all clear to school administrators. The normal school schedule is in place.

In other news, both Alexandria City High School leadership and Alexandria City Public Schools leadership at large have said a major goal this year is combatting absenteeism and keeping students in their seats at school — particularly after issues in recent years at the nearby Bradlee Shopping Center.

Police at the Bradlee Shopping Center where and 18-year-old was stabbed and killed on May 24 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Ahead of the start of the new school year, Alexandria City High School (ACHS) Principal Alexander Duncan issued a warning reminder that students are “discouraged” from going to nearby shopping centers during school hours.

The specific shopping center isn’t named, but it’s no secret that the Bradlee Shopping Center has been afflicted with violence in recent years linked to students from the nearby ACHS. There have been multiple shootings and brawls, including one that ended with the murder of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez in the parking lot of the Bradlee Shopping Center.

“Students are strongly discouraged from patronizing local shopping centers or establishments during school hours (unless permission has been received per the process shared above),” Duncan said in a message to ACHS students and families. “This constitutes ‘skipping class’ and is in direct violation of our attendance policy and the Student Code of Conduct.”

Duncan said that ACHS is partnering with the Alexandria Police Department and the shopping centers to increase police presence and deter truancy. The new ACHS Principal said the concern is not only about safety and security, but students missing vital instructional time.

“Please be advised that students will face disciplinary consequences by ACHS administration for intentionally missing class to patronize local shopping centers, and will also be held accountable for any behaviors when they are supposed to be in school,” Duncan said. “I am confident that we all agree that our students need to be in their classrooms engaged in learning.”

The Alexandria City High School marquee (staff photo by James Cullum)

A grassroots social media page at Alexandria City High School, run by students and teachers, is looking for some funding to help make better content for the school.

Alexandria City High School teacher Gabriel Elias was the example in a Washington Post story and a White House briefing in 2020 of teachers adapting to virtual classrooms and connecting with students digitally. Since then, Elias has been working with a volunteer team of students and teachers to make a positive social media hub at the school. Now he’s looking for some help to take the project to the next level.

“Over the past years, I’ve gone from teaching with social media to planning, shooting, editing, and posting for a school of over 4,000,” Elias, a teacher at the school’s International Academy, wrote. “I teach full-time, but I run the successful social media team. The impact of our positive content on struggling students, concerned parents, potential community partners, and inspired teachers is massive. I want to step it up next year!”

The channel includes testimonials from students, coverage of events at the school and more. The Instagram page has roughly 3,233 followers.

So far, the students and teachers have mostly been using personal cellphones since they don’t have access to cameras that record well indoors. Elias is looking for funds to help give the students access to top-of-the-line camera kits, microphones and more to help promote activities and events at the school.

The Donors Choose page — a fundraising platform for teachers — says the goal is $2,922 for better equipment by Nov. 14.

“By last year’s end, we were posting (we are a team of students and teachers– all volunteer) at least ten video segments a week including sports events, clubs like Black Student Union, ceremonies, interviews on safety, and much more,” Elias wrote. “Next year will be even more: People expect a video for everything!”

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(Updated 4:20 p.m.) The two teens who allegedly shot each other on May 31 in the Seminary Valley neighborhood got into a fight earlier that day at Alexandria City High School, according to a recently released search warrant affidavit.

The teens allegedly shot each other at around 8:15 p.m. in a residential area near Interstate 395 and N. Van Dorn Street. The Alexandria Police Department received multiple calls reporting 15-20 gunshots in a residential area in the 5400 block of Richenbacher Avenue.

The teens, ages 16 and 17 were both shot in the lower body and were transported to Inova Fairfax Hospital with non-life threatening injuries. No charges have been filed against either teen and the incident remains under investigation, according to police.

An Instagram story was posted about an hour after the incident by an Alexandria City High School student described as “an involved party” in the search warrant affidavit.

One of the injured juveniles was captured on camera carrying a weapon and the other was arrested with a plastic bag with four firearm magazines, according to the search warrant affidavit.

“The Instagram story stated ‘dat glick jammed up only reason he livin,'” police said in the search warrant affidavit. “An Alexandria City High School student was identified as being the subject involved in an altercation with (the victim) at school the day of the shooting.”

One of the students who was shot is suspected for being involved in a shooting at the Bradlee Shopping Center on April 17, according to the search warrant affidavit.

Anyone with information on this incident can call the APD non-emergency number at 703-746-4444. Callers can remain anonymous.

Alexander Duncan III, the new executive principal at Alexandria City High School (via ACPS)

Longtime Alexandria City Public Schools administrator Alexander Duncan III was formally announced last night as the new executive principal of  Alexandria City High School.

Duncan, the ACHS Minnie Howard Campus administrator, will replace ACHS Executive Principal Beter Balas, who announced his departure last month.

“I am so thankful to have the opportunity to expand on all I have learned and experienced to our awesome Alexandria City High School community,” Duncan said in a statement. “Over the next few weeks, the administrative team will be hard at work planning for the upcoming school year. We are both reflecting and developing action steps so we may effectively serve our ACHS community this August and into the school year.”

ACHS, with 4,173 students spread across two campuses, is the second-largest high school in Virginia. The executive principal salary is between $142,000 to $197,000 a year.

Duncan was hired by the school system as a middle school English teacher in 2007, and is a former ACHS assistant principal and summer school principal. He’s been in his current role since 2021, and has a bachelor’s in English from Johnson C. Smith University and a Master of Science in educational leadership from Trinity College.

Duncan said in a recent interview that he will hold meet-and-greet sessions this summer.

Duncan’s full message on the ACHS page is below.

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Marcia Rice and Alexander Duncan, the Alexandria City High School executive principal candidates, on Zoom on June 12, 2022 (via ACPS)

A longtime ACPS educator and a principal from Chesterfield County Public Schools are the finalists for the executive principal position at Alexandria City High School.

Alexander Duncan III, the Minnie Howard Campus administrator, and Marcia Rice, principal at Meadowbrook High School, answered a variety of questions Monday night in a Zoom meet-and-greet moderated by former ACHS principal John Porter.

With 4,173 students spread across two campuses, ACHS is the second-largest high school in Virginia. Last month, ACHS Principal Beter Balas announced that, after six years on the job, he was leaving to start a new job as principal of Wakefield High School in Arlington County. The move prompted a swift response from the school system, and this Friday Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt will interview both candidates. The School Board will make its decision to hire in a special meeting next Thursday (June 22), according to ACHS.

The executive principal salary is between $142,000 to $197,000 a year.

Duncan was hired by Alexandria City Public Schools as a middle school English teacher in 2007, and is a former ACHS assistant principal and summer school principal. He’s been in his current role since 2021, and has a bachelor’s in English from Johnson C. Smith University and a Master of Science in educational leadership from Trinity College. If hired, he said his first step would be to partner with the school PTSA this summer to conduct meet-and-greets with parents and students.

“I am proud to say I have dedicated more than half my career to ACPS,” Duncan said. “I know this school. It has been my home for over 10 years. I am familiar with its needs, with our triumphs and successes.”

Rice has been in education for 15 years, most recently the last four years as principal at Meadowbrook High School, which has about 1,800 students. She was also an assistant principal at the school for three years, and is a former chemistry teacher. She has a bachelor’s degree in science from Hampton University, a master’s of science in biochemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a doctorate in educational leadership and administration from Virginia State University.

“I believe that there are a lot of great things that are currently occurring at Alexandria City High School,” Rice said. “I think that it requires a lot in terms of being able to bring people together in a collaborative fashion to reach a goal.”

Duncan said that he was raised on government assistance, and that he works with a “spirit of excellence.”

“I serve with a spirit of perseverance and endurance,” he added. “I am determined to meet my full potential and to represent myself in the most positive way possible. And so with that spirit, I come to work seeking to cultivate that in the staff and the students that I work with. I would say that that’s one of the most important traits that makes me best suited for this role, because it aims to bring out the potential and the best in everyone.”

Many of the questions posed to Rice and Duncan were similar, and they gave their opinions on how to reduce school violence, tardiness/absenteeism and student drug use.

Duncan said he takes a more restorative, less punitive approach toward student discipline. This year, for instance, he said ACHS started a new program where students without behavioral infractions and performing well academically were rewarded with “all-access” passes allowing them the autonomy to choose daily lunch and advisory locations. They also got tickets to use toward buying ACHS swag from the school store.

I am of the belief that school is to be a place where staff and students want to be,” he said. “We have incentivized students and we are rewarding students for demonstrating positive behaviors, not because we are paying them for being good, but because we are clarifying expectations and setting norms across the school.”

When asked about getting ACHS students to stop taking drugs in school bathrooms, Rice said staff need to more closely monitor hallway traffic, and that there might be an opportunity to start an electronic hall pass system. She also said that students and parents would know that the consequences for doing drugs at school “will not be light, and that it will be consistent.”

“I think visibility is key,” Rice said. “If students know that you’re visible and around, they’re less likely to make poor decisions.”

Duncan wasn’t asked about drugs, but said he’s helped improve tardiness/absenteeism at Minnie Howard gathering those students in a “support center” to do make-up work and calling their parents.

“We wanted to make sure that caregivers and families were aware that your young people were coming to school not at the start of school,” he said. “Most times the parent didn’t know, and so we were thrilled that we could join with them in helping support to get their young people in school on time.”

See the full videos of the sessions below.

Images via ACPS

The Alexandria City High School marquee. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Tonight, residents can meet the two candidates for the executive principal position at Alexandria City High School.

The candidates, whose identities aren’t yet public, will meet with community stakeholders at the Minnie Howard campus and on Zoom from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

“This will be an excellent opportunity for you to meet each executive principal candidate and interact with them during our Question and Answer session,” Alexandria City Public Schools wrote to parents. “The executive principal candidate meet and greet will be recorded and posted to the Alexandria City High School (ACHS) website for three days.”

Candidate A will talk between 7:15 and 8 p.m., and Candidate B will talk between 8:15 and 9 p.m.

After the meet-and-greet, Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt will interview the duo on Friday. The School Board will make their decision to hire in a special meeting next Thursday (June 22).

ACHS Principal Beter Balas announced in May that he had gotten a new job as principal of Wakefield High School in Arlington County. Balas was executive principal for six years and was widely praised by city leaders.

With 4,173 students, ACHS is the second-largest high school in Virginia. The executive principal salary is between $142,000 to $197,000 a year.

The full details from the ACHS executive principal job listing is below.

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The 17-year-old male suspect facing murder charges in last year’s fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez was implicated by damning evidence police found on his phone, according to evidence presented Monday.

Monday’s bench trial will continue into today for the defense to present their case, and a speedy verdict on second degree murder and murder by mob charges is expected from Judge James C. Clark. The suspect faces between five-to-40 years in prison for the second degree murder charge and five-to-40 years for the murder by mob, or lynching, charge.

The stabbing occurred during a brawl between two rival gangs of Alexandria City High School teenagers on Tuesday, May 24, 2022 — a week before graduation. Mejia  Hernandez was fatally stabbed in the heart, and an autopsy showed that he also had abrasions to his neck, chin, the back of his hands, abdomen and knees, according to the medical examiner who testified that the cause of death was a 7/8-inch stab wound to the chest.

Commonwealth’s Attorney’s David Lord and Meredith Burke said that Mejia, a high school senior due to graduate within days, was outnumbered and fighting defensively at the Bradlee Shopping Center. They published into evidence multiple videos of the fight taken from a Alexandria Police Department dashcam, security cameras and videos from phones recovered by police. One security video shows Mejia Hernandez arriving to the parking lot in his car, parking, and then joining a group of students near a bus stop outside the Bradlee Shopping Center McDonald’s.

Lord and Burke allege that the suspect deliberately acted with cruel and deliberate malice.

“The defendant joined the fray and did not stop until he drove a knife into the chest of Luis Mejia Hernandez,” Burke said. “Videos show the defendant intentionally plunged his knife in the chest of Luis Mejia Hernandez.”

The suspect’s attorney’s, Sean Sherlock and Sebastian Norton, say that their client was a scared 16-year-old acting defensively, and that there is no evidence he stabbed Mejia Hernandez. Both defense attorneys would not comment on why they favored a bench trial.

Sherlock and Norton said that the Commonwealth’s case is built on circumstantial evidence, and without a murder weapon, confession or witnesses. Instead, they say, prosecutors only have “blurry cell phone videos of a scared 16-year-old in the middle of a violent brawl,” Norton said.

During Monday’s trial, the suspect sat quietly with a surgical face mask under his chin, and wore black pants, black sneakers and a long sleeve white button-up shirt. Several rows into the courtroom was Osmin Mejia Romero, the victim’s father, who sat emotionless while listening to a Spanish translation of the proceeding through headphones. Mejia Romero briefly appeared on the stand to identify photos of his son before resuming his seat in the gallery.

Brawl between rival student gangs

Two Alexandria Police officers responded initially to a trespassing call at the McDonald’s, and upon arriving a crowd of students left the restaurant and the scene escalated in the parking lot. Police testified that they were overwhelmed by the students and did not try breaking up the melee by activating the sirens, lights or PA system in their cruisers.

There were a number of other students with weapons, including Mejia Hernandez, who was was found to have had a stiletto pocket knife with a three-inch blade in his pocket throughout the altercation. Another student was found with brass knuckles.

The brawl occurred at around 12:30 p.m. and lasted about a minute.

“One of the subjects threw a water bottle, and another threw a mango pineapple smoothie,” testified Officer Byron Rush. “After that the subjects began to start fighting.”

Both Rush and Officer Malcolm Cook were the only officers to witness the incident, and said that they didn’t see the stabbing. The officers broke up groups of juveniles fighting, and helped Mejia Hernandez when he collapsed. He died soon after and was identified at Inova Alexandria Hospital by his driver’s license and student identification.

Friends of the victim say that police did not do enough to prevent the incident. Alexandria City High School shifted to virtual instruction for the remainder of the school year after the incident, and Mejia was posthumously awarded a graduation diploma.

Claiming self-defense

Both sides agree that the suspect allegedly found out about a planned fight between two factions of students in the Bradlee parking lot while he was in the Alexandria City High School cafeteria. The suspect also confirmed to investigators that he owned a knife, bought at a smoke shop, although initially told investigators that he didn’t use it.

During the interrogation, the suspect asked if he could text his girlfriend, and police agreed and observed the code he used to unlock his phone. Police then got into the phone and found multiple videos of the brawl that they’d not seen before. The video was taken from a phone, and prosecutors say shows the moment when the stabbing occurred.

“He acknowledged he was the person in the video with the knife in his hand,” testified Detective Michael Wheylan. “He admitted to doing it , but advised it was in self defense… He didn’t deny that he didn’t do it.”

Wheylan conducted the interrogation, and was convinced of the suspect’s guilt when the suspect allegedly admitted to owning a knife, and acting in self defense. Wheylan also said that the suspect told him that he lost the knife after the incident.

Norton and Sherlock were unsuccessful in convincing Clark to strike the murder in the second degree and murder by mob charges. They said there was no evidence their client initiated the fight, and that in the photo allegedly showing him stabbing Mejia Hernandez, they claim that Mejia Hernandez was positioned to attack him.

“I can’t exclude the notion that (the suspect) was part of the mob,” Clark said.

Norton said that the blow was struck in a “split second” in the heat of a brawl, and that his client believed MS-13 gang members were present and that he was scared. He also said there was no evidence that the suspect and victim knew each other, or that there was pre-planning before the incident.

Lord, however, said that Mejia Hernandez was “constantly on his heels,” and that the suspect was a member of a mob who “inserted himself into the situation with the knife and ultimately inflicted the lethal blow.”


It’s a day of happiness in Alexandria, as more than 900 Alexandria City High School seniors graduated this morning at George Mason University’s EagleBank Arena.

Perhaps student speaker Lenhle Vilakati put it best when she said: “Today we finally break apart and become our own people. Today we finally have to go off into bigger things and be amazing.”

Alexandria City High School is the largest public high school in Virginia.

Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt praised the 905 graduates, and said they are ready to take their next steps.

“This class of Titans is more than ready to do great things to the next chapter of their lives,” Kay-Wyatt said.

Outgoing Principal Peter Balas received a standing ovation, and tearfully thanked the audience of students, families, ACPS staff and city leaders.

“This is the most meaningful part of being a principal and your class will be one that I will always remember and hold close to my heart,” Balas said. “Today, you’re all experiencing a major life-changing event. Graduation brings to an end the last 13 years of schooling as you know it, that has been structured and supported by so many loved ones who helped you be successful. A change like this can be scary, but it is often through change that you become the best version of yourself.”


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