This week saw possibly the most contentious meeting between the City Council and School Board in years for a debate over School Resources Officers that ultimately culminated in the Council voting to temporarily restore the program. The reversal has been advocated by school officials and some parents, but was lamented by advocacy group Tenants and Workers United that saw it as a step-backward for racial justice.
The following day, ACPS was also hit with lockdowns at Alexandria City High School’s King Street and Minnie Howard campuses and Hammond Middle School, though police later said initial calls about a school shooting were unfounded. At the same time, a gas leak near Potomac Yard led to two homes being evacuated and the temporary closure of Richmond Highway.
Here are this week’s most-read stories.
- Man injured and juvenile arrested after fight at the McDonald’s in Bradlee Shopping Center
- In dramatic reversal, City Council brings back school resource officers to Alexandria City Public Schools
- Planned bus rapid transit route from Alexandria to Tysons rolls ahead
- Alexandria City High School on lockdown after anonymous threat
- Police: Call about shooting at Hammond Middle School unfounded
- City rethinks waterfront flood mitigation plans after seeing the price tag
- Tenants and Workers United upset by City Council restoration of school resource officer program
- City Council to consider swapping parking for ‘parklets’
- Man attempts to steal $1,850 in merchandise from Restaurant Depot with discarded receipt
- Project crowdsourcing Alexandria history aims to go nationwide next year
(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.
— Peter Balas (@PrincipalTitan) October 14, 2021
After significant outcry from a school system concerned about weapons in schools, the Alexandria City Council took a dramatic 4-3 vote around 1 a.m. this morning (Wednesday) to temporarily return school resource officers (SROs) to two middle schools and Alexandria City High School until the end of this school year.
Councilman John Taylor Chapman was the lone vote to reverse course, going against Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilmen Canek Aguirre and Mo Seifeldein, who voted to keep away SROs.
“I’ve seen the smile of kids that do not fear adults in school, whether that’s law enforcement or not, and that’s what we can do,” Chapman said. “I would challenge all of us to see that future and make that change.”
SROs are police officers assigned to Alexandria’s high school and middle schools. The program started in 1997. Unlike security staff, which remain at the schools, SROs carry weapons and can fulfill the regular duties of a police officer. The SRO program has been under scrutiny for years, particularly after an officer fired his weapon in George Washington Middle School, but the push to remove police officers from schools ramped up after nationwide protests against police brutality last year.
School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that the school year so far has been punctuated by violent incidents, including a recent 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.
“Fighting is really not the reason why we need school resource officers in our school buildings,” Hutchings said. “We are not trained to deal with guns or violence or gang initiation, or things of that nature in our school buildings.”
Alexandria City High School Executive Principal Peter Balas begged Council to bring back SROs, and said that students are literally sending warning shots. He also said that gang initiations with fighting are taking place. 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.
“Our students are sending us warning shots, literal warning shots,” Balas said. “My staff, the students, we’re not okay.”
I have never seen anything like this.
— Peter Balas (@PrincipalTitan) October 13, 2021
City Councilman Mo Seifeldein introduced the measure in May, redirecting $800,000 from the SRO program toward student mental health resources. Seifeldein said he was heartbroken by Council’s latest decision.
“I am truly heartbroken, I think for the first time, about a discussion in our city,” Seifeldein said. “I cannot emphasize enough how sensitive this discussion is, and the way this has been discussed… has not been the best way of presenting it to the public. I am heartbroken, but I am looking forward to the path my colleagues have worked so hard on charting.”
Councilman Canek Aguirre acknowledged that Council’s May decision was messy and that he was dismayed and frustrated by the position. Aguirre wanted more data from the school system to show a direct correlation between the SROs being gone and an increase in violence, and said that it can also be the result of a shared school-wide lunch period at ACHS, a staffing shortage and security officers not doing their jobs.
“My issue here is that you are trying to draw a direct correlation between the removal of SROs and everything else that’s been going on,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre said much of the blame for how the situation ended up lay on the School Board, which he accused of not properly planning for the removal of SROs.
“I’m dismayed and frustrated that we’re even in this position,” Aguirre said. “Schools knew that with the new lunch period and everything that was going to happen we were going to have problems. Instead of getting new bodies into the building, they decided to pay for overtime for police officers, which is time and a half. Instead of coming to Council and saying, ‘You guys made your decision, we really need these additional bodies, we’re having trouble finding the money now before the school year starts,’ I would have said ‘Yes, 100%. City manager, get that money ready.'”
Councilwoman Amy Jackson said she’s been calling for the reinstatement of SROs since the defunding decision was made in May.
“[The schools] have asked for help and it is our job to help,” Jackson said.
The decision to restore SROs to schools came near the end of a six-hour City Council meeting, where the SRO decision took up much of the discussion. The meeting also laid bare tensions not just between the City Council and the School Board, but between various members of the City Council. When Hutchings said he would go back and rewatch the discussion, Mayor Justin Wilson urged him not to waste his time.
“I’ve been up here 11 years I can’t think of a bigger waste of my time than the last three hours,” Wilson said. “I thought we were going to have a productive conversation about how we move forward in our community about a problem we’re hearing about from far too many people in our community about, frankly on both sides of the SRO decision. We had a discussion where we’re all trying to score points on an issue decided in the spring. I’m sorry that we had to do this, quite honestly.”
Wilson called the process “horrific” and shames the city’s leadership.
“This is not the way we collaborate with another elected body,” Wilson said. “This is not the way we collaborate with staff, this is not the way we collaborate with the police. This sucks. What person would watch this meeting tonight and say ‘this is the school system I want to send my schools to’ that’s governed by this relationship? This is horrible. This is absolutely horrible.”
Vernon Miles contributed to this story
The power outage that derailed the Art on the Avenue celebration is just the latest in a long chain of outages that have hit Alexandria over the last year, giving the lie to Dominion Energy’s claim that a large outage almost exactly a year ago was a fluke. Mayor Justin Wilson has previously called the state of frequent outages unacceptable and urged Dominion to do more to upgrade its infrastructure.
Power outages are just one of the infrastructure issues Alexandria is grappling with. This week the state also announced it would be funding some flooding mitigation work in Alexandria, while some in city leadership are hesitant about the price tag for some specific waterfront flood prevention plans.
- Alexandria considers options after local businesses crushed by ‘Art On The Avenue’ power outage
- BREAKING: A bunch of student fights were recorded at George Washington Middle School and put on Instagram
- Alexandria ranked third-best small city in America in Condé Nast survey
- Updated: Alexandria City High School no longer on lockdown after student arrested with gun outside school
- Art On The Avenue festival continues despite Del Ray power outage
- JUST IN: Principal at Alexandria City High School addresses in-school violence and re-socialization pressure
- Four more COVID-related deaths in Alexandria, City preps vaccine rollout for kids under 12
- Planning Commission endorses King Street closure despite concerns Prince Street could inherit trouble
- Convicted felon arrested for gun possession after claiming to be shot in head in West End
- Former doctor’s office aide accused of computer trespassing after getting fired in Alexandria
Photo via Dominion Energy/Facebook
(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.
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.”
It was a busy fall week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.
Our top story this week was on a plan to completely close off the 100 block of King Street as a pedestrian-only zone. The plan has been in the works since 2019, and was put into action last year. ALXnow’s poll on the subject had very one-sided results, showing 91% (791 votes) in favor of a permanent change.
There was a momentous groundbreaking this week, as city leaders converged for the $454.4 million RiverRenew Tunnel Project. The project is a major overhaul to replace Old Town’s combined sewer system and prevent 120 million gallons of combined sewage from flowing into the Potomac River.
School violence has become a major issue in Alexandria, as videos of fights at schools are surfacing on the internet, there have been arrests at Alexandria City Public Schools, and protests in front of City Hall on Monday and Tuesday this week.
As for the Alexandria juvenile who was shot in the upper body at the McDonald’s in the Bradlee Shopping Center last week, police say that there have been no arrests yet.
- AlexRenew breaks ground for massive Old Town RiverRenew project
- BREAKING: A bunch of student fights were recorded at George Washington Middle School and put on Instagram
- Last year’s Alexandria City High School class had the highest graduation rate and the lowest student dropout rate ever
- Union says low staffing within Alexandria Fire Department threatens to shut down a fire station
- Upcoming Alexandria City Council and School Board election forums announced
- School Board Chair Meagan Alderton says ACPS leadership will be challenged by high Board turnover
- First apartment building in massive Carlyle Crossing redevelopment starts pre-leasing
- DASH and city leaders celebrate launch of bus system overhaul
- Alexandria starts distributing COVID-19 booster shots
- City Manager lays out plan to push back on evictions in Alexandria
- City looks to permanently ‘pedestrianize’ a block of King Street
- UPDATE: Alexandria man charged with homicide after stabbing at BJ’s Wholesale Club in Landmark area
- Total Wine is taking shape in Potomac Yard
- ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
- Man buys luxury car with fake driver’s license at Lindsay Lexus of Alexandria
- Protestors rally to return police to Alexandria schools, but officials say behind-the-scenes talks have stalled
- Man arrested for posting lewd photos of Alexandria stepsister on Twitter
- Firecracker shuts down Alexandria City High School football game
- Adoptable Chihuahua Dory only weighs 3.5 pounds
- Mayor Wilson: Potomac Yard construction delay ‘could have nothing to do with Metro station’
- Police: Juvenile shot at shopping center near Alexandria City High School
Have a safe weekend!
(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.
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.
“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
The Alexandria Police Department confirmed that a firecracker, not gunshots, prematurely ended a football game Saturday between Herndon High School and Alexandria City High School (ACHS).
“The game was called with less than three minutes remaining,” said Claire Going, a spokesperson for Alexandria City Public Schools. “Fans began self-evacuation. Once the source of the noise was determined, an announcement was made to let people in the stadium know what had caused it.”
[1/2] Multiple sources have confirmed to The Stinger that the Herndon- Alexandria City High School football game tonight ended abruptly in the last 4 minutes of the game. a loud bang was heard from the ACHS bleachers side. pic.twitter.com/HI7ZX3Kzgn
— Herndon High Newspaper (@StingerHhs) September 26, 2021
The incident occurred less than a week after a shooting just a few blocks from the school. Police confirmed that the source of the sound was a firecracker, not gunshots.
“There was a loud bang which turned out to be a firecracker,” said Senior Public Information Officer Amanda Paga. “The game was stopped and the stadium was evacuated.”
The ACHS Titans won the game 41-7 over Herndon, according to the Alexandria City High School Football Boosters.