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Alexandria City High School (ACHS) will have a modified schedule this week as the school’s community reels from the killing of a student last week at a nearby shopping center.

Principal Peter Balas said in a message to the community that the school will have virtual asynchronous learning and SOL exams. ACHS staff will be in classrooms providing virtual instruction and will be available to proctor exams and be available to any student in need of social-emotional support or socialization.

The changes come after Luis Mejia Hernandez was fatally stabbed outside the Bradlee Shopping Center McDonalds’ during a large brawl. No arrests have been made in connection to the incident.

“With all of this weighing on us, as well as continuing to monitor the ongoing investigation with the Alexandria Police Department (APD), I have made some decisions in collaboration with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Dr. Gregory C. Hutchings, Jr. and ACPS leadership regarding the week of May 31, 2022,” Balas said.

Some students and seniors will be required to attend school in-person:

  • Seniors who need to complete graduation requirements.
  • Seniors who must participate in graduation rehearsal (June 3).
  • Students who must fulfill SOL or other required testing.
  • Students in ACHS city-wide specialized instructional program.

In a separate release, Balas also informed the community of new security measures that will be in place for the rest of the school year. Those include:

  • Additional Alexandria Police Department (APD) Detail Officer support will be deployed to the King Street and Minnie Howard campuses.
  • Additional security officers will be deployed to the King Street and Minnie Howard campuses for interior and exterior supervision.
  • Use of select entry/access points at King Street and Minnie Howard campuses will be restricted.
  • Additional staff coverage will be in place for monitoring entry/exit doors at the King Street and Minnie Howard campuses.

Student IDs will be required to access ACHS campuses starting today (Tuesday), including students arriving by bus. In an effort to reduce hallway traffic volume, classes will be transitioned via school-wide announcements. The lunch sessions are also changed to halve the number of students at lunch at any given time at the King Street campus.

For the rest of the school year, athletic competitions will also be taking place at away fields or non-ACHS fields within the city of Alexandria.

“Finally, we are working in collaboration with the APD, City of Alexandria leadership and representatives from the Bradlee Shopping Center on additional measures that will be considered,” Balas wrote.

The full release regarding the new school schedule from Balas is available below:

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(Updated 2:30 p.m.) Friends of Luis Mejia Hernandez say he didn’t have to die.

More than a dozen of the Alexandria City High School senior’s friends paid tribute to him on Thursday night (May 26) with a candlelight vigil at the spot in the Bradlee Center parking lot where he was fatally stabbed on Tuesday afternoon. Many of them witnessed the fight, and say that police didn’t do enough to prevent the death.

“Police were literally walking right behind everyone before people started throwing punches,” said one student, who produced videos and photos of the incident on his phone. “They literally let everything happen.”

The Latino students said that they did not trust the police, and had not yet shared the information with them. One video showed a steadily escalating scene with police officers walking around groups of students along King Street — before the incident occurred.

No police sirens were used before and immediately after the stabbing, and police struggled to break up the fight, according to video obtained by ALXnow. There were about 30-50 Alexandria City High School students involved and no arrests have been made in connection to the incident.

“The police was here before everything started,” another witness said. “They didn’t do anything. They didn’t shoot a gun, they didn’t do anything.”

Police say that they responded appropriately, and are not at fault in their response. Police are also not currently investigating their response to the incident.

At the vigil, some of the students smoked weed and drank tequila — with police in cruisers observing but not engaging from a short distance away. Many of Hernandez’s friends burst into tears while talking about him. Some even left small plastic cups with tequila on the ground next to prayer candles and flowers.

The students did not respond when asked about what prompted the brawl.

“Something is always happening here (in the shopping center),” another friend of Hernandez said. “There was three police cars here. Why didn’t they call more officers? The police station is right there. This was unfair, this could have been prevented, no problem. It didn’t even have to happen.”

A GoFundMe for Hernandez has raised more than $20,000. His friends say that next week his father will take his body home to El Salvador, where his mother lives.

“He was a senior, like me,” one girl said. “He was going to graduate. He so looking forward to getting out of school this summer.”

Some of the kids involved were getting milkshakes at the Beeliner Diner in the shopping center. Owner Noelie Rickey said she provided police with security footage from the day of the incident, and that teenagers drive away her customers during lunch and after school hours.

“Our business has been down all week,” Rickey told ALXnow. “Obviously people are hesitant to come to the shopping center right now… And customers have learned to stay away when the kids are out and not in school.”

Alexandria City High School sent students home after the incident and transitioned to virtual learning for the rest of the week.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. says that police are providing additional high-visibility patrols in school zones, and that there will be support team members available for students when school reopens on Tuesday after Memorial Day.

Hernandez’s death marks the city’s third homicide of 2022 after a murder in the Foxchase neighborhood and a teenager killed in an alleged attempted carjacking in Potomac Yard earlier this month.

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Police at the Bradlee Shopping Center where an 18-year old was stabbed and killed on May 24, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) Alexandria Police were at the scene of Tuesday’s brawl prior to the fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez, according to video of the incident obtained by ALXnow.

Hernandez was stabbed during a brawl with 30-50 teenagers in the McDonald’s parking lot. A video of the incident obtained by ALXnow showed police cruisers at the scene and an officer attending to Hernandez immediately after he was stabbed.

Mayor Justin Wilson says it will take a citywide effort to protect kids.

Wilson said that he has been in constant contact with Alexandria City Public Schools leadership and the police. On social media, he wrote that he first checked to see that his son was at the school and not at the shopping center.

“Parents and members of our community have used their voices to demand solutions, implemented immediately,” Wilson wrote. “That is also my reaction as a parent.”‘

Wilson said that those ideas include hiring more police officers, hiring more mental health counselors, more gang prevention, and security training around school facilities.

“It requires city, schools, non-profits and the community all rowing in the same direction,” Wilson told ALXnow.

A GoFundMe campaign has so far raised more than $12,000 for Hernandez’ family. No arrests have been made yet.

In-person school was canceled at ACHS on Wednesday — the day after the incident.

“A Titan was murdered,” Vice Mayor Amy Jackson told ALXnow. “There’s still a lot of video that has to be looked at by police.”

https://twitter.com/Gabriel3lias/status/1529421663019974656?fbclid=IwAR3nl6Rxrm__JHW9Z8xkdihSnWQ9RwM9JXyMqEYGwlCHExrGQrSMrqbxNgU

Alexandria School Board Member Kelly Carmichael Booz tweeted that she was gutted by the news of the day, and that there will be “more to say and more actions to take to fight for the safety of our children, and likely a lot of unhelpful finger-pointing.”

“Tonight I put my kids to bed and gave them a hug and a kiss and sang our songs,” Booz tweeted. “Tonight a family in Alexandria cannot put their son to bed and 18 families in Texas have empty beds with kids the same age as my own. I’m gutted. I grieve for the families.”

City Councilman Canek Aguirre tweeted that “Action is needed. Thoughts and prayers are not enough.”

The Alexandria Council of PTAs sent out the following note:

Our hearts break for the loss of the Alexandria City High School student today and we stand with their family, all students, teachers, staff, and community members who need support today.
We also hold all of the community members in Uvalde, Texas in our hearts and minds and recognize the impact that event has on our own community members.
If you or anyone you know needs mental health support during these times, a reminder that ACPS school counselors are available and you can also call your school for help. Additionally, this resource from the National Association of School Psychologists: https://www.nasponline.org/…/mental…/addressing-grief
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Police at the Bradlee Shopping Center where and 18-year-old was stabbed and killed on May 24 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria Police are working overtime to conduct high visibility patrols at school zones in the city.

The increased coverage is in response to Tuesday’s fatal stabbing of a 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez. in the McDonald’s parking lot of the Bradlee Shopping Center — which is in walking distance from Alexandria City High School’s two campuses.

No arrests have yet been made in connection to Tuesday’s incident, and police could provide no other updates.

“Currently, we have officers working overtime to conduct high visibility patrols at various Alexandria city school zones throughout the city,” Alexandria Police spokesman Marcel Bassett told ALXnow. “We’re just consistently evaluating to see if we need more, what we can do to improve, and then we’re building on our relationships we have with the Alexandria City Public Schools.”

ACHS is the largest high school in Virginia. More than 4,000 students attend the school, and the McDonald’s at Bradlee is a popular lunch and after school spot for students.

A juvenile was shot at the McDonald’s last September, and another juvenile was arrested after a man was injured in a fight in the restaurant last October.

The Arlington County Police Department is also increasing patrols around school zones, according to ARLnow.

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Noah Lyles, the world champion sprinter and Olympic bronze medalist can add another trophy to his collection, as he and his speedster brother Josephus Lyles have been chosen for induction into the 2022 ACPS Athletic Hall of Fame.

“Noah Lyles is a world record holder, world champion, bronze medal winner and a great ambassador for our city,” Aly Khan Johnson, chair of the ACPS Athletic Hall of Fame Advisory Committee Meeting, told the School Board last Thursday night (May 19).

The impressive list of 26 inductees also includes Alexandria’s Shirley Marshall-Lee, the world’s first African American female scuba diver; educator Naomi L. Brooks, who played basketball at Parker-Gray High School and has a school named after her; and Fred Borchelt, a 1972 T.C. Williams High School grad who won the silver medal in the 1984 Olympics.

“We are blessed in this community to have wonderful athletes that come through our school system,” said Alexandria School Board Vice Chair Jacinta Greene. “So many of which that we have thousands of (ACPS Athletic Hall Of Fame) applications that come in each year.”

There are 26 inductees this year — more than usual due to a backlog of nominees. The Hall of Fame started in 2014, and previous winners include members of the 1971 T.C. Williams High School varsity football team, which gained worldwide recognition in the 2000 movie Remember The Titans.

The induction ceremony will be held in the Alexandria City High School auditorium at 2 p.m. on October 8.

The 2022 ACPS Athletic Hall of Fame

  • 1945 George Washington High School Boys Basketball Team — State champions
  • 1977 T.C. Williams High School Boys Basketballs Team — State champions
  • DeArcey “Dee” Campbell, George Washington High School Class of 1944, Crew Coach 1975-2005
  • Robert Garda, George Washington High School Class of 1957 — Football, Basketball, Track
  • Joe Hensley, George Washington High School Class of 1944 — Basketball
  • Bobby Jones, George Washington High School Class of 1949 — Track
  • Naomi Lewis-Brooks, Parker-Gray High School Class of 1951 — Basketball
  • Shirley Marshall-Lee, Parker-Gray High School Class of 1956 — Scuba Diving
  • Doug Yates, George Washington High School Class of 1955 — Basketball, Track
  • Fred Borchelt, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1972 — Crew
  • Yolanda Brown, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1994 — Track/Field
  • Lesa Diggs-Moore, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1981 — Track
  • Sherri Funn, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1978 — Track
  • John Johnson, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1973 — Track/ Field
  • Rodney Johnson, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1997 — Football, Track/Field, Track Coach
  • Missy Anne Kilkpatrick, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1991 — Track
  • Kathy James Lorton, T.C. Williams High School Class of 2000 — Cheerleading
  • Josephus Lyles, T.C. Williams High School Class of 2016 — Track/ Field
  • Noah Lyles, T.C. Williams High School Class of 2016 — Track/ Field
  • Marie McKeon Zack, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1983 — Soccer/Field Hockey
  • Barry Mountain, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1979 — Track/Field
  • Stephanie O’Toole Whalen, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1990 — Field Hockey, Basketball, Softball
  • Lydell Scott, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1987 — Football
  • Carl Turner, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1974 — Football, Basketball
  • Ezra Whorley, T.C. Williams High School Class of 1992 — Track/Field, Football
  • Eryk Williamson, T.C. Williams High School Class of 2015 — Soccer

Via Noah Lyles/Twitter

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Students unveil the Alexandria City High School marquee, June 23, 2021. (staff photo by James Cullum)

It was criticized by many for taking too long, but now Alexandria City Public Schools is winning awards for the renaming of Alexandria City High School and Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School.

On Friday (May 5), ACPS announced that it was awarded the Silver Prize in the National School Boards Association Magna Awards program for The Identity Project campaign, as well as a 2021 Gold Medallion Award from the National School Public Relations Association.

“We are excited that the ACPS Identity Project has been honored with a Magna Award,”  School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said in a statement. “This recognizes the contributions from our students, families, staff and community who came together to work on this historic change. With student voices at the center, we mobilized to educate our community about the past and to chart an inclusive path for the future. We now have school names that are reflective of the values of Alexandria City Public Schools.”

Alexandria City High School is the largest high school in Virginia. The school was previously named T.C. Williams High School for 50 years, and became known around the world for the 2000 movie Remember the Titans, which is the story of the 1971 state championship-winning varsity football team that found greatness by working through racial adversity.

T.C. was named after segregationist Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was the superintendent of ACPS for 30 years. Williams worked against the integration of schools, and required Black students who wanted admission to previously all-white schools go through an application process. Only 75 Black students (about 3%) were allowed to transfer to formerly white schools by the time Williams announced his retirement in 1962, and that was three years after the city officially desegregated schools.

The new name of Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School is unveiled by students on June 22, 2021. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Naomi L. Brooks Elementary was previously named Matthew Maury Elementary School for nearly a century, after the Confederate leader and oceanographer. Brooks was a beloved teacher for 25 years at Charles Houston Elementary School and Cora Kelly Elementary School.

It took more than a year to solicit name proposals from the community and for the School Board to whittle them down to replace the names of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School. The schools were officially renamed last summer, putting an end to an issue that residents tried to address for decades.

The project was deemed so successful that Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. highlighted it in a book he recently co-wrote with Georgetown University professor Douglas Reed: “Getting Into Good Trouble at School: A Guide to Building an Anti-racist School System.

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“Extremely problematic,” “inappropriate,” and “disrespectful” was how Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said School Board members handled edits of his plan to create a School Law Enforcement Advisory Group.

In a March 9 email, Hutchings scolded a majority of School Board Members — Michelle Rief, Ashley Simpson-Baird, Adbel Elnoubi, Kelly Carmichael Booz and Chris Harris — for editing his SLEP proposal. He said that such “behind the scenes” operations raised transparency issues by violating the Virginia Freedom Of Information Act.

“I believe that this approach is extremely problematic, inappropriate, disrespectful and most of all not aligned with our legal board practices,” Hutchings wrote. “SLEP is not an action item for the board and I’m not understanding why this is being presented to me this way. I believe some of the points in the document are welcome revisions; however, I hope that this will not be shared with our team tonight at the meeting.”

The 16-person SLEP advisory group will begin meeting in May or June to develop feedback recommendations for Hutchings on the future of the controversial school resource officer program within ACPS.

The group will send back their recommendations in a report in December. ACPS is now in the process of going through a solicitation process to hire a meeting facilitator.

The email was sent shortly before Hutchings and staff presented the Board with the first draft of the SLEP proposal on March 10. The edited draft circulated by the Members have some recommendations that stuck around in the final proposal, including adding a SLEP link to the ACPS website for community information.

At that March 10 Board meeting, Hutchings said: “This is our first time having a public discussion about this partnership and having a public discussion around this particular information that we’re sharing out and we’re sharing that with the board.”

The Board is allowed to discuss their positions on issues with each other outside meetings.

“I didn’t come here to uphold the status quo or be a rubber stamp,” Elnoubi said. “There’s nothing wrong with members sharing and discussing ideas outside the board room as long as as long as it’s in a one on one setting to abide by the ‘Sunshine Laws’ and that’s what we did. In this situation here when I see a proposal that continues to marginalize people of color like me, I have an obligation to speak up.”

According to the Board’s operating procedures:

The School Board transacts all business at Board meetings, and does not vote by secret or written ballot. However, nothing prohibits separately contacting the membership, or any part thereof, of the School Board for the purpose of ascertaining a member’s position with respect to the transaction of public business, whether such contact is done in person, by telephone or by electronic communication, provided the contact is done on a basis that does not constitute a meeting under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

Board Member Tammy Ignacio was not pleased to receive the edited document in a Board-wide email before the March 10 meeting from Harris, who asked that Board members look at it for discussion. Ignacio said she was not privy to the edited recommendations, and that they equated to “backstabbing” from her colleagues.

“We can’t openly expect to bring data forward when we’re backstabbing our own Board and making decisions and writing memos and editing them for our own specific purpose,” Ignacio said at the March 10 meeting. “And if that is the way that this Board is planning to run, I don’t want to be a part of it. Transparency. Do not stand up here in front of our public and our children and our staff and talk about transparency when you’re going behind the backs of other Board members and creating memos and editing them. It is unacceptable. It is unprofessional.”

Booz then failed in a 4-4-1 vote to get the advisory group to report directly to the Board instead of the Superintendent.

Simpson-Baird said on March 10 that ACPS has one chance to get the issue right.

“We have one chance to get community input and go through a very thorough processthat we all know didn’t happen over the past year,” she said at the March 10 meeting. “I know that’s where a lot of our our passions come from.”

On March 14, Hutchings provided the Board with a refresher on their operating procedures, which include not talking to the media.

Hutchings’ full March 9 to the School Board is below the jump.

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The Alexandria School Board gave its blessing to Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. on Thursday night (April 21) to form an advisory group to make recommendations on the controversial school resource officer program within Alexandria City Public Schools.

The 16-person school law enforcement partnership (SLEP) advisory group will be made up of students, ACPS administrators, Alexandria Police and members of the community. The group will evaluate the partnership between ACPS and police for the school resource officer program, and also on school safety initiatives, and deliver a report in December.

Hutchings does not want the meetings to be public or recorded, although he said minutes from the meetings would be provided to the Board. A link with SLEP information on the ACPS site is also in development, Hutchings said.

“What we want to make sure is happening is that there are authentic conversations happening ,” Hutchings told the Board. “We need people to be able to feel as if they can have these real discussions without the additional ice or heat or criticism that will come out of that, because people wanting to watch a long meeting like that (are) typically watching to give some type of constructive criticism. Typically, not always.”

Last month, a report revealed that 18 ACPS 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.

Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard Campus at 3801 W. Braddock Road was evacuated on Friday, Dec. 10, after a bomb threat. Here, Alexandria Police and a Bomb Dog look for anything suspicious outside the school. (staff photo by James Cullum)

Transparency issues

Member Kelly Carmichael Booz said that compiling the report behind closed doors raises transparency issues.

“I completely understand the challenges and the concern about making sure that folks feel comfortable to have open and frank conversations,” Booz said. “We also are in the business of transparency and making sure that we have access to the information that’s being provided. I do think we need to strike that balance there.”

Last month, Booz failed in a 4-4-1 vote to get the SLEP advisory group to report directly to the School Board instead of the superintendent, which would have made it a more public process.

Alicia Hart, ACPS executive director of facilities and operations, said that the decision to record meetings will be determined by a meeting facilitator. No facilitator has yet been awarded the contract, although she expects a number of proposals to come in soon.

“I’ll honestly have to defer to the external facilitator in terms of how they feel the meetings are best handled,” Hart said. “I don’t know if that’s the standard for our advisory groups or committees within the division. I don’t want to offer that it would be open to the public. I’d rather the external facilitator have the opportunity to present their framework for how they believe the meeting should occur.”

Board Chair Meagan Alderton said that certain meetings should be public, and others not, although the Board did not come to an official position on the matter.

“I do believe there is a balance to strike,” Alderton said. “We should probably select certain meetings that the public could come and sit in on it just to have that available, just because I don’t think we want to leave any room for being accused of not being open and transparent in that way.”

Hutchings said that there will be a link to the ACPS website regarding the SLEP advisory group.

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.

Since then, Hutchings has also advised the Board not to talk to the media and co-wrote a book that stated school systems should avoid being racist by abolishing policing practices.

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

The SRO program is currently funded through June 30, 2023.

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All Alexandria City High School (ACHS) campuses have gone into a “secure the building” status while the Alexandria Police Department (APD) investigates a threat to the school.

According to a release from ACPS:

For the safety and security of our students and staff, all four Alexandria City High School (ACHS) campuses-King Street, Minnie Howard, Satellite and Chance for Change-are currently on “secure the building” status. Since the Satellite Campus is in the Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Central Office, we have taken the precaution to place the Central Office building on “secure the building” status. This is due to a reported threat of violence, which is being investigated by the Alexandria Police Department (APD).

The school day continues as normal inside the school, but no one is allowed to enter or leave the building. Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) said the Alexandria Police Department is on-site and has additional officers en route to each campus.

“We appreciate the work of the APD and we will provide an update once the APD has determined next steps,” ACPS said in a release. “More details will be shared as information becomes available. The safety and security of our students and staff are a priority. We will continue to communicate to provide families with the most up-to-date information.”

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Friends and city officials gathered outside City Hall yesterday to celebrate one of Alexandria’s most storied centenarians: J. David Bailey, the oldest surviving veteran of the Battle of the Bulge.

Bailey, who turned 100 on January 3, was 22 when he was deployed to the European theater with the 422nd Regiment of the 106th Infantry Division. His battalion was captured by German troops while en route to St. Vith, Belgium, on Dec. 16, 1944. Bailey later escaped captivity and eventually appeared on the cover of the victory edition of Stars and Stripes.

When asked how he escaped captivity, Bailey told ALXnow “I happened to be going the right direction at the right speed at the right time.”

Since then, Bailey has won numerous awards for his military service and has attended ceremonies commemorating the Second World War.

At the ceremony, Bailey was presented with folded flags from the state and national capitals, along with a challenge coin from the Alexandria American Legion Post 24 and a key to the city.

Upbeat music from the Alexandria City High School Jazz Band accompanied the ceremony. Congressman Don Beyer was around 50 years when Bailey was born and congratulated him on hitting twice that.

“This is not only to honor me, but the 10 million Americans who lived a regimented lifestyle,” Bailey said. “Tom Brokaw was right when he declared it the greatest generation… Thank you, not just from me, but from the greatest generation of which I’m proud to be a member.”

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