Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard Campus has been taken off of “secure the building” mode after a handgun was confiscated from a student.
ACHS Executive Principal Peter Balas notified parents of the incident in an email. A teacher reported the weapon to school administrators at around 9 a.m., and the building was placed in “secure the building” mode at 9:15 a.m.
The full message is below.
Dear Minnie Howard Families,
At about 9:00 a.m. today, Alexandria City High School-Minnie Howard Campus administrators received a report from a teacher that a student was in possession of a weapon, and they quickly responded to this report. The school was placed in “secure the building” mode at 9:15 a.m. when, upon investigation, the presence of an unloaded handgun was confirmed, and the weapon was immediately secured. The Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) safety and security team worked with the Alexandria Police Department (APD) on site to conduct an investigation with the student involved. The “secure the building” status was lifted at 10:29 a.m. once the on-site investigation was completed, and normal operations resumed.
“Secure the building” means that the school day continues on a normal schedule inside the school but no one is allowed to enter or leave the school while the building remains secured. An Alexandria City Public Schools video provides more information on what happens when a school is placed in “secure the building” mode. The class schedule and transitions may be adjusted as needed.
The safety and security of our students and staff are of utmost priority. We will continue to provide updates to families via our website and ParentSquare as more information becomes available.
Alexandria City High School
King Street Campus
Minnie Howard Campus
Weapons in ACPS have been a serious issue, and the school system plans to roll out a metal detector program in May.
Alexandria City High School teachers are applauding increased wages and other recent changes to the Alexandria City Public Schools’ proposed fiscal year 2024 budget.
The School Board approved the proposed $359.9 million fiscal year 2024 combined funds budget proposal on Thursday night. The budget is a 4% increase over last year’s approved budget and includes funding to develop an official ACPS plan and policy for collective bargaining with employees.
Last month, 15 ACPS teachers appeared before the School Board at its public hearing for Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt’s budget. Since then, the proposed 2.6% step increase for eligible ACPS employees has been increased to 3% and a full step has been eliminated from the pay scale.
The Alexandria City High School budget now includes four new core teachers, a school psychologist, a truancy specialist, a systemwide college and career counselor.
“We are deeply grateful to ACPS for making these needed investments in our schools, staff, and students,” said Jay Falk a teacher at Minnie Howard who organized teachers to the school board meeting. “While there is always more work to do, this historic investment in needed mental health and instructional positions will help address pay and staffing concerns. Thank you to the ACPS leadership and school board members who worked hard to make these investments possible.”
The budget now goes to City Council before being approved as part of the city budget in early May.
Around 1:15 p.m. an Alexandria City High School student was taken to the hospital for a suspected overdose.
Fire department spokeswoman Raytevia Evans confirmed that emergency personnel responded to a possible overdose at the school.
“The call came out around 1:15 [p.m.] for a possible overdose and a request for multi-agency response,” Evans said. “It was a possible overdose.”
Evans said one person, a child, was transported to the hospital, though there’s no additional information about their status.
A student at Wakefield High School in Arlington died last week after an overdose at the school. The Alexandria Police Department warned last year that the city is seeing an increase in teen overdoses linked to pills laced with fentanyl.
Alexandria City High School students watching Saturday Night Live this weekend might have seen a familiar face in the musical numbers: the school’s Director of Choral Activities Theodore Thorpe III.
Thorpe was part of the Jason Max Ferdinand Singers in a choral ensemble with Coldplay, performing the songs The Astronaut, Human Heart, and Fix You in the show on Saturday, Feb. 4.
Thorpe said there were two days of rehearsal before the show: one with the members of the Jason Max Ferdinand Singers and then one with the group and Coldplay.
“There was a lot of work on multiple fronts,” Thorpe said. “Not just the chorus and the musical scores, but all of the folks working to make the performance happen, from set design to stage management and costuming. I like to call it: organized chaos.”
Thorpe has known Jason Max Ferdinand for over two decades but said this new choral group took off during the pandemic.
“This group really started out of the pandemic and it has just been taking off,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe said the Saturday Night Live performance came from the friendship between Ferdinand and musician Jacob Collier.
“[Ferdinand] got a call from [Collier] who said Chris Martin from Coldplay wanted this choir to perform with him,” Thorpe said. “They brought us to New York. The members of our ensemble are from all over, so we came together for this performance and really only had one day.”
Thorpe said he was backstage for much of the show because they had to do a quick change between songs.
“It felt great,” Thorpe said. “It was a great experience, from rehearsals all the way down.”
The long and tangled history of the Appomattox statue that once stood at the intersection of S. Washington Street and Prince Street took another turn this week as ALXnow learned the base had been installed in a Carlyle-area cemetery.
The statue had been removed in 2020 after years of debate over its presence. While some neighbors have expressed misgivings at the base’s new home above Confederate graves in the Bethel Cemetery not far from historic Black cemeteries, the new location is on private property and the cemetery’s owner said he’d like to see the statue reinstalled there.
It was also a tumultuous week at Alexandria City High School.
Twice this week, the school had to be evacuated due to bomb threats. On the second day, students had already been dismissed, but parents and faculty were still in the building for parent-teacher conferencing.
Unrelated to the threats, the Alexandria School Board approved new metal detectors at two Alexandria schools, over the concerns expressed by a student representative on the School Board who said students would feel uneasy with the new security measures.
The most-read stories this week were:
- Old Town residents and business owners cry foul over new George Washington Birthday Parade route
- Fire alarms didn’t go off during Saturday’s high-rise apartment fire in the West End
- Two Alexandria restaurants featured on Washingtonian’s ‘Very Best’ list
- Petitions launched for and against ABC Virginia opening new store in Old Town
- JUST IN: Alexandria City High School evacuated for second day in a row due to bomb threats
- Teen shot to death in West End hotel Friday night
- The base of the Appomattox statue has resurfaced atop Confederate graves in Alexandria
- Lorton man charged with DWI after multi-vehicle crash in Old Town
- Alexandria teens make suggestions for city to help on youth safety issues
- New regional plan offers significant steps to boost affordable housing in Alexandria
Two Alexandria City Public Schools will be getting metal detectors before the end of this school year.
On Thursday night, the School Board voted 7-0 (Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Member Christopher Harris were not present) to approve the process for “advanced weapons abatement technology” to go into operation at two unnamed ACPS schools in May.
The Board approved staff to proceed with a public engagement process that will end in March, followed by the installation of the equipment in April.
The new system is “less invasive” than traditional metal detectors and handheld wand devices, Alicia Hart, the ACPS chief of facilities and operations, told the Board. Students, staff and visitors would walk through at a normal pace and artificial intelligence will be used to detect weapons.
“It is important to note that the advanced weapons technology tends to use engineering and artificial intelligence to detect most weapon threats,” Hart said. “This is a departure from traditional metal detectors. Additionally, some of the current weapon abatement systems have the ability to indicate via photograph the specific area in which a concealed item has been detected.”
Hart said that the locations of the schools for the pilot have not been released, however, the school system will focus on the middle schools and Alexandria City High School.
“The level of incidents with weapons, as reported previously, tend to happen at our secondary levels, so at our middle schools and our high school,” Hart said. “Naturally, between those schools, that would be one place where we would want to do a pilot.”
Emily Milton, an ACHS senior and student representative on the Board, said that the new detection system will not sit well with students.
“I feel like it’s a bad look for our school if we put them in there,” Milton said. “I feel more uncomfortable, honestly, having those in my school.”
Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said that the installation of metal detectors is a “proactive preventative measure.”
“I take this very seriously,” Kay-Wyatt said. “When I hear that the students are going to feel that this is uncomfortable, think about a call that would be more uncomfortable — that we would have to call and say there’s an injury or tragedy to somebody.”
There were 28 incidents involving students with weapons in ACPS last school year — 13 incidents in the first semester, and 15 in the second semester, according to a safety report. The weapons seized include a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray. In all, 46 students were arrested and 68 injured, with 194 incidents that provoked a police response.
ACPS began this year with a number of new security upgrades, including the installation of door alarms, camera upgrades, a new student ID process and a new visitor and emergency management system.
Board Member Willie Bailey said that the school system wants to avoid a situation like last month’s shooting of a teacher by a six-year-old student in Newport News.
“God forbid, we do not want that to happen here in Alexandria City in our school system,” Bailey said. “Whatever we can do to prevent that, I am for it 110%.”
Hart said that the decision to install metal detectors wasn’t easy.
“We value stakeholder and community feedback, and staff feedback and student feedback, which is why we’re not implementing it right away,” Hart said. “But I also ask for students to keep in sight the other side of that coin and to understand the decisions that, as adults, sometimes we have to make to make sure that you are safe. It’s not fun. It is not easy. But it is something that we are charged in our positions to do.”
Alexandria City High School (ACHS) was evacuated in response to a bomb threat earlier today, the second day in a row that bomb threats have forced a school evacuation.
The school was evacuated at 2:25 p.m. today, though students were already dismissed earlier at 1:15 p.m. for parent-teacher conferences.
According to an email sent out to the ACHS community by Principal Peter Balas:
At 2:25 p.m. today, the Alexandria City High School (ACHS) King Street campus was evacuated in response to a bomb threat. Students had been dismissed at 1:15 p.m. today for early dismissal due to parent-teacher conferences.
The remaining staff, students and families in the building for the parent-teacher conferences were evacuated from the King Street Campus to designated areas outside, while the Alexandria Police Department and Alexandria Fire Department are conducting an on-site investigation.
The safety and security of our students, staff and families in our school facilities are of utmost priority. Teachers and school administrators will provide information to families about the rescheduling of today’s parent-teacher conferences.
The evacuation comes one day after a previous evacuation due to a bomb threat.
ACHS King Street campus evacuated due to a bomb threat. Parent-teacher conferences today will be rescheduled. https://t.co/WeE71VRWf9
— Alexandria City High School – King Street Campus (@AlexCityTitans) February 2, 2023
Updated at 3:15 p.m. Alexandria City High School’s campuses evacuated at 2:25 p.m. today after a bomb threat was made earlier by phone.
Principal Peter Balas wrote that the bomb threat was made while the schools were under a “Secure the Building” status.
“The Alexandria Police Department and Alexandria Fire Department are on site and working with ACHS administration, ACPS leadership and the ACPS Office of Safety and Security Services,” Balas wrote.
Balas said that students were evacuated to designated outdoor areas and that buses were sent early to speed up dismissal.
“At 2:45 p.m., the ‘Secure the Building’ status was lifted at the Minnie Howard Campus,” Balas wrote. “As a result, students may be able to leave both campuses early, depending on the arrival of the buses, while others may have a delayed departure from school, as the safety protocol allows.”
ACPS is asking parents follow directions from the Alexandria Police Department once they arrive to pick up their child from the school.
Additionally, all after school and evening activities scheduled today at the ACHS King Street and Minnie Howard campuses are canceled, including:
- All athletics, although some away games are still occurring. Instructions on pick-up for away games will be communicated at a later time
- All student clubs, theatrical, musical or other activities
- Any community activities scheduled at these ACHS facilities.
In a release, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) said the buildings were put in secure status at 11:45 a.m. after a threat was received by phone.
According to the release:
The threat is being investigated by the Alexandria City High School administration, Alexandria City Public Schools Office of Safety and Security Services and the Alexandria Police Department.
“Secure the building” means that the school day continues on a normal schedule inside the school but no one is allowed to enter or leave the school while the building remains secured. The decision to secure the ACHS King Street and Minnie Howard campuses was taken out of an abundance of caution to allow the investigation to proceed.
The safety and security of our students and staff are of utmost priority. We will continue to communicate via text, email and the school website to provide the most up-to-date information.
This is the second time in a little over a week that ACPS put schools into secure the building mode. Last Tuesday, ACPS said Francis C. Hammond Middle School, James K. Polk Elementary School, Patrick Henry PreK-8 School and James K. Polk Elementary Schools were put in a secure mode after police investigated a shots fired call nearby — though what this meant for the still under-reconstruction Douglas Macarthur Elementary School is unclear.
James Cullum contributed to this article
It’s been a busy week in Alexandria.
As teachers fought for a pay raise, Alexandria City High School (ACHS) students walked out of the classrooms in protest against Alexandria City Public Schools leadership stonewalling a lunchtime program.
Titan Lunch was a proposed replacement for an earlier Lunch and Learn program that allowed students to meet with clubs or teachers during their lunch period. A student committee met with school administration and worked on crafting a compromise that would keep the core of “Lunch and Learn” intact while adding security measures.
In an email to the ACHS community, Principal Peter Balas said during meetings with the school district’s senior leadership team it became apparent that “safety and security concerns, in addition to the logistical and operational challenges” would keep the program from moving forward during the current school year.
While organizers said Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt has yet to meet with the student committee that put together the activity proposal, the ACHS PTSA wrote a letter to the school system supporting the Titan Lunch proposal.
The most-read stories this week were:
- Alexandria City High School students organize walk out protesting cancelation of lunchtime activities
- With Alexandria seeing more residential development conversions, city leaders discuss pushing for greater ‘voluntary’ contributions
- No arrest after woman robbed at gunpoint in Old Town Saturday night
- UPDATED: Alexandria BIPOC-focused grant program delayed by lawsuit from local engineering firm
- JUST IN: Visit Alexandria unveils new city branding
- JUST IN: Suspect on run in shooting ‘mistakenly’ released from jail after arrest
- Alexandria teachers want smaller classes and bigger raises
- Notes: Neighboring Arlington embroiled in single-family zoning fight Alexandria has avoided… so far
- Woodbridge man arrested after stabbing incident in West End
- APD investigates shots fired in the West End
(Updated 3:55 p.m.) At 10 a.m. today, Alexandria City High School students filed out of their classrooms and took to the field behind the school in protest against the elimination of a popular lunchtime program at the school.
For a time, students could use their lunch block to meet with clubs or teachers in a program called Lunch and Learn. This was later given a more formal structure in a program called Titan Lunch, a re-do with more security, but that program was never instated.
Earlier this week, ACHS Principal Peter Balas told that — after meeting with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) senior leadership team — Titan Lunch would not be implemented for the current school year.
In an email to the community, Balas said logistics and safety concerns were at the core of why the program was canceled for the duration of the current school year.
“You may recall that, last fall, I promised to share an update after Winter Break and provide the next steps in the process,” Balas wrote. “In my previous message, I emphasized the need to address all of the safety and security concerns, in addition to the logistical and operational challenges, in our final plan, while also providing an opportunity for student choice during the lunch period. This is a significant challenge to overcome, given our large student population.”
Balas said the program “as we have known it” will not be reinstated for the 2022-2023 school year.
“Despite our best efforts, we are still working through the numerous factors and considerations to successfully reinstate the Titan Lunch period for this school year,” Balas wrote. “At this time,we will not be able to reinstate Titan Lunch for the 2022-23 school year as we have known it. Over the next semester, we will find ways to provide support to students focused on academics, well-being and student life.”
Students at ACHS told ALXnow that Lunch and Learn allowed students to participate in clubs and receive support from teachers, as well as allowing them time to visit counselors. The program allowed students to use the lunch break for these activities when things like sports or jobs might have left them unable to use those resources after school hours.
According to James Libresco, the 2025 class president at ACHS:
Lunch and Learn was such an important issue for students because it allowed students to participate in clubs, receive academic support from teachers, utilize the College & Career center, receive emotional support from counselors, and so much more. And the best part was that it allowed equal and equitable access for all students to participate in these school activities and enrichments, even those who had responsibilities after school like going to sports practice, working a job, or taking care of family members. This was something that had never been possible previously.
Titan Lunch took those aspects and added more safety-focused oversight, restricting some of the openness from Lunch and Learn like access to Chinquapin Field. Titan Lunch also required students to report directly to their location and check in via an internal system to let administrators keep track of students.
Libresco said strategic security plans for Titan Lunch included placing security officers and administrators in key locations to prevent students from roaming the halls or entering “no-go” areas.
.@ACPSk12 @ACPSk12Supt ~1,000 students walked out of your school in support of instating Titan Lunch. Enough is enough. Listen to student voices. pic.twitter.com/E4aTAz8H8u
— James Libresco (@james_libresco) January 24, 2023
Walked out during pride, back in time for third period. Thank you all for showing up, and thank you to everyone who organized! (Especially @james_libresco) pic.twitter.com/14UMjBI2G1
— Yahney-Marie Sangaré (@yahneymarie) January 24, 2023
Student newspaper Theogony has been covering the topic and reported that the Titan Lunch plans hit a wall when they were not approved by Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt.
A committee of 25 students, called the Student Lunch Committee, had been working on the Titan Lunch program as a compromise. The Student Lunch Committee issued a statement expressing frustration at being seemingly stonewalled by the central office. Libresco said Balas was supportive of the students and engaged in conversations, but that the school had difficulty discussing the plan with the central office and Kay-Wyatt in particular, who has not met with the committee.
A Change.org petition calling specifically on Kay-Wyatt to reinstate Lunch and Learn has gotten 1,346 signatures at time of writing.
“This is no longer just about Titan Lunch,” the committee said in a statement posted on social media. “this is about students, teachers, staff and administration being flagrantly ignored by Central Office with the vague reasoning of ‘safety.’ This is about Central Office leaving nothing up to the principals and administrators who know our school so well.”
In the email to the community, Balas said the discussion around lunchtime activities is likely to continue:
In our continued conversations with students and staff about the reinstatement of this period, we have heard many perspectives and advocacy to accommodate this period in the schedule for the remainder of this year. I want you to know that your voice has not gone unheard. In our role as leaders, it is always challenging to balance safety for all within the building with student and staff choice. This is one of those times when a tough call must be made to ensure that we can be fully prepared to provide the safest environment for our school community while also keeping student life top of mind.
I understand that you may still have questions about this decision and may be disappointed with this outcome at this time. Please be assured that we will continue to identify ways to incorporate student and staff voice in our next steps as we continue our planning, if all measures are in place.