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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.”

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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.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. City looks to permanently ‘pedestrianize’ a block of King Street
  2. UPDATE: Alexandria man charged with homicide after stabbing at BJ’s Wholesale Club in Landmark area
  3. Total Wine is taking shape in Potomac Yard
  4. ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria
  5. Man buys luxury car with fake driver’s license at Lindsay Lexus of Alexandria
  6. Protestors rally to return police to Alexandria schools, but officials say behind-the-scenes talks have stalled
  7. Man arrested for posting lewd photos of Alexandria stepsister on Twitter
  8. Firecracker shuts down Alexandria City High School football game
  9. Adoptable Chihuahua Dory only weighs 3.5 pounds
  10. Mayor Wilson: Potomac Yard construction delay ‘could have nothing to do with Metro station’
  11. Police: Juvenile shot at shopping center near Alexandria City High School

Have a safe weekend!

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(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.

https://twitter.com/ACPSk12/status/1443682038238912518

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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.

As ACPS returned to full in-person school days, several incidents of violence have renewed calls from some parents and community members to restore the program.

“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

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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.”

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.

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Police outside the McDonalds where a shooting occurred, staff photo by James Cullum

What a busy week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was on a juvenile who was shot outside the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center on Tuesday, Sept. 21. There have also been a number of concerning incidents at Alexandria City Public Schools, including a juvenile who was arrested for trespassing and assault and battery at Alexandria City High School.

Meanwhile, while the COVID-19 transmission rate remains high, public events are still happening in Alexandria.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Police: Juvenile shot at shopping center near Alexandria City High School
  2. Police dispatched three times for fighting at Alexandria City Public Schools in less than a month
  3. Police: Six hospitalized after overdoses on Alexandria-Fairfax border
  4. Poll: What do you think of Metro’s proposed Blue Line crossing to National Harbor?
  5. BREAKING: Flooding reported in Alexandria
  6. Interview: Port City Publius opens up about Alexandria
  7. BREAKING: Video shows brawl at Alexandria City High School cafeteria just two days after school starts
  8. Juvenile arrested for trespassing and assault and battery at Alexandria City High School
  9. Multiple violent charges dropped against Fairfax County man held without bond for assaulting police during arrest
  10. Preserving Arlandria’s affordability against gentrification could cost upward of $100 million
  11. JUST IN: One person injured after shots fired in West End Tuesday afternoon

Have a safe weekend! 

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(Updated at 10:15 a.m. on Friday) A juvenile was arrested for assault and battery and trespassing at Alexandria City High School on Friday, September 10, according to the Alexandria Police Department.

“At ACHS this school year, there has been one incident where a juvenile was arrested for assault and battery and trespassing on September 10, 2021,” Alexandria Police said. “Due to the strict confidentiality of juvenile criminal justice records, we cannot provide further information to explain those charges or where the juvenile suspect or victim resides.”

Fighting in and around Virginia’s largest high school has been in the news lately.

A juvenile was shot after school outside of a McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center near ACHS on Tuesday, September 21. No arrests from that incident are reported.

A juvenile was also arrested after a fight at the McDonald’s at around 2:15 p.m. on Wednesday, September 22.

Some say the violence is due to the defunding of school resource officers by City Council. Consequently, there will be a demonstration regarding SROs outside City Hall on September 28 (Tuesday) at 5 p.m.

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(Updated 5:15 p.m.) Police are currently investigating a shooting that occurred around 3:45 p.m. today (Tuesday) just a few blocks from Alexandria City High School.

According to an alert put out by the Alexandria Police Department, the incident started with a fight involving juveniles at the Bradlee Shopping Center (3600 King Street).

“Officers discovered a juvenile with a gunshot wound to the upper body,” police said. “Victim taken to hospital with injuries not considered life-threatening.”

Witnesses said the shooting started at the McDonalds in the shopping center and went into the Duck Donuts after being shot.

The incident comes after police have been dispatched three times for violent incidents involving juveniles at Alexandria City High School campuses in the area.

James Cullum contributed to this story. Photo via Google Maps

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After more than 50 years of playing football early and in the dark, the Alexandria City High School Titans won their first game under lights at the newly renovated Parker-Gray Stadium.

After a years-long renovation project was completed, City and Alexandria City Public Schools leaders cut the ribbon on the stadium, bringing a close to generations of legal challenges that prevented the installation of the lights.

The Titans won the contest against Justice High School 34-7.

https://twitter.com/ACPSk12/status/1438986203018276868

https://twitter.com/AlexCityTitans/status/1438994713097515012

Photos via Elijah Walter Griffin, Sr.

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Alexandria Police have been dispatched to Alexandria City Public Schools three times to respond to students fighting since school started on August 24.

The most recent incident occurred on Tuesday, September 14, just before 1 p.m. at the Alexandria City High School Minnie Howard campus at 3801 West Braddock Road. The student victim was not transported to the hospital.

“The call came from the parent of a juvenile, and was received after the event occurred,” Alexandria Police senior public information officer Amanda Paga told ALXnow. “This is an ongoing investigation involving juveniles.”

ACPS did not comment on the incident.

There have been a number of fights within Alexandria City High School since school started, including a brawl that was filmed by a student during the first week. In the video, security guards and staff are shoved around in the cafeteria of Virginia’s largest high school.

Some say the violence is due to the absence of school resource officers.

The Alexandria City Council voted 4-3 in May to redirect nearly $800,000 in SRO funding toward student mental health resources, a move that was decried by the School Board. The reallocation took away a police presence inside Alexandria City High School, Francis C. Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School.

School Board Chair Meagan Alderton says that ACPS and the police department need to get creative in preserving its memorandum of understanding with the police department.

“I think it’s important for our students to have access to our police officers, not just when they’re out in the community,” Alderton told ALXnow. “I do want our police department to stay in touch with our schools. It is an important connection, and I’m sure we can come up with some good ideas.”

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