A new survey shows widespread support for the installation of metal detectors within Alexandria City Public Schools.
There were 4,374 respondents to the survey, which ACPS opened on Feb. 24 and closed on March 8. Included in the survey were 1,181 students, 609 staff, 2,295 family/guardians, and 289 community members. About 85% of survey respondents supported using weapons screening equipment in all or some schools, and 58% of respondents want the metal detectors in every school.
The news comes as the Alexandria School Board on Thursday (March 16) will give final consideration to a pilot program to install metal detectors at the city’s middle schools and high school. If approved, the “advanced weapons abatement technology” will be installed next month in both Alexandria City High School campuses and at the city’s middle schools. The program would go live in May, before the end of the school year.
About 80% of respondents said they wanted the metal detectors to make the school system safer, and 72% reported that weapons entering schools are a significant concern/problem. About 65% of respondents also said that metal detectors crate a less anxious environment, and 49% said that the metal detectors are a much needed security upgrade for the school system. A majority of those against the proposal (59%) responded that the metal detectors detract from a welcoming feeling within schools, 32% were concerned with the cost of the equipment, 20% said weapons are not a significant problem, and 19% said that the current safety protocols are adequate.
There were 15 weapons-related incidents in the first two quarters of the 2022-2023 school year, and weapons seized include knives, brass knuckles, stun guns/tasers, a BB gun and pepper spray, according to a school safety report. ACPS began the school year last August with new security upgrades, like the installation of door alarms, upgraded security cameras, a new student ID process and a new visitor and emergency management system.
It costs $60,000 for every affixed metal detector, and $13,000 for mobile detectors, the latter of which would be used for outdoor athletic events and as-needed. The devices use artificial intelligence to detect weapons, while students, staff and guests can freely walk through them without emptying their pockets or bookbags in a lone line.
ACPS will need at least four units for Alexandria City High School’s King Street campus alone, and up to three units at the Minnie Howard campus, Alicia Hart, the ACPS chief of facilities and operations, told the Board last month. It was not clear how many will be needed for the city’s two middle school campuses.
The survey results are below.
- 44% (519 students) want the metal detectors in all schools
- 29% (337 students) only want metal detectors at the middle schools and high school
- 28% (325 students) want no metal detectors
- 58% (356 staff members) want the metal detectors in all schools
- 33% (198 staff members) only want metal detectors at the middle schools and high school
- 9% (55 staff members) want no metal detectors
- 65% (1,484 family members/guardians) want the metal detectors in all schools
- 25% (577 family members/guardians) only want metal detectors at the middle schools and high school
- 10% (234 family members/guardians) want no metal detectors
- 63% (182 community members) want the metal detectors in all schools
- 20% (59 community members) only want metal detectors at the middle schools and high school
- 17% (48 community members) want no metal detectors
A 17-year-old male was arrested after a fight inside the McDonald’s (3646 King Street) in the Bradlee Shopping Center on Jan. 24 (Tuesday).
The incident occurred inside the restaurant after school at around 3:30 p.m., according to the Alexandria Police Department. The teen was charged with assaulting a police officer, trespassing and obstruction of justice.
No one was injured in the incident, and a weapon was not used, police said.
The McDonald’s at Bradlee is located just a few blocks from Alexandria City High School’s campuses, and is a frequent hangout for teens. The restaurant has seen more than its fair share of crime incidents, including last year’s fatal stabbing of 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez in the parking lot. Since that event, however, police have made a regular presence outside the McDonald’s after school, and also in the parking lot behind the shopping center.
“It’s much safer than it used to be,” said Markos Panas, owner of the Beeliner Diner (3648 King Street). “It has calmed down a lot with the police patrolling the shopping center more.”
Seven months after Luis Mejia Hernandez was fatally stabbed in a brawl at the Bradlee Shopping Center McDonald’s, the city has made some progress on putting together a series of teen-led recommendations for preventing future violence.
Some of the initial suggestions coming out of those focus group meetings, though, are a little generalized. They include things like encouraging the city to listen to youth voices more and build better partnerships.
The city surveyed 125 local teens and children to put together a “Youth Safety and Resiliency concept” — a plan to help offer better services to local teens to help build positive relationships and understand more about the mental health of students in Alexandria City Public Schools.
In an initial update, the focus groups came back with suggestions that mainly involve better lines of communication and opportunities for local teens.
Mayor Justin Wilson, who chairs the committee along with Council member Alyia Gaskins, said in a newsletter released this morning:
What we learned in the focus groups should not surprise us. Students told us that policymakers should:
- Offer creative, inclusive, flexible youth programs that foster social connection and a sense of belonging and promote youth behavioral health
- Use a variety of methods and partnerships to creatively encourage young people and ensure that they are aware of the resources and programs available to them
- Build effective Youth-Adult Partnerships by providing adults with ongoing trainings and technical assistance to promote positive youth development, and by providing youth with a strong foundation and opportunities to participate in decision and policy making with adults
- When asking youth for their input and feedback, it is critical that adults listen, take their ideas seriously, and hold themselves accountable to respond to their concerns.
One of the ideas was for the city to hold a “Youth Summit” to address topics like mental health, the education system, and social change.
“Our youth have shouldered the worst of the challenges we have collectively faced over the past 3 years,” Wilson wrote in the newsletter. “Ensuring that every young person in our City is equipped to thrive during these challenging times remains a top priority in our community.”
(Updated 1:45 p.m.) Toy donations are still needed for residents living in Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority properties.
The 13th Annual Santa’s Winter Wonderland event will provide gifts for hundreds of children 17 years old and under.
This year’s will be drive-thru and held over the course of three days (Dec. 16, 17 and 18) in the parking lot of Charles Houston Recreation Center (901 Wythe Street).
Anyone interested in donating items to the toy drive should contact Rose Boyd at [email protected]ARHA.us.
The toy drive is open only to ARHA residents. Participants must register online by December 12. Accommodations can be made for ARHA residents who have challenges participating in the on-site event by calling 703-549-7115.
Students and parents are facing years upheaval in Alexandria’s West End, as the city’s school system is planning on completely rebuilding two elementary schools within the decade.
Alexandria City Public Schools plans to redesign an office building at 1703 N. Beauregard Street to be used as swing space while George Mason Elementary School (2601 Cameron Mills Road) and Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology (3600 Commonwealth Avenue) are completely rebuilt.
Barring construction holdups, a newly built George Mason could be up and running by fall 2026, staff said in a community meeting on Monday night. That means that, at a minimum, the next two years will be spent planning and retrofitting the office building into a school, with George Mason students to transition to swing space in fall 2024. Cora Kelly students would then move to the swing space in fall 2027, while their new school is under construction, and they would move into a newly built school in fall 2031.
“The most aggressive schedule that we have is showing the fall of 2026 [for George Mason students to return],” Azjargal Bartlett, director of ACPS capital programs, said in a community meeting Monday night. “These are anticipated timelines, and if there is any change to the schedule we’ll communicate that out.”
The property at 1703 N. Beauregard Street is directly across the street from Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School (1701 N. Beauregard Street), which is also a converted office building.
Bartlett said that ACPS is working with the remaining tenants on “mutually beneficial solutions for them to vacate the building prior to the start of the construction,” she said.
The school system is considering staggered dismissal times to minimize traffic between Ferdinand T. Day and the swing space, as well as busing students to the new school.
“We are anticipating that the transportation will be provided to all the students when the building is being used for swing space,” Bartlett said.
So far, $24.5 million has been allocated to the project in the city’s 10-year Capital Improvement Program, with an additional $5 million that is going into the upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget.
Between now and then, a lot of planning and design work with the architect, Perkins Eastman, has to happen, like adding outdoor and playground space at 1703 N. Beauregard.
“We’re still working through that we do not have any options to present at this time,” Bartlett said. “We are in discussions with our design team and once we have more information we’ll provide an update early next year on that design progress for the swing space.”
(Updated at 5 p.m.) Police responded to “student altercations” today at Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard campus but the incidents did not result in a lockdown, the school’s principal wrote in an email to parents on Monday afternoon.
Three juveniles were arrested for obstruction of justice. No students went to the hospital or were reported injured, police said.
Principal Peter Balas said that the regular school schedule was interrupted as police and school administrators “assured the safety of all students and staff in the building after the events.”
“This afternoon, there was additional police presence at the Alexandria City High School Minnie Howard campus resulting from student altercations,” Balas wrote. “The campus resumed a regular schedule at 1:15 p.m. once the situation was addressed.”
Balas continued, “As a precaution, the Alexandria Police Department (APD) was called for assistance in the event that additional support might be needed. Just to clarify, the building was not placed on lockdown or secure the building status which some members of the school community mistakenly posted on social media channels.”
ACHS is the largest high school in Virginia and began this year with new security upgrades for students and staff. There were 82 incidents in the 2021-2022 year at the school that required a police response, and 14 students were arrested.
Last month, after a visit to the school from Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, Mayor Justin Wilson and School Board Chair Jacinta Greene affirmed in a letter the “close partnership between our school division, Alexandria Police Department and other agencies that promote the well-being of children.”
A new day care center to accommodate 190 children is planning to open in the new Carlyle Crossing development in January.
There are 750 luxury apartments in Carlyle Crossing, and the Celebree School of Alexandria will be located within the 1 million-square-foot luxury residential development, on the ground floor of the brand new 13,648-square foot space at 2450 Mill Road.
The daycare franchise will be located in the same building as the Wegmans (150 Stovall Street), which opened in May. Its hours will be 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and it will be able to hold up to 190 children and 30 staffers working on-site at any given time, according to a special use permit filed with the city.
Founded in 1994, the school provides early education and childcare service-based programs for children aged six weeks to 12-years old.
The company has 26 corporate locations (24 in Maryland and two in Delaware), as well as 10 other franchises, and is “aggressively” expanding to open 150 new locations and franchises within the next three years.
“After developing successful schools in our home state of Maryland, Virginia was a natural next step as a target growth area for our continued franchise expansion,” said Richard Huffman, founder and CEO of Celebree School. “With a 25-plus-year history, we’ve built an incredible infrastructure for growth. By partnering with like-minded franchisees who believe in our brand and our mission, we’re poised for long-term success.”
There are four other Celebree Schools in Virginia — in Reston, Henrico, Ashburn, and Tysons-Jones. Sixteen new locations are also planned to open next year, including the Celebree School of National Landing, at Metropolitan Park in Arlington, in Herndon and Dulles.
Alexandria City Public Schools officials say that their strategies to make school safer are working, although it will take time to tell if they’re right.
Flanked by city, school and police officials, interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said at a student safety forum on Wednesday night that crime incidents are down this school year.
Kay-Wyatt didn’t present data to back up the claim that schools are safer, but said that it’s because of a new identification requirement for students and staff at Alexandria City High School, staggering dismissal times, designating entrances for students and staff at schools, and providing all ACPS students with a mandatory 30 minutes of daily Social and Emotional Learning (SEAL) time.
“While we see that incidents are down, I remain very hopeful,” Kay-Wyatt said. “I believe that it’s (due to) of some of those SEAL lessons that are in place and other supports that we put in place throughout the school year to make sure that we are supporting families and students.”
There were 46 students arrested and 68 injured in the 2021-2022 school year, with 194 incidents that provoked a police response, according to an ACPS safety report. The school system is, in fact, using the 2021-2022 school year as a baseline for future improvement.
Transportation-wise, the city recently approved the installation of speed cameras in five school zones, as well as reducing speed limits in school zones to 15 miles per hour. The city is also working on walk audits for potential pedestrian improvements on roadways near Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School, George Washington and Francis C. Hammond Middle Schools, and both ACHS campuses.
By December, Kay-Wyatt will also receive recommendations on a reimagined partnership between ACPS and the police department, the latter of which provides school resource officers to the high school and the city’s middle schools. In the meantime, a proposal will be presented to the School Board to continue the SRO program as it stands until the end of the school year.
“Last year was very challenging, extremely challenging,” John Contreras, ACPS Director of Safety and Security Services, said at the forum. “It was a very challenging year and this year is a bit calmer.”
Contreras also did not present any safety data on this school year.
While the school system might feels safer, it will take time to collect the data to really see what’s working, said School Board Member Abdel Elnoubi, who attended the meeting as an audience member.
“You’ve got to give it time,” Elnoubi said.
One high school student at the event said that SEAL lessons aren’t working, and that the information being presented to the community is being “sugar-coated.”
“They have us do community circles to share our emotions, but it’s high schoolers,” another student said. “Nobody want to talk about how they feel. It’s just an awkward experience.”
The Alexandria City Council, on Wednesday, says that Governor’s Glenn Youngkin’s proposed new policies restricting transgender bathroom and pronoun use stigmatize and undermine children, and puts their lives at risk.
In a letter to the Virginia Department of Education, Council backed the position of Alexandria City Public Schools to essentially ignore Youngkin’s proposed new rules, which go into effect after a 30-day public comment period on October 27.
The Democrat-led Council said that Youngkin (a Republican) has brought Virginia into the fold of “states across the U.S. seeking to adopt discriminatory and harmful restrictions on LGBTQ+ students,” and that it undermines ACPS and contributes to “the already high number of LGBTQ+ students who attempt suicide.”
“The proposed policies issued September 16 remove protections for transgender and non-binary students in Virginia’s public schools, stigmatizing them and undermining their dignity, and the policies put vulnerable students’ lives at risk,” the city said in the letter, which was approved in Council’s Wednesday night (September 28) meeting at City Hall.
The letter continued, “While the Governor’s policies target, demean and diminish LGBTQ+ youth, particularly transgender and non-binary students, Alexandria City leaders and community members will support, uplift, and provide a safe, nurturing environment for LGBTQ+ youth so that they can flourish.”
Last week, the city’s interim superintendent says that Youngkin’s proposal won’t be a distraction as the school system plans to continue its “gender-affirming policies.”
While students are not required to wear gender-neutral clothes, the new rules state:
- School division employees must refer to students with the pronouns “appropriate to the sex appearing in the student’s official record”
- “The appropriate participation” in school programs separated by sex
- Overnight travel accommodations, locker rooms, and other intimate spaces used for school-related activities and events shall be based on sex
- Students shall use bathrooms that correspond to his or her sex, except to the extent that federal law otherwise requires
- Single-user bathrooms and facilities should be made available in accessible areas and provided with appropriate signage, indicating accessibility for all students
Mayor Justin Wilson said that Youngkin’s policy changes are “lawless” and not backed by education experts.
“This proposed policy is not backed by any science, by any best practice, any recommended authority on the welfare of children,” Wilson said. “This is a politically driven policy proposal, not a child-driven policy proposal.”
City Councilman Kirk McPike said that the matter cuts to the heart of the city.
“This is appropriate for the Council to weigh in,” McPike said. “We know that there are many trans students in Virginia schools, including here in Alexandria. They deserve to have their schools to be a place of safety and acceptance. I want them to know that their local elected leaders are on their side. We have your back and will never stop fighting for you.”
Council Member Canek Aguirre said that it’s “absolutely ridiculous” that the city has been put in this position.
“The irony is not lost on me,” Aguirre said. “When there’s a party (Republicans) that says they are about less government, and we consistently see that they are reaching into the furthest parts of our own homes and personal lives, it’s just absolutely disgusting to me.”
The full letter from City Council to VDOE is below the jump.
There are a number of ways to volunteer in Alexandria this fall.
Art lovers can get their fix by volunteering as gallery guides at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, and sports enthusiasts can become volunteer sport coaches. The Carlyle House also needs a volunteer tour guide.
There are also a number of tutoring and mentoring positions available, in addition to available food distributor and donation sorting positions.
“We need hundreds of people per week,” Volunteer Alexandria Executive Director Marion Brunken told ALXnow. “More people are in need now than ever.”
Here’s a list of Volunteer Alexandria’s new and upcoming opportunities.
- Teach Kids to Read — “Wright to Read is a literacy tutoring-mentoring program that works to match volunteer tutor-mentors with Alexandria City Public School students who need extra support in their literacy skills. Our goal is not only to help give this child support along their reading journey (including access to books, resources, and a larger reading community), but also a mentor through elementary school and beyond.”
- Distribute Food With ALIVE! — “Volunteers are needed to assist with multiple programs relating to their Food Program, ALIVE! House, and Alexandria Eviction Prevention Partnership Program will distribute food at Mobile Pop-ups and Truck to Trunk events, etc.”
- More opportunities at ALIVE! — The nonprofit also needs drivers, a furniture moving attendant, and warehouse volunteers.
- Theater group needs support — Momentum Collective is looking for a new board member, a costume designer and a set builder.
- Youth Sport Coaches — Preside over team activities including all scheduled practices and games. Adhere to RPCA policies, rules and objectives Responsible for maintaining care of all RPCA Sports equipment. Lead by example among team parents to support the responsibilities of the referee and league leadership. Coach an assigned group of children and focus on skill development, safety, fair, play, sportsmanship and fun.”
- 4-H Youth Development Club Volunteers — “We are currently looking for volunteers that would like to build clubs on any topic of interest, such as, dogs, sewing, robotics, or sports.”
- Food Rescuer — “Food rescuers pick up surplus food from food donors in Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia (businesses, restaurants and grocers) and deliver it directly to receiving agencies (community kitchens, food pantries, etc.) that feed our hungry neighbors. In your own vehicle and on your own time, it usually takes only 30 to 60 minutes to complete this incredibly rewarding and essential mission. Get started on the website and app to see the complete schedule of local food rescue opportunities.”
- Arise outreach volunteer — “ARISE is a new guaranteed income pilot program that plans to give $500 a month to 170 City of Alexandria residents for two years. A research team will evaluate the ARISE program outcomes which will inform future efforts and policy decisions.”
- Sexual Assault Center Hotline Advocate — “Volunteers staff the 24-hour hotline on evenings and weekends. Volunteers provide accompaniment, emotional support, crisis intervention, advocacy, and referrals to empower survivors of sexual violence in person at the hospital/police department or over the phone. Volunteers must attend a 40-hour training.”
- Shelter Supervisors with Alexandria Domestic Violence Program — “As a program that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, volunteers play a key role in providing services to those affected by domestic violence. Volunteers with our program interact personally with individuals in need–an opportunity that many find extremely fulfilling.”
- Alexandria Library opportunities — The Alexandria Library needs a volunteer to run a games program for seniors, a volunteer with the Trash Trekkers program, a Knit Night volunteer, a computer class volunteer, and gardening support.
- Tour Guide at Carlyle House Historic Park — “Looking for a fun and relaxing volunteer opportunity? Carlyle House Historic Park, a colonial house museum in Old Town Alexandria, seeks volunteer docents to give public tours of this historic building. Carlyle House, built in 1753, interprets the home and family of John Carlyle, a merchant and town founder.”
- Sixth Annual Spooky Science Expo — “The Watergate at Landmark Youth Committee will be holding its sixth annual science event (Spooky Mad Science Expo) for kids and teens (October 15). The event will celebrate science and Halloween… As in every year, we are looking for volunteers to help us plan and run the event.”
- Casa Chirilagua Volunteers — Casa Chirilagua is looking for one-on-one mentoring, their kids club, a volunteer to oversee the teen study hall, help with the high school program, a volunteer for teen bible study, and assistance with their middle school program.
- Dog adoption event needs volunteers — “Lucky Dog Animal Rescue has an adoption event the FIRST Sunday of every month at the Potomac Yard PetSmart – 3351 Richmond Hwy, Alexandria, VA 22305. Come spend the afternoon with a Lucky Dog!”
- Torpedo Factory Gallery Guide — “Gallery Guides must feel comfortable interacting with the public about the work at the exhibition with potentially sensitive content and handling artwork sale inquiries. Gallery Guides must be at least 18 years of age or older.”
- Food and grocery volunteer — “For over 15+ years, as part of its Outreach Ministry, the Meade Memorial Episcopal Church has been committed to the Emergency Food Assistance Ministry, to help transform our community, our neighbors, and ourselves. The church provides lunches to residents from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. We need help to setup tables and distribute lunches every weekday, except on certain holidays. We are asking all volunteers to arrive at 11: 15 a.m.”