Metal detectors are not being considered at Alexandria City Public Schools.
After a rocky start to the school year with multiple students caught bringing weapons to Alexandria City High School, the issue has been publicly raised more than a few times in recent weeks.
In the October 12 City Council meeting where school resource officers were returned to ACHS, George Washington Middle School and Hammond Middle School, City Councilman John Taylor Chapman asked School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., about metal detectors.
“It hurts to think that we have to have metal detectors in our schools, because we’ve never had to have them,” replied Alderton. “How many entrances would we have to have… It doesn’t feel right.”
Violent incidents have overshadowed the school year so far, including a recent shooting of a student down the street from ACHS at the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center, a student being arrested with a gun on ACHS grounds, a student being arrested with a knife at ACHS, a firecracker incident that led to the evacuation of a football game, brawls inside ACHS and George Washington Middle School and more.
Ricardo Roberts, a District B candidate for the School Board, made an impassioned plea for metal detectors to the Board in last week’s public comment period. It wasn’t the first time that Roberts has pressed the Board on the issue, and he promised it would not be the last.
“The metal detectors deter kids from continuing to bring in knives and guns and weapons into our school,” Roberts said, adding that it was he who asked Chapman to bring up the subject at the Oct. 12 meeting.
Hutchings said he does not support metal detectors, although the school system’s safety and security team are exploring various options within school facilities.
Mo Canady, president of the National Association of School Resource Officers, doesn’t think metal detectors are the answer. He also said that anyone who didn’t think there would be an increase in violence and student mental health issues coming into this school year “had their heads in the sand somewhere.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind, and common sense should tell us all this that law enforcement presence deters criminal activity,” Canady said. “The problem with metal detectors is that they provide a false sense of security.”
Canady continued, “You got to make sure that you’re hiring highly capable people to manage those metal detectors. Those detectors need to be constantly maintained, and your people need to be constantly trained and updated. Also, these metal detectors are probably going to be at the primary entrance. What about what about all the other perimeter doors of the school building? I’ve been around school buildings have 100+ perimeter doors. What’s to stop someone from opening the door for someone else to bring something in, and I’ve been around schools all over the country. This goes on all day long. Kids, even teachers are constantly opening those perimeter doors.”
A 2019 study by the WestEd Justice & Prevention Research Center found that, “metal detectors may provide a visible response to concerns about school safety, (but) there is little evidence to support their effectiveness at preventing school shootings or successfully detecting weapons at schools.”
The study found, by looking beyond schools to airport security, that some airports had fail rates as high as 95% on screening checks for weapons.
“On the whole, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) averaged around 80 percent in failing to identify weapons during metal detector searches that same year,” the study concluded.
Alexandria could likely get partial state funding to pay for metal detectors via School Security Equipment Grants. Last year, the state awarded $12 million to 489 schools, including $250,000 to Alexandria for security upgrades at Cora Kelly Elementary School, George Washington Middle School, Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School, William Ramsay Elementary School and Alexandria City High School. In years past, the grants also funded metal detectors in public schools throughout Virginia.
This week saw possibly the most contentious meeting between the City Council and School Board in years for a debate over School Resources Officers that ultimately culminated in the Council voting to temporarily restore the program. The reversal has been advocated by school officials and some parents, but was lamented by advocacy group Tenants and Workers United that saw it as a step-backward for racial justice.
The following day, ACPS was also hit with lockdowns at Alexandria City High School’s King Street and Minnie Howard campuses and Hammond Middle School, though police later said initial calls about a school shooting were unfounded. At the same time, a gas leak near Potomac Yard led to two homes being evacuated and the temporary closure of Richmond Highway.
Here are this week’s most-read stories.
- Man injured and juvenile arrested after fight at the McDonald’s in Bradlee Shopping Center
- In dramatic reversal, City Council brings back school resource officers to Alexandria City Public Schools
- Planned bus rapid transit route from Alexandria to Tysons rolls ahead
- Alexandria City High School on lockdown after anonymous threat
- Police: Call about shooting at Hammond Middle School unfounded
- City rethinks waterfront flood mitigation plans after seeing the price tag
- Tenants and Workers United upset by City Council restoration of school resource officer program
- City Council to consider swapping parking for ‘parklets’
- Man attempts to steal $1,850 in merchandise from Restaurant Depot with discarded receipt
- Project crowdsourcing Alexandria history aims to go nationwide next year
A man was unsuccessful in trying to walk out of the Restaurant Depot on Eisenhower Avenue with $1,851.73 using a discarded receipt, according to the Alexandria Police Department.
The incident at the store at 4600 Eisenhower Avenue occurred in August, and the suspect has not been arrested. He “passed all the points of sale without purchasing the store merchandise,” police said in a search warrant.
Restaurant Depot management gave APD security footage of the suspect picking up a discarded receipt out of a trash can and then presenting it to security staff at the exit of the store, police said.
“The suspect was questioned regarding the authenticity of the receipt, at which (time) the suspect immediately left the merchandise inside the store and walked to his vehicle,” police said in the search warrant.
The suspect was then captured driving away in a black SUV with DC license plates.
Restaurant Depot wants to follow through with prosecution if the suspect is arrested, police said.
After significant outcry from a school system concerned about weapons in schools, the Alexandria City Council took a dramatic 4-3 vote around 1 a.m. this morning (Wednesday) to temporarily return school resource officers (SROs) to two middle schools and Alexandria City High School until the end of this school year.
Councilman John Taylor Chapman was the lone vote to reverse course, going against Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilmen Canek Aguirre and Mo Seifeldein, who voted to keep away SROs.
“I’ve seen the smile of kids that do not fear adults in school, whether that’s law enforcement or not, and that’s what we can do,” Chapman said. “I would challenge all of us to see that future and make that change.”
SROs are police officers assigned to Alexandria’s high school and middle schools. The program started in 1997. Unlike security staff, which remain at the schools, SROs carry weapons and can fulfill the regular duties of a police officer. The SRO program has been under scrutiny for years, particularly after an officer fired his weapon in George Washington Middle School, but the push to remove police officers from schools ramped up after nationwide protests against police brutality last year.
School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that the school year so far has been punctuated by violent incidents, including a recent shooting of a student at the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center, a student being arrested with a gun on ACHS grounds, a student being arrested with a knife at ACHS, a firecracker incident that led to the evacuation of a football game, brawls inside ACHS and George Washington Middle School and more.
“Fighting is really not the reason why we need school resource officers in our school buildings,” Hutchings said. “We are not trained to deal with guns or violence or gang initiation, or things of that nature in our school buildings.”
Alexandria City High School Executive Principal Peter Balas begged Council to bring back SROs, and said that students are literally sending warning shots. He also said that gang initiations with fighting are taking place. Balas said that many of his 4,370 students have been traumatized by the pandemic and social/political upheavals over the last couple of years.
“Our students are sending us warning shots, literal warning shots,” Balas said. “My staff, the students, we’re not okay.”
I have never seen anything like this.
— Peter Balas (@PrincipalTitan) October 13, 2021
City Councilman Mo Seifeldein introduced the measure in May, redirecting $800,000 from the SRO program toward student mental health resources. Seifeldein said he was heartbroken by Council’s latest decision.
“I am truly heartbroken, I think for the first time, about a discussion in our city,” Seifeldein said. “I cannot emphasize enough how sensitive this discussion is, and the way this has been discussed… has not been the best way of presenting it to the public. I am heartbroken, but I am looking forward to the path my colleagues have worked so hard on charting.”
Councilman Canek Aguirre acknowledged that Council’s May decision was messy and that he was dismayed and frustrated by the position. Aguirre wanted more data from the school system to show a direct correlation between the SROs being gone and an increase in violence, and said that it can also be the result of a shared school-wide lunch period at ACHS, a staffing shortage and security officers not doing their jobs.
“My issue here is that you are trying to draw a direct correlation between the removal of SROs and everything else that’s been going on,” Aguirre said.
Aguirre said much of the blame for how the situation ended up lay on the School Board, which he accused of not properly planning for the removal of SROs.
“I’m dismayed and frustrated that we’re even in this position,” Aguirre said. “Schools knew that with the new lunch period and everything that was going to happen we were going to have problems. Instead of getting new bodies into the building, they decided to pay for overtime for police officers, which is time and a half. Instead of coming to Council and saying, ‘You guys made your decision, we really need these additional bodies, we’re having trouble finding the money now before the school year starts,’ I would have said ‘Yes, 100%. City manager, get that money ready.'”
Councilwoman Amy Jackson said she’s been calling for the reinstatement of SROs since the defunding decision was made in May.
“[The schools] have asked for help and it is our job to help,” Jackson said.
The decision to restore SROs to schools came near the end of a six-hour City Council meeting, where the SRO decision took up much of the discussion. The meeting also laid bare tensions not just between the City Council and the School Board, but between various members of the City Council. When Hutchings said he would go back and rewatch the discussion, Mayor Justin Wilson urged him not to waste his time.
“I’ve been up here 11 years I can’t think of a bigger waste of my time than the last three hours,” Wilson said. “I thought we were going to have a productive conversation about how we move forward in our community about a problem we’re hearing about from far too many people in our community about, frankly on both sides of the SRO decision. We had a discussion where we’re all trying to score points on an issue decided in the spring. I’m sorry that we had to do this, quite honestly.”
Wilson called the process “horrific” and shames the city’s leadership.
“This is not the way we collaborate with another elected body,” Wilson said. “This is not the way we collaborate with staff, this is not the way we collaborate with the police. This sucks. What person would watch this meeting tonight and say ‘this is the school system I want to send my schools to’ that’s governed by this relationship? This is horrible. This is absolutely horrible.”
Vernon Miles contributed to this story
An adult male was injured and a juvenile arrested last week after a fight at the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center.
The incident occurred at around 2:20 p.m. on Tuesday, October 5. The victim was treated for injuries at the scene.
“A juvenile suspect was taken into custody,” APD Senior Public Information Officer Amanda Paga told ALXnow. “Officers are still looking for several other suspects. It remains an active investigation.”
The incident follows the September 21 shooting of a juvenile at that same McDonald’s, which is a short distance from Alexandria City High School.
Updated at 5 p.m. Alexandria Police have made no arrests after a male juvenile was shot in Arlandria early Sunday afternoon.
The incident occurred before noon, and the juvenile was shot at the Park Vue of Alexandria apartments in the 500 block of Four Mile Road, which is near Casa Chirilagua and Four Mile Run Park. The victim’s injuries are non-life threatening.
Anyone with information about the shooting can contact Detective Trevor Griffin at [email protected]. Tips can also be given anonymously by calling the police non-emergency line at 703-746-4444.
APD makes an arrest in Sunday morning shooting on Cameron Mills Rd
Read more: https://t.co/8W4XUQ04yA
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) October 11, 2021
Bondsman in Karla Dominguez case charged — “The bail bondsman in the Karla Dominguez murder case has been charged with criminal contempt of court and faces trial in January in the Alexandria Circuit Court.” [Alexandria Times]
Yard waste collection shifts to today — “Yard Waste collection… will be collected Friday, October 8. Please accept our apologies for any inconveniences caused by this temporary suspension.” [Alexandria T&ES]
Old Town Oyster Festival next weekend — “Join Old Town Business Association for this year’s Old Town Oyster Festival October 16th-24th in partnership with the Oyster Recovery Foundation and sponsored by Guinness. Come on out for the Oyster Shucking Competition to kick off a week of Oyster and Guinness specials! The Shucking Competition, set to live music from Driven to Clarity, will take place Vola’s Airstream Patio on Saturday, October 16th 2021 at 10 a.m.” [Visit Alexandria]
IDA showcases update on Potomac Yard HQ construction — “Watch the Eye on IDA video with Dean Graves to get a sneak peek of IDA’s future headquarters.” [IDA]
Local group raises $5,000 for veterans — The Fraternal Order of Eagles 871 hosted a Dining for Charity event with 7 participating Alexandria restaurants and raised $5,000 for Homes for Our Troops. [Zebra]
Alexandria Police are investigating a former employee at a doctor’s office in the West End, who is suspected of computer trespassing after allegedly changing his computer passwords after getting fired.
The former employee, who was an aide at the office, was fired on September 17 for “failing to adequately perform her job,” and was escorted out by Alexandria Police after becoming “irate” and “disorderly,” police reported in a search warrant.
Three days later, the doctor wasn’t able to log into his Google account. He contacted the company, and found that the recovery account for his email belonged to the former employee.
Police then tried to contact the employee multiple times unsuccessfully. The crime is a Class 1 misdemeanor, but if damages are estimated at more than $1,000 it is a Class 6 felony. The former employee has not been charged.
A 23-year-old Fairfax County man wounded after a shooting in a West End apartment complex is being held without bond in the Alexandria jail for being a violent felon in possession of a firearm.
Antwain Lee Williams was arrested on Tuesday, September 21, after being driven to Inova Alexandria Hospital by a neighbor. He was alert with police and claimed that he was shot in the head.
It is still not clear exactly how Williams was injured, police said. No one else has been arrested in connection to this incident.
“This remains an active investigation,” APD Senior Public Information Officer Amanda Paga told ALXnow.
The incident occurred at around 1 p.m., just in time for police to arrive and hear two men arguing before there were gunshots inside the apartment complex, according to a search warrant. Inside a first floor apartment where Williams was staying, police found blood, a black firearm, three bullet casings and a broken window.
Police suspect that Williams, who goes to court on October 25, fired a weapon.
When asked at the hospital who shot him, Williams told police that an unknown male walked up to him and shot him point blank in the head.
The incident occurred five years to the day that Williams was arrested for shooting a man in Pittsylvania County.
Anyone with information on the incident can call the police non-emergency line at 703-746-4444. Callers can remain anonymous.
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.”