It was a historic week in Alexandria. Here are some of the highlights.
President Joe Biden visited the Neighborhood Health COVID-19 vaccine site at Virginia Theological Seminary on Tuesday, just before announcing that the date for adults to get access to the vaccine has been moved to April 19.
The Alexandria School Board, on Thursday night, voted to change the name of T.C. Williams High School to Alexandria City High School.
The School Board also voted unanimously to reduce the distancing requirement in ACPS schools from six feet to three feet, all the while community support is growing to expand in-person instruction to more than the current two days a week. Summer school is currently planned to begin in July and will be four days a week, and ACPS is planning on reopening to five days a week at the beginning of the next school year.
Our top story was on the T.C. Williams Titans junior varsity football team walking off the field after an incident with the Robinson Rams on Monday night. Robinson Rams players allegedly spit at and made a racial slur against T.C. players. The incident has prompted Fairfax County Public Schools to announce a “stand-down” meeting for all athletic teams and coaches to discuss “appropriate behaviors required to play sports in FCPS.”
Additionally, six Alexandria Police officers were placed on administrative duties after a chase suspect died while in custody. Police responded to a call for shots fired in the 800 block of North Patrick Street, and multiple buildings and vehicles were struck. The driver of the vehicle crashed on Interstate 295, and then jumped over an overpass barrier and fell more than 20 feet and was tased by police, arrested and later died.
- Alexandria aims to adjust vaccination efforts as city moves into next phase
- Alexandria Police employees give Chief Brown mixed reviews
- Planning Commission approves controversial subdivision, plants potential loophole for future denial
- City says Taylor Run alternatives could cost far more than current estimates
- Crime increase prompts ARHA to install security cameras in Old Town
- City looks to Landmark Towers deal to save Arlandria
- ‘Beltway Bank Bandit’ sentenced 21 years for robbing Alexandria banks and area businesses
- Man arrested for threatening to burn down City Hall
- Wilson wins Alexandria Democratic Committee straw poll, Gaskins takes top spot over incumbents
- JUST IN: T.C. Williams JV football team walks off field after alleged racial slur, spitting incident
- BREAKING: Shots fired in Old Town leads to chase that ends in D.C.
- JUST IN: President Biden set to visit Alexandria vaccination site Tuesday
- National Park Service announces George Washington Parkway to go on a diet
- Neighborhood Health vaccinating thousands at sites in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax County
- JUST IN: Woman arrested after fight on King Street Metro station platform
- UPDATE: $8,500 reported stolen in terrifying West End robbery
- JUST IN: President Biden visits COVID-19 vaccine site at Virginia Theological Seminary
- COVID-19 update: Alexandria moves into vaccination phase 1C
- JUST IN: Six Alexandria Police officers put on administrative duties after chase suspect dies
- Fairfax County man arrested for three burglaries, released three days later
Have a safe weekend!
In a unanimous decision Thursday night, the Alexandria School Board went against the recommendation of Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. and changed distancing in schools from six feet to three feet.
School Board members were unhappy that, also on Thursday, Alexandria City Public Schools posted that the school system “is maintaining six feet of physical distancing throughout the remainder of the school year.”
The statement has since been deleted.
“I’m going to be honest,” School Board Member Ramee Gentry said. “In my five years on the School Board this is probably the most frustrated I’ve ever been. I feel there has been a real disconnect in the communications and a real breakdown in the process that’s happened over the last two days. We have heard a lot of frustration from the community, and I quite frankly share that frustration.”
Hutchings said he will meet with staff early next week on when the new distancing guidelines will happen. He also said that staff have been figuring out how to make the changes since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed their guidance to three feet last month. He told the Board that there was a celebratory discussion with staff after the CDC guidance came out on March 19.
“A couple of weeks ago when we received the updated CDC guidelines, we shared this information with our transition team… and we were having a really celebratory discussion about it because we were excited about the fact that three feet will allow us to bring more students into our schools,” Hutchings said. “We are committed to bringing back as many students as we can. Three feet is going to allow us to do that.”
Board Member Michelle Rief made the motion to change the distancing. She said ACPS mistakenly took the six-foot position without the Board’s approval.
“I make a motion that ACPs transition to three feet of physical distancing between desks to the greatest extent possible for the remainder of the current school year,” she said. “I am committed to returning as many students as possible to in-person learning this school year.”
Hutchings and School Board Chair Meagan Alderton have also been criticized for sending their children to private schools in the city that have three-foot distancing requirements.
“I want more kids in school as soon as possible,” Alderton said.
ACPS staff have had an opportunity to get vaccinated. In January, Governor Ralph Northam visited T.C. Williams High School to see ACPS staff get their first round of inoculations. As previously reported, around half of the school staff were uncomfortable returning to work when surveyed last fall, and Hutchings has been concerned with capacity and staffing issues.
Board Member Christopher Suarez said that he was blindsided by the ACPS announcement, in addition to Hutchings’ decision to keep ACPS all-virtual for a week following spring break.
“My concerns started when the announcement was made right before spring break, that we were going to extend virtual an extra week after the break and there was no discussion with the board about that,” Suarez said. “To come back from spring break and see this announcement and frankly be blindsided by it, you know, it was very concerning from a procedural standpoint.”
About 5,000 students went back to two days a week of in-person instruction last month, and Hutchings said that 3,000 more students will go back over the next couple of weeks.
The OPEN ACPS group, which is made up of hundreds of residents, commended the Board on its decision. The group is now asking the Board to weigh Hutchings’ decisions during the pandemic when his contract with the school system comes up for review this December.
“OPEN ACPS is grateful to the Board members who demanded answers and accountability from this Superintendent during last night’s meeting,” the group said in a statement. “In addition, OPEN ACPS urges the Board to continue holding the Superintendent accountable as ACPS moves to adopt the 3 feet distancing metric. We hope that this will not be another opportunity for Dr. Hutchings to use meetings, committees, and ‘buy in’ as a means to delay policy changes that he cannot or will not enact.”
“Alexandria City High School” on Thursday night was unanimously chosen as the new name for T.C. Williams High School. The Alexandria School Board voted for the name change for the city’s only public high school, and the effort took more than a year in the making.
“It’s a big deal and it will mean a lot for our future use,” School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said. “Sometimes it’s good for us to think about the power in reclaiming a name, in changing the name to mean something — other than what we’ve always used it for.”
The new name will be effective at the start of the 2021-22 School Year on July 1, 2021. Additionally, the Board changed the name of Matthew Maury Elementary School to Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School.
School Board Member Ramee Gentry made the motion for “Alexandria City High School”. It was approved unanimously.
“I understand both sides of this,” Board member Jacinta Greene said. “We have over 50,000 graduates that are very endeared by the name, by the initials T.C. And we have current students that still love being a T.C. Titan…. But not in the name of Thomas Chambliss. It will not mean that anymore.”
T.C. Williams High School is the largest high school in Virginia. It is known around the world for the 2000 movie Remember the Titans, which focused on its 1971 state championship-winning varsity football team that found greatness by working through racial adversity.
T.C. is named after Thomas Chambliss Williams, the superintendent of ACPS for 30 years. He required that all Black students wanting admission to previously all-white schools to 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.
“I had butterflies in my stomach all day just thinking about how long and emotional this journey has been,” said Lorraine Johnson, a student representative on the board. “We can’t forget about our elementary school and middle school students who are coming up before you know it. It’s going to be your time to shine in this high school of endless possibilities, and when it happens, take advantage of every opportunity.”
Gentry did not want the T.C. in another proposal — The City of Alexandria High School.
“You will always be a T.C. Williams High School graduate, and you can wear that with pride,” Gentry said. “But this is the beginning of a new period in history.”
Principal Peter Balas said that “A.C. Titans” is not far from T.C. Titans.
“I’m a little concerned about a move to preserve the letters T and C in the name in some way, without having the engagement of our students,” Balas said.
Residents have tried in vain for decades to get the name changed, and many said that the process this time around should have been handled faster.
It's official!!! Our high school name is now ALEXANDRIA CITY HIGH SCHOOL!!!!!
— Peter Balas (@TCWPrincipal) April 8, 2021
Photo via ACPS/Facebook
Mayor Justin Wilson says that money is no object and that he wants the Alexandria City Public Schools system to fully reopen to in-person instruction as soon as possible.
However, ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. says that in-person instruction won’t be expanded past two days a week at least for the remainder of this school year.
“We need to get our kids back in school full time,” Wilson told ALXnow. “Money will be no object, facilities will be no object. We will make sure that we get our kids back in school, and that that is what I’ve said from the beginning of this effort.”
Hutchings has come under fire for keeping ACPS all-virtual for a week following spring break. Some residents say that the school system is broken and that they are considering moving from the city.
Meanwhile, neighboring jurisdictions are opening up their school systems. Fairfax County Public Schools recently expanded to four days a week for in-person instruction and Falls Church recently returned to five days a week.
ACPS states on its website that it is planning on five-day-a-week in-person instruction this fall. As of the week of March 16, 2021, the school system reported more than 4,000 in-person students two days a week — a quarter of its 16,000-strong student population. Three days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reduced the recommended distancing in schools from six feet to three feet.
“We are reviewing the revised CDC guidelines to determine how these impact our school division, as our reopening team continues to plan for the 2021-22 school year,” Hutchings wrote parents this week in an email. “We do not plan to adjust the current hybrid learning schedule before the end of the school year, at this time.”
Additionally, Hutchings and School Board Chair Meagan Alderton have been criticized for sending their children to private schools in the city that have three-foot distancing requirements, while the standard at ACPS is six feet. Alderton and Hutchings did not respond to questions on the subject.
ACPS will expand the number of students on April 20, Hutchings said, adding that students are organized via a “instructional prioritization matrix.”
“We expect to begin welcoming more students to in-person learning starting on April 20, and will soon share more information with families of the students who will be able to join the hybrid program later this month,” Hutchings wrote parents.
One parent said he is considering moving from the city.
“The latest email from the Superintendent laid bare the harsh reality that we do not have the will in our community or school leadership to do what is right for our public school kids,” the parent said. “It’s shocking that in a city concerned with equity, we have a different set of standards for those whose children attend public school.”
Me too. https://t.co/7YlBysEHNI
— John Taylor Chapman (@j_chapman99) April 8, 2021
In an effort of minimize COVID-19, Alexandria City Public Schools will reopen for in-person classes one full week after Spring Break, which runs from April 5-9.
ACPS announced on Thursday (March 25) that all students will go back to virtual learning until in-person classes resume on Tuesday, April 13. The announcement also said that community transmission for the week ending March 20, 2021 has increased to a “high level from last week’s substantial level.”
“After review of current community health metrics and our desire to limit a potential community spread within our school buildings, we have decided to continue to follow our proactive approach of prioritizing health and safety, and transition to virtual learning for all students for the week after Spring Break, April 5-9,” ACPS said in a release.
ACPS continued, “With members of our school community potentially traveling outside of the National Capital Region, transitioning temporarily to virtual learning is a precautionary step to protect against COVID-19 transmission in our school buildings after Spring Break.”
The move angered a number of parents.
“This is an absolute joke,” one parent wrote in the Open ACPS Facebook group. “The fact that this was a unilateral decision on (Superintendent Gregory) Hutchings’ part, not raised at the most recent school board meeting, and out of step with other jurisdictions is just asinine.”
ACPS also said that it is working to expand its hybrid learning to accommodate more students starting on April 20.
“We understand and share the desire of many families to welcome back our students who would like to be part of hybrid learning,” ACPS said. “More information will be shared soon with families of the students who will be able to join the hybrid program according to an instructional prioritization matrix.”
ACPS is also asking anyone who travels to self-quarantine to get a COVID-19 test after returning and then self-quarantine for a week. Those who choose not to get a test are advised to quarantine for 10 days.
“Our success in keeping school buildings open and safe depends on all students, families and staff being extra vigilant about implementing mitigating measures and following the health guidelines,” ACPS said.
Alexandria City Public Schools plan on opening for five-day instruction this fall, Superintendent gregory Hutchings, Jr. reported to the School Board on Thursday night.
“We’re planning to come back to five days a week,” Hutchings told the Board. “We’re looking at the CDC guidelines that, hopefully, will allow us to do that with no guidelines. We’re also working to plan for five days a week, if we have three-foot social distancing and if we have six feet social distancing (as well as no restrictions).”
Today (Friday), the CDC shortened its distancing guidelines for kids in schools with face masks to three feet, a move that the school system anticipated.
Hutchings said that the school system will continue hybrid instruction next fall.
“We also understand that some of our families are still going to want in the fall their children to be a part of some type of virtual experience,” he said. “They still may not be comfortable, or may not be able for their children to return back into an in-person learning setting, and we are planning to develop our virtual curriculum — very different from the curriculum that we currently have in place, but a true virtual curriculum for students who may not return into our school buildings so that we can still provide a rigorous and engaging virtual learning experience.”
Some parents want in-person instruction five days a week starting now.
“We are thrilled our kinder student us back in school, even though it is only two days a week,” said Bill Blackburn, whose son attends Mount Vernon Community School in Del Ray. “My son’s only complaint was not being able to talk while eating lunch. All things considered, things went well for us and we hope to see more kids and more teachers back in person sooner rather than later.”
Governor Ralph Northam was in Alexandria in January to see some ACPS staff get their first round of inoculations. As previously reported, around half of the school staff were uncomfortable returning to work when surveyed last fall, and Hutchings has been concerned with capacity and staffing issues.
ACPS will also open a poll on March 22 to see how many staffers have been vaccinated. The employees will have the following choices:
- Choose not to disclose vaccination status
- Declining vaccination
- Waiting for first vaccination appointment
- Received first dose, waiting to receive second dose
- Completely vaccinated
The Alexandria School Board on Thursday, March 18, will conduct a public hearing on the proposed new names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.
The 5 p.m. public hearing will allow testimony from residents on what they think about proposals by Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings to respectively rename them “Alexandria High School” and “Naomi Brooks Elementary School”. The two finalist names were chosen from a list that ACPS released last month.
While efforts to rename T.C. Williams High School began in the 1990s, a renewed push this year was tied in with nationwide discussions about renaming honors to the Confederacy and other symbols of racial oppression.
Thomas Chambliss Williams was an avowed segregationist who worked to limit the number of Black students in segregated schools. Matthew Fontaine Maury, who was a pioneering oceanographer during the 19th century, was also a leader in the Confederacy during the Civil War.
A recent ALXnow poll on the issue found that, out of more than 800 respondents, 67% liked the high school name but not the elementary school name; 20% were happy with both names; 8% didn’t like either name; and 5% liked the elementary school name but not the high school name.
What a busy week in Alexandria.
Our top story this week was on Vice President Kamala Harris’ visit to Old Town shop fibre space on March 3. It was Harris’ first official visit outside of the White House since she was inaugurated, and she spoke about the American Rescue Plan with shop owner Danielle Romanetti.
Alexandria City Public Schools reopened for hybrid instruction this week, the first time since all school facilities were shut down on March 13. The school system reportedly welcomed back 1,200 special needs students in kindergarten through fifth grade. ACPS will open on March 9 for special education students, and then fully reopen its doors to hybrid learning for students on March 16.
On the coronavirus front, the number of deaths due to the virus has climbed to 123, and cases are at 10,404 since the first case was reported on March 11, 2020. Mayor Justin Wilson says the city is doing well keeping the numbers down, although with a vaccine waiting list exceeding 45,000 and 3,000 vaccine doses being given out weekly, distribution will continue to be slow.
More than 550 people responded to this week’s poll on the proposed new names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School. About 60% of respondents said they were happy with Alexandria High School, but not with Naomi Brooks Elementary School; 25% said they liked both names; 8% didn’t like either name; and 6% didn’t like the high school name and were happy with the elementary school name.
In case you missed them, here are some other important stories:
- City Could Help Turn Hotels Emptied by Coronavirus Into Affordable Housing
- Councilwoman Amy Jackson Argues With School Board Over MacArthur Elementary Construction Schedule
- City Council and School Board Budget Talk Gets Territorial Over School Resource Officers
Here are our most-read posts this week:
- Just In: Vice President Visits Old Town Shop Fibre Space
- Alexandria Wants Feedback on Building Spray Park in Del Ray
- El Chapo’s Wife to be Isolated in Alexandria Jail for One Month Per COVID-19 Distancing Rules
- Consultant Proposes Replacing Community Shelter with Mixed-Use Development
- Alexandria Advocacy Facebook Group Parodied in New Blog
- Superintendent Proposes New Names for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary
- Patrick Moran, Son of Former Congressman Jim Moran, is Running for City Council
- ACPS Reopens its Doors and Evaluating Grading System for Traumatized Students
- Man Arrested for High-Speed Vehicle Race on I-495
- Meronne Teklu Enters City Council Race
- Neighborhood Spotlight: Old Town is the New Town
Have a safe weekend!
Photo via Peter Velz/Twitter
Alexandria City Councilwoman Amy Jackson argued with members of the School Board and Alexandria City Public Schools staff at a budget meeting last night (Wednesday) over construction of the new Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.
Jackson, who is running for reelection, lambasted the school system earlier this week on Facebook with a one minute video. In the video, Jackson stands outside MacArthur wearing a face mask with the words “Your Vote Matters” printed on it, raises her left hand questioningly and then says: “March 1, 2021. Almost a year and no construction has started at MacArthur. When is it going to happen?”
Jackson wrote that the project is a ticking clock for the community, that Council was told demolition would start last month, and then made impassioned comments at Wednesday night’s joint City Council/School Board meeting on the budget. She said it’s up to the school board and ACPS to field concerns from the community on social media, and that she’s tired of answering their questions on the issue.
“My issue is the communication,” Jackson said. “That’s it. That’s my issue, the communication because whatever your answer is, it cannot be any worse than not hearing anything at all.”
While the project is in development, MacArthur students are using the old Patrick Henry Elementary School as swing space.
School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said she did not appreciate Jackson’s comments, and said that she does not engage on social media because it is not the “real world”.
“Maybe we all need to reconsider how we behave as elected officials on social media,” Alderton said. “You all have direct channels to the School Board. You have access that other people do not have. Use that, as opposed to blasting our staff and our School Board on social media. I don’t find it appropriate, and I don’t find it fair.”
Alderton continued, “Unfortunately, this was a budget session about the combined funds budget, which is focused on social, emotional and academic learning. And we had to deal with this. That’s a problem for me.”
ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said despite delays over easement concerns with Dominion Energy, that construction is on schedule to open the school in Jan. 2023. Fence panels were erected this week at the property, and ACPS staff will have its pre-construction meeting with the city on Friday. Additionally, asbestos abatement at MacArthur starts next week, and clearing the building is a process that can take weeks before demolition can happen.
Hutchings also said that ACPS communicated project updates to the MacArthur community in a Jan. 26 school advisory group meeting, and on Feb. 11 in a school-wide newsletter.
“When we talk about being on time, we’re talking about the delivery of the new school,” Hutchings said. “That is the main concern that we had from the school’s point of view. And that’s been the main concern of the community thus far. With all the work that we’ve done with having our swing space at the old Patrick Henry location, we know we have to be out of that space for students to arrive in January of 2023.”
A member of the advisory committee, however, told ALXnow that it has not met with ACPS since late last year and that the Jan. 26 meeting did not happen. Still, the representative said that the group was aware of the 2023 completion date.
“We’ve been provided many dates throughout this process,” the member told us. “The advisory group requested updates via email multiple times over the last six months and those requests went unanswered for weeks or longer.”
The member continued, “And since the school email update was drafted by a principal, not the central office, it was only distributed to parents who receive school communications. It did not go to those signed up for ACPS updates related to this project or to the advisory group who was simultaneously requesting updates.”
School Board member Ramee Gentry said it was important to keep misinformation from being spread.
“The other issue I have and I think we have to be cautious of is spreading misinformation as (elected officials),” Gentry said. “The information that was shared (by Jackson) was not accurate.”
School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan said that Facebook is a tool used by upper middle class residents, and that it fosters inequity.
“One third of our students’ parents do not speak English, and 63% of our parents are from low income backgrounds,” Nolan said. “Should I as an elected be jumping every time an upper middle class person wants to speak? Am I supposed to be a slave to the tool? Instead I want everyone to have access, and that is (through) public hearings, transparent meetings that are recorded such as this one, the website, newsletters (and) the ACPS blast.”
Photo via Amy Jackson/Facebook
After months of community discussions following the School Board vote in November, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings is recommending that T.C. Williams High School be renamed Alexandria High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School be renamed Naomi Brooks Elementary School.
The choices split the difference between those who wanted to see the schools renamed after specific people and those who wanted to play it safe with area or neighborhood school names.
Alexandria High School was chosen over “Titan Community High School” — which would have kept the T.C. initials — and “Ruth Bader Ginsberg High School”.
Meanwhile Naomi Brooks Elementary School, named in honor of longtime local teacher Naomi Brooks who died last year, was chosen over names like “Rosemont Elementary School”.
The new names will be reviewed at a School Board meeting tonight (Thursday).
In an earlier poll, most of those who voted were in favor of Alexandria High School.