Alexandria, VA

The Alexandria School Board is set to vote on Thursday (October 29) on a revised memorandum of understanding with the Alexandria Police Department to provide school resource officers in the city’s public schools.

Among the changes are definitions of student “contact” with a police officer, since any contact with a student must be reported to ACPS. That includes:

1) questioning for law enforcement purposes; 2) detainment of a student(s); and 3) apprehension or arrest of a student(s). All contacts shall be considered reportable offenses, in addition to the reporting required by School Board Policy or by statutory requirement

The document also creates “measurable objectives” for SROs, meaning that the officers would have to complete statistical reports, data collection for quarterly performance reports, and after-action reports after incidents with students. AACPS employees would also receive training on the duties of an SRO. Additionally, an SRO would have access to a student’s education records only after receiving the written consent of the student’s parent/guardian or if the student is 18 or older. An ACPS administrator would also have to be present when an SRO questions a student.

School resource officers were reassigned to the APD patrol division when the pandemic shut down in-person school in mid-March for the remainder of the last school year. The MOU would continue the agreement to provide officers at T.C. Williams High School and other ACPS schools when buildings eventually reopen.

Earlier this month, parents, students and community advocacy representatives railed against SROs, and said they foster an inappropriate culture of prejudice against non-white students. LaDonna Sanders, president of the Alexandria NAACP, filed a Freedom Of Information Act and found that in 2018 there were 140 out-of-school suspensions, and that a “significant enough proportion of the suspensions involve referrals to law enforcement.”

“We want the contract to end,” Sanders said. “Moreover, the racial disparities in law enforcement referrals were stark. Black students are nearly four times more likely to be referred to law enforcement than whites. Latinx students are twice as likely to be referred as white (students).”

The draft MOU states that if students are suspected of a crime and are not compliant, SROs and law enforcement officers “should obtain a search warrant in all cases where initial consent was not obtained and probable cause exists that a crime has been committed.”

According to the draft MOU:

SROs have the authority to question students who may have information about criminal activity (on or off school property). As sworn law enforcement officers, SROs have authority to stop, question, interview, and take law enforcement action without prior authorization of the school administrator or contacting parents, especially when timely information will help prevent injury, death or evidence destruction. For all other non-exigent circumstances, when it becomes necessary for the SRO or law enforcement officer to interview a student on school premises, the school principal or their designee shall be contacted immediately…

Police vehicles should be parked in the garage. Parking in front of the school should be avoided unless required for traffic control support or police emergency. c. Long arms. Long-arms (e.g. shotgun, rifles) should not be openly displayed in the school or around the campus unless there is an emergency. d. Body cameras. Body camera video should not be used in the school setting unless there is a law enforcement purpose. If used, such recording(s) must be strictly controlled and protective of juvenile information per legal requirements.

It isn’t the first time Alexandria SROs have come under fire: in 2018, an SRO accidentally discharged his gun inside George Washington Middle School.

The updated MOU must be signed by Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. by November 2, 2020.

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This was a big week for Alexandria.

Our top story this week was the Alexandria School Board’s decision to reopen schools for students with disabilities, while the future reopening of school for elementary, middle and high schoolers remains in doubt.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that the only feasible option for reopening schools — based on distancing and staffing constraints — would be for students to rotate to in-person schooling only one day per week. Hutchings also appeared on CNN and said that ACPS is not likely to fully reopen until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus.

We also reported that the Alexandria City Council approved plans for Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus and the North Potomac Yard development plan, virtually paving the way for the college to open its doors to hundreds of students by 2024.

“This is a very significant set of decisions for the city, and is really going to shape, not just a portion of our city, but really the entirety of our city for a long period of time to come,” said Mayor Justin Wilson.

On the coronavirus front, there are now 75 deaths in Alexandria and there are now or have been more than 4,100 cases since the pandemic began in March. Latino residents continue to lead the case count.

Governor Ralph Northam and Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine were in the city on Monday to unveil a team of new zero emission DASH electric buses.

We also reported that the City Council unanimously approved naming the 1000 block of Montgomery Street in Old Town “Earl F. Lloyd Way” in honor of the first Black man to ever play in the National Basketball Association.

Restaurant-wise, we spoke with one of the owners of a pizza and burger joint that is taking over the former location of Pizzeria Paradiso on lower King Street. The Chewish Deli is also now open in Old Town, and the owner of Del Ray Boccato says that his gelato shop will soon open.

Additionally, more than 17 people participated in our weekly poll. With the November 3 election around the corner, this week we asked about voting plans, and 65% of respondents voted by mail/absentee, 31% plan to vote on election day, and 4% are not voting.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:

  1. School Board Shelves Plan to Reopen Schools in 2021, Students with Disabilities Transitioning Back Next Month
  2. City Releasing Torpedo Factory Draft Action Plan Today
  3. City Council Approves Virginia Tech Innovation Campus and North Potomac Yard Development Plan
  4. Alexandria Student Called N-Word in Online Forum, and Not By Another Student
  5. Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
  6. The Chewish Deli Opens New Location in Old Town
  7. One Arrested After Attempted Armed Robbery in Alexandria’s West End
  8. Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
  9. Female Suspect Flees, Nothing Taken in Attempted Old Town Bank Robbery
  10. Alexandria and Arlington Want a New Future for the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center
  11. Alexandria Courthouse Deep Cleaned After Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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What a week it’s been in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was the report that Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. sends one of his children to Bishop Ireton High School. In case you missed it, the story first broke in Theogony, the T.C. Williams High School newspaper.

Hutchings also presented his plan for a phased reopening of ACPS starting next month. The results of a survey over virtual schooling were also released, revealing that screen time and childcare were among the top concerns of students, staff and families.

On the health front, Alexandria exceeded 4,000 total cases of COVID-19 since the first case was reported on March 11.

Additionally, more than 200 people participated in our weekly poll on traveling this holiday season, and 56% reported they will not travel, 27% still plan on traveling, and 17% still haven’t decided.

Crime-wise, we reported that a woman was assaulted in Arlandria on October 11; an arrest was made after an attempted armed robbery in the West End; a West End gas station was robbed of $1,700 in tobacco products; a woman ended up not being charged after firing a warning shot at a man in the 4300 block of Duke Street; and the mother of a man whose truck was stolen in Del Ray received an unexpected phone call from the thief.

There was some good news.

The southern entrance of the Potomac Yard Metro station is really taking shape, at least on paper. This week, the final plans going to the city were made public. The Board of Architectural Review will look at them at their meeting on Wednesday, October 21.

And in recognition of Oyster Week, ALXnow on Thursday emceed the first-ever “Pearl of Alexandria Oyster Eating Contest” between rival Del Ray and Old Town business owners.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:

  1. Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
  2. Police: Illegal Drugs Sold in West End Via Snapchat During Pandemic
  3. Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
  4. BREAKING: Suspect Arrested for West End Murder
  5. ISIS ‘Beatles’ Held in Alexandria Jail, Charged with American Murders in Syria
  6. Here’s What the Potomac Yard Metro Station’s Southern Entrance Will Look Like
  7. Superintendent Proposing Phased Reopening of Alexandria City Public Schools Starting in November
  8. A Dozen Restaurants are Participating in Old Town Oyster Week
  9. VIDEO: West End Murder Victim Identified
  10. ‘Brewski’s Barkhaus’ is Opening This Saturday
  11. Old Virginia Tobacco Co. Moves Directly Across Street from Longtime Old Town Tobacconist

Have a safe weekend!

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It’s the end of a busy week in Alexandria.

Once again, crime and public safety stories were the most read on ALXnow.

On Friday, we found that the 19-year-old man arrested for the September 30 West End murder of John Harding Pope was released on bail just eight days before the murder. Pope’s death is the second murder of the year. In the first murder, Ibrahim Bouaichi was out on bail when he allegedly killed his former girlfriend.

On Thursday, the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office confirmed that two suspected ISIS terrorists are now in the city jail. Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh also made their initial appearances at the Eastern District of Virginia federal courthouse in Alexandria.

On the pandemic front, there are now 73 COVID-19 deaths in the city, and the Virginia Department of Health projects there will be 20,000 more cases statewide by Thanksgiving. The city also announced that residents impacted by the pandemic might also be eligible to receive $100-$400 in grocery gift cards.

On the school front, T.C. Williams High School’s student newspaper Theogony broke the story that Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Jr. now sends one of his children to a private high school in the city.

Meanwhile, Alexandria was named the fifth best small city in U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler and made Forbes’ Weekend Getaway list.

Nearly 200 readers also participated in our weekly poll on passing out Halloween candy, and 60% said they would not hand out candy, 29% said they are doing modified trick-or-treating and 11% said they will hand out candy like usual.

If you need a good laugh, this Sunday at 8 p.m. there will be more COVID-friendly stand-up comedy in Old Town.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:

  1. BREAKING: Suspect Arrested for West End Murder
  2. BREAKING: Former Alexandria Nurse Jesse Bjerke Sentenced 65 Years For Raping Lifeguards at Gunpoint
  3. Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
  4. VIDEO: West End Murder Victim Identified
  5. Police: Illegal Drugs Sold in West End Via Snapchat During Pandemic
  6. Man Dies After Crash on N. Washington Street in Old Town
  7. Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
  8. Delaware Woman Charged for Three Hit-And-Runs in Old Town and Driving Under the Influence
  9. Man Shot on Quantrell Avenue in City’s Second Murder of 2020
  10. Students, Parents Ask School Board to Not Renew Agreement Allowing Police at Alexandria City Public Schools
  11. Homeowner Shot in Targeted Del Ray Home Invasion

Have a safe weekend!

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Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. confirmed today that one of his two children is attending Bishop Ireton High School.

Hutchings confirmed the news to Nikki Harris, a reporter for Theogony, the T.C. Williams High School newspaper.

“I can confirm that our family made a decision to change my daughter’s school this school year,” Hutchings told Theogony. “Decisions like these are very personal family decisions and are not taken lightly. This in no way impacts my absolute lifelong, commitment to public education, to which I remain as personally dedicated as ever.”

After Theogony started asking questions, Hutchings’ ACPS bio was amended to simply say that he has two children, instead of stating that both of them attend ACPS. His Twitter profile was also changed to say that he has two kids, instead of “two ACPS kids.”

“Everyone has to do what is best for their kids, but it is concerning that the superintendent doesn’t have confidence in our public school system,” an ACPS parent told ALXnow.

Bishop Ireton High School opened the school year in August with a mix of in-person and at-home learning. All ACPS students are currently studying at home, and the school system on October 15 will consider a phased reentry plan to allow students back in classrooms.

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It hasn’t been an easy start to the 2020-2021 school year in Alexandria, and parents should expect the Alexandria City Public Schools system to make frequent changes to its VirtualPLUS+ program.

“I can feel everybody’s anxiety and pain, growing pains, as we make it through this,” ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told the School Board at last Thursday’s meeting. “I can totally feel and understand your pain.”

Parents of younger kids say they are de-facto teacher’s assistants, and that requiring kids to sit through more than six hours of daily screen time is excessive.

“We’re concerned about the structure of this for our youngest learners,” a parent of an ACPS kindergartener told ALXnow. “It seems to be an extreme amount of screen time — 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. is an extreme amount of time for a kindergartener. The lack of flexibility puts strain on working parents.”

ACPS will send out a survey to parents on Friday to rate their experience so far this year. Hutchings said that the school system will hold off on making division-wide changes to VirtualPLUS+ after receiving feedback from the community.

“There will be adjustments that are made based on concerns that families are having right now,” Hutchings said. “The division-wide expectations or refinements, they won’t be happening until after we get a clear idea of what is working after three weeks of VirtualPLUS+.”

Hutchings also said that attendance has been high, with 93% of students checking into online classes, and that attendance tracking won’t completely be in order until the end of the month.

“It’s not just something that’s because of COVID-19,” he said. “This is a typical situation for us that our data doesn’t really look clear in regards to attendance and making sure all the right students are in our system until the end of September.”

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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The Alexandria City School Board on Thursday (September 17) will consider moving forward with changing the name of Matthew Maury Elementary School, which is named after Confederate leader and noted oceanographer. The placeholder name would be “The Parker-Gray Rosemont School.”

Maury was the first Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory and the first hydrographer of the U.S. Navy. He was also special agent for the Confederacy during the Civil War and has a statue in Richmond. The School Board received a petition from at least 100 signatures from city residents on August 6, less than a month after the board unanimously directed Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., to begin the name change process for T.C. Williams High School.

“Matthew Fontaine Maury was a confederate officer who fought in support of slavery,” states the petition, which was signed by Del. Charniele Herring, Del. Mark Levine, City Councilman Canek Aguirre, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Mo Seifeldein. “While his efforts in oceanography were noteworthy, his actions surrounding the Civil War and slavery were indefensible.”

The petition continues, “He attempted to negotiate a slave trade from the United States to Brazil in order to help his fellow southerners who would lose a great deal of monty if they lost their ability to sell their slaves. He invented an early version of the torpedo which was used by the confederates to sink Union ships. He tried to create a New Virginia Colony in Mexico after the Civil War where slave labor would continue with a new label of indentured servitude. He convinced nearly 4,000 confederate soldiers to defect before his plan was thwarted by unrest in Mexico.”

The T.C. name change will go before the board next spring, and the board will have to decide on a timeline for a public engagement process and a public hearing for the potential Maury name change.

“It looks feasible to run the two processes together (in the spring),” ACPS Executive Director of Communications Helen Lloyd told ALXnow. “However, the board and the superintendent will have to make that decision.”

Photo via ACPS

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It wasn’t your usual first day back to school. Instead of waiting for their students to arrive bright and early, Alexandria City Public Schools started the 2020-2021 school year virtually.

“We are all in the field of education because we love kids, we love people, and going into the virtual plus model is a challenge for us because we primarily we like to make those connections and being face-to-face,” said Dr. Seazante` Oliver, the new principal at George Mason Elementary School. “(W)e won’t be able to get those hugs and those high-fives on the first day of school, and to be able to see those excited faces and smiles standing out front as we greet our families, and having just come to grips with that.”

Thank you to everyone who shared photos of their children for our first day of Virtual PLUS+!

Posted by Alexandria City Public Schools on Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Unlike last spring after in-person school was cancelled due to the pandemic, attendance will be tracked with its VirtualPLUS+ program and students will be graded on their assignments — just like a normal school year.

Oliver, who has worked at George Mason since 2012, is one of four new principals at ACPS, including Loran Brody at Charles Barrett Elementary School, John McCain at Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB School and Penny Hairston at Douglas MacArthur Elementary School.

Hairston, a former assistant principal at James K. Polk Elementary School, considers the her teachers and administrators to be a family of sorts.

“My theme for this year is ‘better together,'” Hairston said. “Even though we’re apart, and it’s kind of cliche, but we are better when we’re working on one accord, and working for the purpose of our children.”

Brody, a former principal at Takoma Education Campus PK3-8 in Washington D.C. for the last five years, said that support from the Barrett community has been strong.

“It’s definitely challenging and it’s definitely different,” Brody said., adding that his school has a testing team to fine tune how tests will be administered to students.

All day, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., jumped around Zoom calls to check in on students.

“We know this year will be different and it does not change the fact that we are all committed to each of you by making sure you are learning and growing, reaching your academic goals, and getting all the support you need to have a successful school year,” Hutchings said on social media.

https://www.facebook.com/acpsk12/photos/a.281772705295865/1828126753993778/?type=3&theater

Photo via T.C. Williams Minnie Howard Campus/Facebook

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Alexandria City Public Schools said the renaming of T.C. Williams High School is a conversation that must prioritize the school’s Black voices.

At a school board work session last night (Thursday), the board expressed universal approval of the planned vote on a name change for T.C. Williams High School later this year, but also pushed back against the vocal advocates for the change who accuse the school system of dragging its feet.

“There’s a lot of discussion about ‘why can’t we change it now,'” said Superintendent Gregory Hutchings. “What I’m hoping we’re able to do is allow for our community to be educated around who Thomas Chambliss Williams is, and how that makes them feel – and have the Board hear voices of our community to make the decision.”

The meeting also covered other issues of inequality in the school system, some officials argued could prove more impactful long-term for students than a name change, but the discussion about the T.C. Williams High School name was the elephant in the room.

The superintendent also noted that Black students, rather than white supporters within the school and the broader community, should be the more prominent voices in the discussion about the potential name change. Hutchings invited the two student representatives, Lorraine Johnson and Ashley Sanchez-Viafara, to share their views on the issue. Johnson said with the current controversies around the Black Lives Matter protests and the Trump administration, changing the name of the school was one wrong that could be fixed on a local level.

“There are lots of wrongs to right, but changing the name is the first,” Johnson said. “I understand there’s people who want it taken down immediately, but with that much at stake, we have to get this right. Before the name is taken down, we at least need to be on the same page moving forward for what we’re going to name the new high school. We need to be a united front when we go to the public about what we name it.”

 

Johnson also said she supported the students who have been covering up the name of the school on the marquee, an act ACPS and T.C. Principal Peter Balas had previously threatened to pursue legal action over. Johnson said the tarping is partially the result of students not feeling as though they have a day-to-day platform to speak on the issue.

A recurring theme of the discussion was ensuring that white allies don’t override Black voices in the discussion.

“White ally-ship is important, but students of color should be on the front lines of that work,” Johnson said. “This is our fight.”

“When we give black and brown children a platform… the sky is the limit,” said Hutchings. “When the history book is written about this historic moment that I hope happens in December 2020, [I hope is says] that the students at T.C. Williams were the ones that led this. That’s not to say we don’t need everyone else, but our Black and brown students’ voices matter.

School Board members rallied behind the idea that delaying the discussion to December, rather than taking immediate action,

“It’s an understandable frustration,” said School Board member Christopher Suarez, “but at the end of the day it’s important that we go through a process that allows Black and brown students to be heard and allows students who are going to be the future leaders in this high school express their voice.”

Noting that the school board mostly seemed in agreement that the name needed to be changed, Suarez predicted the harder fight ahead will be on what the new name will be.

Photo via ACPS

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If all goes according to plan, Alexandria City Public Schools will begin a public engagement process in September and October to educate the public on who Thomas Chambliss Williams was, followed by a vote on whether to change the name of T.C. Williams High School.

The actual vote on a new name would be chosen next spring after a vote on whether the name should be changed in December, according to ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., who reported the news to the school board in a virtual retreat on Wednesday.

“People are not really thinking about a name change… they’re reading about the election, they’re reading about COVID,” Hutchings told the Board. “That’s where everybody’s focus is.”

Last month, the board unanimously voted to approve the process for changing the name of T.C. by next spring. T.C. is the largest high school in Virginia and is named after former ACPS Superintendent Thomas Chambliss Williams, who was a segregationist and discouraged school integration.

“I think by the spring, if the board approves to change the name of T.C. Williams, then we can use from January to the spring to come up whatever the new name is going to be,” Hutchings said.

Marc Solomon is one of the community leaders behind the group Rename T.C. Williams Now trying to get the name changed. He says that the name should be stricken immediately.

“It’s unfortunate that ACPS is continuing to go down the path of most resistance,” Solomon said. “We hope Dr. Hutchings will reach out to our organization to cooperatively address concerns and retire the name of T.C. Williams immediately, and spend the rest of the time picking a new name.”

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Alexandria City Public Schools promised a group of students inquiring about the upcoming school year that the new format will be smoother and more accessible than the spring and summer classes, whether that’s online-only or a hybrid model.

In a virtual Q&A session, school administrators spoke to elementary, middle and high schoolers about what they can expect in the upcoming school year.

Many of the questions focused around the day to day, like the inclusion of recess in the schedule or how lunches will operate. Terri Mozingo, chief academic officer for ACPS, said that the

“If we go online, we would do something like dance or yoga, so you can still engage in physical online activity,” Mozingo said.

Mozingo also emphasized in the Q&A session that the schools are working to develop some way of setting students up students to be able to converse in small groups easily.

For the school system, however, there are still lingering questions about the logistics of how any potential in-person school system can operate. In an in-person school scenario, students would dine without masks in their cafeterias, but Superintendent Gregory Hutchings noted that some school facilities were already crowded before the six-feet of separation requirement.

The answer to this could be bringing students to school on a rotating schedule. Under this scenario, administrators said Monday would be a workday form home, while one group of students would go to in-person school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays while the others do asynchronous learning at home. The groups would switch off on Thursday and Friday.

“It is not possible for everyone to be back at one time,” Hutchings said. “Many of our schools a little overcrowded already, would not be in our best interest to bring everybody back at once.”

This reduces, but would not eliminate, the challenge of social distancing in the school. School buses, for instance, will require one student per seat with students in every other row, reducing buses to one-quarter of their usual capacity.

ACPS staff told ALXnow they are keenly aware of those problems.

“The logistics around transportation, the size of our classrooms and movement within our facilities are indeed challenging,” said Helen Lloyd, the ACPS director of communications. “These are all areas being considered by the Cross-functional Planning Teams that are working right now on drawing up plans for the fall.”

Some of the students who spoke with administrators had their own concerns about the online side of classes, citing challenges in the spring and summer classes and limited options to speak with teachers or other students. Mozingo said more time for teachers to be available to students is being worked into the schedules.

“What you might have experienced this summer will be very different in terms of 4.0 and that instructional plan,” Mozingo said.

On Friday, Lloyd said ACPS will announce whether there will be any in-person classes in the fall.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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With Fairfax and Arlington’s school systems both announcing that they will be going fully digital in the fall, many parents are turning their attention to Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) to see if they’ll follow suite.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings’ answer: ACPS still doesn’t know.

“In a little over three weeks, on August 14, ACPS will send its reopening proposal to the Virginia Department of Education,” Hutchings said in an email to the ACPS community. “I know that everyone — families, students and staff — are waiting to know what September will bring for the school division. I also know that so much of your lives revolve around the academic year and that means a lot of uncertainty remains until we have answers. This makes planning ahead for both staff and families very difficult indeed. Please know that I hear you and understand.”

As with the recent renaming of T.C. Williams discussion, Hutchings asked that the school community have patience and respect the process.

“I also know that expediting solutions can potentially cause unnecessary missteps and poor planning which is why we have been adamant about taking the methodical and informed approach to make our reopening plan the best for the health and safety of our families and staff, with the best information we have at this time,” Hutchings said. “Our engaged community is encouraging us to do a number of things differently and in a more innovative way. Acting in haste while under pressure may lead to making choices without feedback and input from our students, families and staff, which may need to be reversed and which would find us back at square one.”

The levels of percent positive testing is trending down in Alexandria, but that hasn’t always been consistent. In early July, when the city moved into the third phase of reopening, the city saw a brief uptick in cases. Read More

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