Newsletter

Alexandria was spared from significant flooding this week after remnants of Hurricane Ida swept through the East Coast. The only flooding found was on lower King Street in Old Town, where businesses laid sandbags at windows and doorways.

“We’re open inside, but if you want to eat you’re probably going to have to come barefoot,” a hostess at Mai Thai told ALXnow on Wednesday.

Our top story this week was, for the second week in a row, on the recent brawl inside Alexandria City High School.

It’s a three-day weekend, and on Sunday the annual Old Town Festival of Speed & Style will bring crowds to marvel at classic and beautiful rides along King Street. Monday is Labor Day, and the city will operate on a holiday schedule.

In this week’s poll we asked how satisfied readers are with Alexandria City Public Schools since reopening on August 24. A majority (31%) reported being extremely unsatisfied with the school system, while 29% said ACPS has done a good job, 25% are extremely satisfied and 14% are unhappy overall.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. BREAKING: Video shows brawl at Alexandria City High School cafeteria just two days after school starts
  2. 13-year-old hit by car while walking home from school in Del Ray
  3. Fox put George Washington Middle School into a lock-in today
  4. Man arrested for spending spree after finding wallet in Bradlee Shopping Center parking lot
  5. No injuries or arrests after shots fired on Duke Street
  6. ACPS Superintendent Hutchings asks community to hit the brakes on email campaigns
  7. Alexandria man arrested for beating up ex-girlfriend in Old Town North
  8. Alexandria sees cases rise in August and warns of COVID-19 in schools
  9. Alexandria man convicted for possessing child porn and violating parole
  10. Historic Black cemetery under threat of being washed away in Old Town
  11. Man swallows two bags of drugs and runs from police in Old Town

Have a safe weekend!

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What a busy week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

Alexandria City Public Schools reopened their doors to full-time in-person instruction on Tuesday, and there have been a few hiccups. On Friday, we published a video taken of a brawl inside Alexandria City High School, and a teenager was hit by a car while walking home from school in Del Ray on Thursday.

This week was dominated by crime stories, although other big events occurred, such as the City breaking ground on a new broadband network.

In our poll this week, we asked if readers agree with a proposed 5 cent tax on plastic bags. Out of more than 900 votes, 62% said it shouldn’t be implemented and 38% said it should.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Alexandria man arrested for beating up ex-girlfriend in Old Town North
  2. Fox put George Washington Middle School into a lock-in today
  3. Design realities could conflict with promises to speed up stormwater improvements in Alexandria
  4. City breaks ground on new broadband network
  5. Poll: Do you support the proposed 5 cent plastic bag tax?
  6. This Alexandria gym manager went rogue and launched a personal training business
  7. Alexandria kicks off Restaurant Week tomorrow
  8. Alexandria sees huge spike in COVID-19 cases in August, another death
  9. Poll: Have you been impacted by flooding in Alexandria?
  10. New Normal: ACPS fully reopens for first time since pandemic started
  11. Evolving COVID-19 decisions loom as Alexandria City Public Schools fully reopen next Tuesday

Have a safe weekend!

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A fox outside George Washington Middle School briefly forced the school to go into a lock-in today (Thursday), according to Alexandria City Public Schools.

The fox was spotted running around outside the school at around 8:15 a.m., and the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria’s Animal Services team was at the school 15 minutes later, AWLA spokesperson Gina Hardter told ALXnow.

The initial call was that there was a coyote on the property, but it was later confirmed to be a fox, Hardter said. The lock-in ended at around 9 a.m. after the AWLA gave the all-clear. The fox simply ran away and was not apprehended.

“They’re more afraid of us than we are of them, and the fox displayed those characteristics by not getting advancing on anyone or showing suspicious behavior,” Hardter said.

Hardter said that residents should call the police non-emergency number at 703-746-4444 if they see any wildlife of concern.

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Beside the masks and the news crews flocking around the hallways, after more than a year of virtual or hybrid learning, the start of the 2021-2022 school year was strangely normal.

Children at George Washington Middle School clumped together into groups of either friends or convenient strangers headed to the same destinations. Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, School Board Chair Meagan Alderton, and Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) staff greeted students as they came into the building.

This is the first time that ACPS has fully reopened since the pandemic started in March 2020.

For many of the students, Hutchings said the constant mask wearing will be the biggest difference between this year and pre-COVID school years. Some students had been in schools for a hybrid learning program in the spring, but today marked the return to a five-day-per-week in-person school day.

“They have to wear it at all times,” Hutchings said. “We also have temperature checks every day and handwashing stations. The masks are helpful in regard to mitigation.”

Around 500 of the school system’s 16,000 students will remain virtual through the Virtual Virginia program.

Last week, the School Board voted to require staff to either be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. A mandatory survey was sent out on Friday, and Alderton said staff are still sorting through the results.

“It’s so exciting to be back in the building,” said Wendy Gonzalez. “There’s an energy the kids bring back into the building.”

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Morning Notes

Beyer Refutes Trump’s Claims of Media Spin Over Tax Payments — “No, ‘everyone else’ didn’t write off payments to their children and $70,000 for haircuts so they could live a lavish lifestyle while only paying $750 in taxes. Trump remains the only major party candidate for president in 40 years who refused to release his tax returns.” [Twitter]

ACPS Asks Community to Discuss Future Facilities Projects, School Sites — “As ACPS and the City start looking at the need to rebuild, replace, add to or modernize schools, fire stations, police facilities and more, local officials are asking for feedback on the Joint City-ACPS Facilities Master Plan.” [Alexandria Living]

Alexandria Chefs Compete on ‘Chopped’ Reality Show Tonight — “Alexandria chef-owner Mimi Huynh of modern Vietnamese restaurant Sunday in Saigon at 682 N. St. Asaph Street and chef Chris Edwards of newly opened Hank & Mitzi’s Italian Kitchen, located at 600 Montgomery Street, will appear on Food Network’s “Chopped” tomorrow night.” [Zebra]

Longtime Friends Named National Merit Scholarship Finalists — “When Aiden Crowe, Nikolai Kosinski and Caroline Winakur reached eighth grade at George Washington Middle School, their math ability was such that the trio were literally in a class of their own. Algebra 2 with Sarah Devito became a class of three as teachers sought to individualize learning in the subject area they all excelled at. They have remained good friends ever since. And earlier this month, the T.C. Williams High School seniors discovered they had all been named National Merit Scholarship semi finalists after outstanding results in the PSAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test last October.” [ACPS]

Today’s Weather — “Rain showers in the morning then thundershowers in the afternoon. High 74F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 90%. Rain likely (in the evening). Low 56F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 90%. Rainfall near a half an inch. Locally heavy rainfall possible.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Marketing Communications Specialist — “To be successful in this position, the Marketing Communications Specialist must demonstrate strong persuasive writing skills, strong digital layout design skills and be an overall expert in digital and social media marketing.” [Indeed]

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Morning Notes

Longtime Beverly Hills Resident Marilyn Whitehurst Dies — “Sweet, beautiful, kind, funny, and thoughtful with your contagious laugh, charming and unforgettable Southern accent, and always a twinkle in your eye, you will be dearly missed by all, Marilyn. Loved all the times you and the other Saints mom came to the Vineyard. Rest In Peace my dear friend.” [Facebook]

COVID-19 Cases Increase by 36 — “Positive tests up 36 to 2,618 in the City… Still safer at home, wash hands, wear masks and support our essential workers.” [Twitter]

Beyer: Report of Trump Enriching Himself in Office is Predictable — “It’s no exaggeration to say this story would have been the worst scandal that ever happened for most presidential administrations, resulting in a legacy of infamy, disgrace, and possibly impeachment. For Trump it’s a Tuesday night — but we still need to find out what happened.” [Twitter]

City Opens Family Swim Lottery — “Each Thursday and Friday, residents may request swim times for the following Monday through Sunday. Alexandria households may request a maximum of three time slots per week, with no more than one time slot per day. Each Saturday, requests will be processed through a lottery, and households will receive an email notifying whether they have been enrolled or added to a waitlist for each of their requested timeslots. Each confirmed request reserves 45 minutes of pool time and accommodates four people per family unit at Old Town Pool (1609 Cameron St.), or eight people per family unit at Warwick Pool (3301 Landover St.). Swimmer admission fees are due upon arrival at the pool.” [City of Alexandria]

George Washington Middle School Student Wins History Award — “Patrick Ostermann-Healey, a George Washington Middle School student, was awarded the African American History Prize during the National History Day.” [Alex Times]

WMATA Job Fair on July 30 — “By attending, job seekers can learn about immediate employment opportunities with WMATA. These include bus driver, police officer, mechanic, and elevator/escalator apprentice.” [Zebra]

New Job: Lifeguard — “Area Lifeguards get paid the best hourly lifeguard rate in Northern Virginia and are scheduled to work at different facilities within a 15-mile radius. Stay busy by covering shifts at various pools, while putting your punctuality, flexibility and quick learning skills to good use!” [Indeed]

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A study of the mold problems at George Washington Middle School has found that the school will require extensive mitigation work expected to cost at least $120,000.

At a School Board meeting on Friday, May 29, an information item detailed the full extent of the mold issues found in the school. The report described extensive staining and foul odors in older parts of the building, with each instance categorized by room. While most classrooms had less than 300 spores per cubic meter, classroom A 216 had 1,960 spores.

“Safety and Security obtained a contractor to perform a non-invasive (in accessible areas) mold assessment survey to evaluate concerns of moisture intrusion or visible suspected mold growth within GWMS on February 29 and March 7, 2020,” the staff report said. “Fungal spore air and surface samplings were taken from numerous locations throughout the building. Based on the assessment findings, a total of 42 recommendations were made”

Among those recommendations were eleven that will require professional mold mitigation, 30 that require further HVAC contracted or staff work, and one that will require an assessment by an asbestos abatement professional.

According to the study:

Based on our observations, visible mold, discolorations and/or water staining were observed on ceiling tiles, thermal system pipe insulation, and/or ceiling plaster in selected areas throughout the school. Elevated levels of individual fungal spores were detected in the surface swab samples collected from various locations with suspected visible mold growth throughout the school.

Based on New York City Department of Health, OSHA, and US EPA guidance, small areas of mold (up to one square foot) can be cleaned up by either custodial or contract personnel using proper protective equipment. Larger areas of fungal growth should be addressed by professional contractors with trained personnel using appropriate engineering controls and work practices.

“The current estimated magnitude of cost is ~$120k. It is likely that this amount will increase,” the staff report said. “The Offices of Educational Facilities and Maintenance and Custodial Services is in the process of reviewing cost estimates, completing procurements and working with staff/contractors to initiate mitigation work, some of which is anticipated to begin during the first week of June.”

Concerns about mold in the school have lingered for years and been the subject of extensive testing, particularly after students were able to prove there was mold growing in their classroom.

The staff report said the plan is for all work to be completed before school starts again in September, but said the condition of mold in the school could vary based on environmental factors like temperature and humidity.

“There are currently no accepted regulatory standards or guidelines with respect to acceptable fungal levels inside buildings,” the staff report said. “Surface samples are generally qualitative in that they reflect the type and quantity of mold present only at the sampled location at the time the sample was collected.”

The report noted that George Washington Middle School is not alone in needing extensive renovations.

“ACPS’ aging facilities have been in sore need of attention for many years,” the staff report said. “Since FY 2017, there has been a heightened financial commitment by the city to help ACPS address both capacity and non-capacity capital modernization, replacements and repairs. Mitigating and addressing other affects of system-wide deterioration to not only meet compliance but to ensure the health and safety of staff and students is a high priority… While these efforts are significantly improving [conditions] within GWMS, the future will require an ongoing program of monitoring and response in areas most impacted.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The George Washington Middle School Parent Teacher Association is donating $9,000 to Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) to help restore the exterior grounds of the school.

A memo regarding the donation said last December a community member approached ACPS about starting a fundraiser to help restore some of the outdoor learning space at the school. The GW PTA donated a total of $9,000 on May 13. Any donations above $2,500 must be approved the School Board, which is scheduled to review the donation at tomorrow’s meeting.

“The donation will support the well-being of students and staff at George Washington Middle School by providing a restored outdoor space that can be used for learning, instruction and other educational purposes,” staff said in the memo. “The donation has no identified undesirable, unacceptable, or hidden costs. It will serve all students, staff and community of George Washington Middle School.”

If the donation is approved, the memo states that the ACPS Operations Department will work through the next steps needed to restore the school’s outdoor learning space.

Like the rest of ACPS, GW is currently closed for the remainder of the school year.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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A couple weeks ago, Jesse Mazur stopped his car outside George Washington Middle School and thought about how quickly things changed.

It’s a disorienting feeling for the 44-year-old principal who has — one way or another — been in schools most of his life, and inside the hallways are completely empty. Since March 13, Mazur and his staff have had to adapt to a new normal of remotely teaching more than 1,500 students for the remainder of the year.

“I stopped, and my wife asked me what I was doing and I just felt the need to stop and just look at it,” Mazur told ALXnow. “I’ve been going to school for 18 years of my life as a professional, and, of course, 15 years of my life as an actual student. It’s very disorienting to not be in my office.”

Mazur added, “I’ve missed the camaraderie with my team and I miss teaching and learning. I miss walking through the door of the building and seeing the students. Believe it or not, I miss lunch duty. It’s a really tough transition but what’s sustaining me personally is knowing that we rolled out a good product in terms of getting kids and teachers online, but also recognizing that there’s still opportunities to improve.”

At first, GW eighth grader Yahney-Marie Sangare was excited that school was initially closed until after spring break. Ten days later, on March 23, Governor Northam closed all schools in the state for the remainder of the year, and Sangare felt crestfallen at not being able to graduate from the eighth grade with her friends. Now she spends about four hours a day doing online learning.

“I think it was deeper than just not being in school,” the 12-year-old Sangare said. “It’s just something that challenges your perception of reality. Sometimes you wake up and you just feel like life isn’t really real and it feels like you’re never really going to get the chance to live normally again. And the prospect that things are going to change after this is over is both beautiful and terrifying.”

All students at GW received Chromebooks and instructional packets to take home, and Mazur and his staff combed through school records to reach out to families without the necessary equipment or internet access. Additionally, about 48% of students receive free and reduced lunch, and the synchronous teaching ensures that teachers maintain continual relationships with their kids throughout the shutdown.

“Yes, it’s important, of course, to get the kids engaged in their education, but we also realize for some that the education is the least of their concerns and the least of their worries,” Mazur said. “We just exhausted our internal database of phone numbers and called and called emergency emergency contacts. We did everything we could to try to track down these students and find out what is happening in their lives and how we can support them.”

Mazur conducts a weekly staff meeting every Friday, and is currently working out of the basement of his home, while his wife, a teacher at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School, teaches upstairs. They’re also the parents of a T.C. Williams High School senior and a GW eighth grader.

“It’s very, very unusual to stare at his computer screen all day, and my eyes are suffering,” Mazur said. “I love the energy of a schoolhouse. One of my favorite things to do is to go into gym class and compete with these kids while I’m there.”

Sangare said that she is concerned about the future of the country.

“The president’s actions of cutting funding to the World Health Organization is scary,” she said. “Especially for my generation, we are being affected by these choices. I think that this time to stand together and really look and reflect on our country, how we can help other countries and take what they’re doing right and what they’re doing. And we cannot be targeting anyone any minority group, anything like that. This is the time that we stand together, and we stand up for each other, especially for those who don’t have the resources like we do.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Morning Notes

City Faces Dozens of Lawsuits — “Between 2014 and 2019, 101 lawsuits were filed against the city, and 20 of those cases are still active, according to data the Alexandria Times acquired through the city… Over the last six years, the city has faced 37 claims cases, 20 land-use cases, 15 civil rights cases, 12 employment cases, 11 real estate assessment cases, two FOIA cases, two mandamus cases and two procurement cases.” [Alexandria Times]

Restaurants That Locals Still Miss — “When you talk with locals about restaurants they miss, there’s usually at least one place they can name… We’ve received nearly 40 responses covering Old Town and other areas of the city. Places mentioned by multiple people included Austin Grill, Overwood, Mango Mike’s, Flying Fish and Geranio.” [Patch]

New Bank Branch Opens in Carlyle — “Bank of America celebrated its latest Alexandria location with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning inside the newly opened financial center in the heart of Alexandria’s Carlyle neighborhood. The location, at 415 John Carlyle St., is Bank of America’s 10th financial center in the Alexandria/Springfield market and fourth in Alexandria proper.” [Alexandria Living]

GW Middle Students Try Meditation — “Middle school can be a stressful environment, so… at George Washington Middle School, some teachers are starting class with meditation. The lights are dimmed, soothing music is turned on and teachers guide the kids to breathe, settle in and focus on something positive.” [WTOP]

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