(Updated 3:55 p.m.) At 10 a.m. today, Alexandria City High School students filed out of their classrooms and took to the field behind the school in protest against the elimination of a popular lunchtime program at the school.
For a time, students could use their lunch block to meet with clubs or teachers in a program called Lunch and Learn. This was later given a more formal structure in a program called Titan Lunch, a re-do with more security, but that program was never instated.
Earlier this week, ACHS Principal Peter Balas told that — after meeting with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) senior leadership team — Titan Lunch would not be implemented for the current school year.
In an email to the community, Balas said logistics and safety concerns were at the core of why the program was canceled for the duration of the current school year.
“You may recall that, last fall, I promised to share an update after Winter Break and provide the next steps in the process,” Balas wrote. “In my previous message, I emphasized the need to address all of the safety and security concerns, in addition to the logistical and operational challenges, in our final plan, while also providing an opportunity for student choice during the lunch period. This is a significant challenge to overcome, given our large student population.”
Balas said the program “as we have known it” will not be reinstated for the 2022-2023 school year.
“Despite our best efforts, we are still working through the numerous factors and considerations to successfully reinstate the Titan Lunch period for this school year,” Balas wrote. “At this time,we will not be able to reinstate Titan Lunch for the 2022-23 school year as we have known it. Over the next semester, we will find ways to provide support to students focused on academics, well-being and student life.”
Students at ACHS told ALXnow that Lunch and Learn allowed students to participate in clubs and receive support from teachers, as well as allowing them time to visit counselors. The program allowed students to use the lunch break for these activities when things like sports or jobs might have left them unable to use those resources after school hours.
According to James Libresco, the 2025 class president at ACHS:
Lunch and Learn was such an important issue for students because it allowed students to participate in clubs, receive academic support from teachers, utilize the College & Career center, receive emotional support from counselors, and so much more. And the best part was that it allowed equal and equitable access for all students to participate in these school activities and enrichments, even those who had responsibilities after school like going to sports practice, working a job, or taking care of family members. This was something that had never been possible previously.
Titan Lunch took those aspects and added more safety-focused oversight, restricting some of the openness from Lunch and Learn like access to Chinquapin Field. Titan Lunch also required students to report directly to their location and check in via an internal system to let administrators keep track of students.
Libresco said strategic security plans for Titan Lunch included placing security officers and administrators in key locations to prevent students from roaming the halls or entering “no-go” areas.
— James Libresco (@james_libresco) January 24, 2023
— Yahney-Marie Sangaré (@yahneymarie) January 24, 2023
A committee of 25 students, called the Student Lunch Committee, had been working on the Titan Lunch program as a compromise. The Student Lunch Committee issued a statement expressing frustration at being seemingly stonewalled by the central office. Libresco said Balas was supportive of the students and engaged in conversations, but that the school had difficulty discussing the plan with the central office and Kay-Wyatt in particular, who has not met with the committee.
A Change.org petition calling specifically on Kay-Wyatt to reinstate Lunch and Learn has gotten 1,346 signatures at time of writing.
“This is no longer just about Titan Lunch,” the committee said in a statement posted on social media. “this is about students, teachers, staff and administration being flagrantly ignored by Central Office with the vague reasoning of ‘safety.’ This is about Central Office leaving nothing up to the principals and administrators who know our school so well.”
In the email to the community, Balas said the discussion around lunchtime activities is likely to continue:
In our continued conversations with students and staff about the reinstatement of this period, we have heard many perspectives and advocacy to accommodate this period in the schedule for the remainder of this year. I want you to know that your voice has not gone unheard. In our role as leaders, it is always challenging to balance safety for all within the building with student and staff choice. This is one of those times when a tough call must be made to ensure that we can be fully prepared to provide the safest environment for our school community while also keeping student life top of mind.
I understand that you may still have questions about this decision and may be disappointed with this outcome at this time. Please be assured that we will continue to identify ways to incorporate student and staff voice in our next steps as we continue our planning, if all measures are in place.
At a rally outside Southern Towers (4901 Seminary Road), residents and community activists shared stories of rent increases and poor living conditions, shouting slogans against property owner CIM Group.
CIM Group purchased the buildings in 2020. Relations between tenants and owners were already fraught after the pandemic left many residents in Southern Towers — one of the last bastions of market-rate affordable housing in Alexandria — without work. Since then, community activists have raced to try and support residents facing eviction after pandemic-related protections expired.
A dozen residents of Southern Towers were in attendance, along with several community organizers from the organization African Communities Together (ACT). Bert Bayou, chapter director for ACT’s DC office, said ACT has been working to support local residents who feel they’re being pushed out by continual rent increases at the property.
“We are here supporting the tenants,” said Bayou. “For a few months we’ve been trying to engage with CIM about conditions in the building and rent increases.”
Bayou said CIM Group has told residents that rent went up 3-4%. Bayou said ACT surveyed residents and found some 9% increases, though CIM group cited figures on real estate website CoStar that show lower average rent renewals.
“CIM says they want to keep the building as workforce housing, but everything they do is making it unaffordable,” Bayou said. “All we see is CIM trying to get rid of African immigrants.”
Added into the mix is that utilities are no longer included with rent, meaning residents face additional costs on top of increasing rent.
Sosseh Prom, state policy manager for African Communities Together, rent shouldn’t increase any more than 2% annually.
“If you, a multi-billion dollar company, are having these issues: how do you think blue-collar workers feel?” Prom said.
Sami Bourma, a resident at Southern Towers, said beyond just issues with having utilities separated from rent, there are no clear answers on where the figures on the bills are coming from given that there aren’t individual meters in the units.
“We see a $200 electric bill for a one-bedroom unit or $600 for a three-bedroom, but it doesn’t make any sense,” Bourma said. “CIM says ‘oh, that’s what the market is.'”
CIM Group was not available for interviews, but said in a document sent to ALXnow that because Southern Towers aren’t affiliated with any social service support network, the property owners are keeping rent increases in line with the financial obligations of building ownership:
The vast majority, 91.5 percent, of Southern Towers residents are current in meeting their rent obligations. Our empathy for residents must be balanced by our fiduciary responsibility. We empathize with those residents that face personal struggles. However, Southern Towers is a standard workforce housing community and is not affiliated with any social service support networks. As property owners we must meet our financial obligations and fiduciary responsibilities in order to keep the lights on and the doors open, providing homes for thousands of residents at Southern Towers.
The real estate company said rents are 20% below average rental rates in Alexandria and rent increases have been below the average rate as well, noting that the average rates cited on real estate website CoStar showed a 2.7% increase for residents renewing their leases and a 5.1% increase for new leases.
Currently, rents at Southern Towers are approximately 20 percent below the average rental rates for all apartment properties in the Alexandria area according to CoStar. This equates to, on average, approximately $600 a month.
Overall, rents in the Alexandria market increased 12.8 percent in the past year. Rental rates for new leases at Southern Towers increased 5.1 percent over the same period, while existing residents executing renewals saw increases of 2.7 percent during this time, according to CoStar.
Effective October 1, 2022, Southern Towers will hold rent increases to $200 per month for residents in good standing who execute a lease renewal through the end of 2022. There were instances where residents agreed to renewal terms before the commitment to a $200 cap was implemented. There is no obligation to renew, residents may select from the many residential options in the area.
More than a dozen anti-abortion activists were individually led out of Alexandria’s City Council Chambers on Tuesday night (June 28), as Council unanimously approved a resolution to protect access to abortions in the city.
Members of the California-based group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust sat in Council Chambers holding signs depicting graphic photos and drawings of aborted fetuses. The group spent the last several days demonstrating outside the U.S. Supreme Court leading up to last week’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, banning abortion in more than a dozen states.
Mayor Justin Wilson told the audience repeatedly to quiet down or he’d clear the chamber, and asked police to remove more than a dozen protestors, including A.J. Hurley, national director of the group.
“Bodily autonomy is a basic human right,” Wilson said. “I’m not really fond of resolutions that, you know, take stands on issues that we don’t have a lot of impact on, and this is not one of those. I think the reason this resolution is before us is because it has specific actions that are very much in our purview.”
Hurley is from Los Angeles, California. He said that the mission of the organization is to seek a federal ban on abortion, and doesn’t believe he will see that happen in his lifetime. Hurley was eventually escorted from Council Chambers by police after an outburst. Members of the group also shouted on megaphones and banged on plastic buckets outside City Hall.
“If this city council is going to produce edicts and statements and resolutions moving towards ordinances, they should know the faces of the children that they affect,” Hurley said.
The resolution states that “it is not possible to ban abortion, but only to ban safe and legal abortions,” and asks that the City Manager consider budgetary proposals for the FY 2024 budget to “ensure accessibility of reproductive health services, safe abortion services, accessible maternal and child health services for low-income Alexandria residents.”
The resolution also calls on the City Attorney to join ongoing or future lawsuits “to protect the availability of abortion services in Alexandria,” as well as land use protections for providers.
When told by a protestor that she doesn’t understand the issue because she hasn’t had an abortion, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson asked, “How do you know I haven’t?”
“When we’re talking about personal freedom and women’s health care, it should be the women’s choice, not men,” Jackson said.
“Fortunately right now we are in Virginia, and in Virginia abortion remains legal,” McPike said. “There’s nothing we can do from this dais or as City Council to override state law. If that changes, we will not be able to limit that. What we can do is work within the powers that we have as a city body, to ask our city manager in our city attorney to take on active roles in helping us protect this right to reproductive choice here in our city, whether that’s through revising our planning and zoning rules, whether that’s by joining lawsuits, whether that’s by putting language in our legislative packets. “
Council Member Alyia Gaskins, who noted in the meeting that she is pregnant, said that the Supreme Court ruling is an attack on the rights of women and families.
“We must be relentless in protecting the health and wellbeing of our people and the citizens we serve,” Gaskins said.
Council Member Sarah Bagley directly addressed the anti-abortion activists holding signs.
“I look at these photos, I see you pointing at them,” Bagley said. “What I don’t see is the woman whose life was saved because the ectopic pregnancy would have killed her. What I don’t see with these photos is a woman who desperately wanted a child but was told that (with) these fetal abnormalities would never have survived.”
Many residents also sat in Council Chambers holding signs thanking Alexandria for its pro-abortion efforts, including Sandy Marks, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee.
“Our council is entirely unshaken,” Marks said. “There have been a few interruptions, business is moving smoothly. They’re attempting to make noise outside, but our good governance is not going to be disrupted by a small number of out of town visitors that are here to try to obstruct a meeting that is going very smoothly.”
Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45) also sat in the audience.
“I’m here because I believe everyone should be able to access safe abortions,” Bennett-Parker said. “I’m here today to support City Council and this resolution to protect abortion access in Alexandria and Virginia. I’m here because people should be able to make decisions about their own body, their own future and their own lives.”
Chanting and holding signs, a local environmental group protested Chase Bank and Wells Fargo with ‘die-ins’ at their Old Town branches.
On Monday afternoon (April 4), more than a dozen protestors from the group TH!RD ACT-VA walked into both banks and chanted “What do we want? Climate change! What do we need? System change!” and delivered letters to local branch managers to forward to Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Wells Fargo CEO Charles W. Scharf. The letters demand that the banks “divest from fossil fuels this year.”
JP Morgan Chase & Co. is the top arranger of bonds for fossil fuel companies in the world, followed by Citibank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. Last year, each of those banks joined the United Nations’ Net Zero Banking Alliance, pledging to have their investment portfolios represent only companies with no emissions by 2050.
But the banks have a long way to go, said TH!RD ACT-VA organizer Deborah Kushner.
“Chase’s business plan is planetary death and destruction,” Kushner said. “It’s up to us to wake Chase. If Chase Bank does not stop all fossil fuel funding by the end of this year, we pledged to close all their accounts with Chase.”
TH!RD ACT-VA is made up of senior citizens from across the state, and has conducted similar protests in Richmond and Charlottesville. Their main online presence is on Facebook, and they ask that supporters sign an online pledge against banking with the lenders.
Organizer Bill Muth, of Richmond, brought his young grandchildren to the event, and said they participated in the die-in because the issue of climate change concerns future generations.
“I cannot stand by and watch an institution fund industries that are destroying the air supply of my grandchild,” Muth said, and then played dead with them and other protestors on the red brick sidewalk.
There was no proclamation at the March 8 City Council meeting honoring abortion providers, but that one had even been planned in the first place was enough to fill several rows of City Hall with anti-abortion advocates rallying against the canceled proclamation
While the casual viewer of the March 8 agenda might be baffled at the presence of anti-abortion advocates at the meeting, the docket had originally included a proclamation of March 10 as “Abortion Provider Appreciation Day.” Local religious groups were stirred by clergy like Arlington’s Bishop Michael Burbidge, despite the proclamation being pulled from the agenda at the request of Mayor Justin Wilson.
“Somebody saw that it was on the agenda and put the word out,” said Larry Cirignano, who said he heard about the event from the Queen of Apostles Catholic Church. “To think that we should honor people for killing babies…”
Cirignano said local advocates said the closure of some clinics offering abortions in Virginia has been encouraging, particularly the Planned Parenthood in Falls Church, and Cirignano said his hope is the West End facility can be similarly blocked through bureaucratic means.
“The one at Landmark is going to have to move, so wherever they move to, that could be blocked,” said Cirignano. “The City of Fairfax decided they needed one more parking spot they didn’t have.”
Elsewhere, onerous health inspections have been used as a cudgel to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics. The likelihood the that the all-Democrat City Council in Alexandria would go along with that seems slim, but Cirignano argued anti-abortion sentiment could transcend party lines. A Gallup poll indicated that around 8% of Democrats think abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, while 50% think abortion should be legal in all circumstances.
Our goal is not only to make it illegal… Our goal is to make it unthinkable.”
Wilson said while he and his colleagues on the City Council still support the message, he pulled it with their consent after deciding it was too controversial a topic for the typically inoffensive “proclamations” section of a public hearing. Other proclamations at that meeting, for example, expressed support for Meals on Wheels and recognizing Brain Injury Awareness Month.
“This was one of the [abortion] providers in the city had approached us because this is a national observance,” Wilson said. “One of my colleagues had requested we put it on the docket and I had agreed to do so. Upon reflection, these proclamations are usually non-controversial, but this one is more controversial. After talking with my colleagues and reflecting a bit, it makes sense to remove it from a docket.”
Wilson expressed some regret for including it, but not for the intent behind it.
“Upon reflecting I shouldn’t have put it as a proclamation,” Wilson said. “It’s the kind of thing we could handle as a resolution or presented at an event. That was the judgment and everyone unanimously agreed. The sentiment is to show our support for these healthcare workers who perform a legal and necessary service to our community in our community. We have two providers in our city who do that work under adverse conditions, and we wanted to show support for the work they do.”
Alexandria residents and workers are planning to rally at a City Council meeting tonight (Tuesday) to try and push the city to demand developers of the former GenOn power plant to go beyond current affordability plans.
In a release, local union and tenant organizations said the city should require commitments to higher-wage jobs and more housing.
“Dozens of hotel workers with UNITE HERE and Southern Towers immigrant tenants with African Communities Together will rally in front of Alexandria City Hall,” the release said. “As the Council is scheduled for an update on the Potomac River Generating Station redevelopment, Alexandria residents are saying whatever development replaces the coal plant needs to create good, sustainable jobs.”
Hilco, the developer overseeing the transformation of the derelict power plant into a mixed-use community, has included plans affordable housing to be incorporated on-site. Along with public art uses, these are requirements for any development going above the allowed density requirements.
UNITE HERE Local 25 said in the release that local workers are struggling with rising rents in Alexandria that leave the city unaffordable. The release said the union hopes the city can push for more units than what are currently required under city law.
“Affordable housing has been a priority for this site for years,” the release said. “Hilco, however, appears to only be proposing on-site affordable housing in exchange for the City’s bonus height and density variances, not in excess of that. Additionally, Hilco is asking for special variances to build higher than what is currently allowed in the Master Plan. Alexandria residents are asking Council to determine what is the maximum amount of on-site affordable housing the City can require in exchange for a master plan amendment.”
In particular, UNITE HERE cited a proposed 225,000 square foot hotel as a potential concern for local wages, and recalled some of the recent debate around wages at a hotel financed by the city.
“Hilco Redevelopment Partners’ first CDD Conceptual Plan submission in August 2021 outlined a 300-room, 225,000 square foot hotel,” the release said. “A 300 room hotel could create 180 low-wage jobs, which would increase pressure on Alexandria’s existing affordable housing crisis.”
New plans are scheduled to be presented at tonight’s City Council meeting, with an approval process scheduled to run over the next few months and demolition potentially starting in 2023.
Torpedo Factory artist starts petition to save art spaces — “Some of these plans include reduce the number of individual artist studios in the building by up to 40%, as well as sweeping aside ALL artist studios on the first floor and replacing it with cheap money-making venues such as restaurants.” [Change.org]
Parental group protests outside National School Board association headquarters — “In Alexandria, Virginia Wednesday Moms For America protested the request by the NSBA to have the FBI investigate parents at some school districts in front of the NSBA headquarters.” [WJLA]
Matt Gillette’s Memorial Fund raises twice its goal — “In your generosity, please consider helping Abby and Baby E navigate this tremendously difficult time by contributing to this fund. Every little bit helps.” [GoFundMe]
Mount Vernon church closes with a massive donation — “The closing of a church can be devastating to its members. But Messiah Lutheran Church in Alexandria decided to leave a remarkable legacy to its broader community when it recently shuttered.” [WJLA]
Weeks of tension and frustration over violence in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) boiled over last night with a small crowd of parents shouting at City Council members to restore the school resource officer (SRO) program.
In May, the City Council voted 4-3 in favor of reallocating funding away from SROs, a program started in 1997 that installed police officers in Alexandria’s high school and two middle schools. While the schools have additional security staff, SROs were authorized make arrests and carry weapons — a fact that made headlines in 2018 when an SRO accidentally fired his gun inside George Washington Middle School.
“My daughter with special needs is at ACPS,” said Jennifer Rohrbach, who drops her child off at school every day. “I witnessed two fights while dropping off my daughter. The lack of support for these kids, it’s distressing and upsetting. For me, as a lifelong Alexandrian… to hear those screams of distress, it’s unnecessary. There have been fights before, but not to this level.”
Rohrbach shared stories circulating among parents about extreme accounts of bullying and concerns about a “devious licks challenge” on TikTok. Rohrbach said the removal of SROs, intended to help reduce the school-to-prison pipeline, has made the schools unsafe for all students. Though she wore a shirt supporting Republican Mayoral candidate Annetta Catchings, Rohrbach said she’s traditionally liberal and that the protest was non-partisan.
“A lot of defunding the program was about the African American population, but this is about all kids,” Rohrbach said. “Now no one is being served. I’m looking for safe schools for all students.”
Catchings was one of those protesting in support of restoring the SRO program.
“I’m out here in solidarity with parents,” Catchings said. “On the drive over, I thought back to the start of my campaign holding an ‘Open ACPS‘ sign… we have to make school a safe environment that isn’t toxic.”
One of the protestors, Roxana Guerra, is the parent of a 7th grader at George Washington Middle School. Guerra said she’s been in a state of constant anxiety after her son was assaulted in school.
“Two weeks ago, my son was bullied,” Guerra said. “His mask was pulled and he was slapped in the face. I didn’t find out until another parent told me, then the dean confirmed it… that he was hurt. I have anxiety every day and hope that he comes home safe. Finding this out by a third party was concerning, and anything could happen if these kids are coming in with weapons. I want our kids to be safe.”
Others at the protest noted that parents are so on edge a firecracker set off an evacuation from Alexandria City High School’s stadium during a football game.
“I’m a native Alexandrian, a product of ACPS,” said Liz Fuller. “The violence in schools is shocking. Children are not safe in school… Administrators are being pushed down in fights, security is being pushed, children are suffering brain injuries. The City Council has to listen to parents. They need to be held accountable. They defunded SROs with no plan.”
Protestors cornered City Council members who voted to defund the program as they entered City Hall, demanding that they change their position. Two, John Chapman and Canek Aguirre, briefly spoke with the crowd. Amy Jackson, who had voted against defunding the program, received more of a hero’s welcome from the crowd as she entered the building. Read More
In an office where items considered artifacts are usually arrowheads or ship timbers, City Historian Daniel Lee said his office has started a different kind of collection.
“We’ve started a collection of artifacts from the pandemic, like masks and signs,” Lee said. “It’s to chronicle, to a large extent, messages about how quickly things changed; whether that’s wearing masks or social distancing and washing hands. It’s at times difficult to remember where we’ve come from and how the pandemic has changed how we do our daily lives.”
“Obviously, pandemic isn’t the only thing that’s happened in the last year-and-a-half,” he said. “The fight for racial justice, especially since the murder of George Floyd, that initially caused us to collect artifacts related to the protests of George Floyd, but it’s become a larger project called the Black Lives Remembered project with a focus on racial justice in the larger context.”
Lee said the work on preservation has a two-fold goal: for those who lived through 2020 to look back on the last year, and to help future generations understand what life was like.
“The experiences we’re going through are historic,” Lee said. “That’s worthy of collecting and worthy of remembering, and hopefully that things change.”
Recognition of historic times as they’re being lived through can be sort of a mixed bag, Lee said. There are plenty of relics from the founding of the Lyceum in 1838 or the launch of Alexandria’s library network. Lee said those were thought of, even at the time, as history-making.
“As time has gone on; we have a tendency to not think in terms of how future generations will remember us, that’s not our chief concern,” Lee said. “We have an oral history project, which has existed since the 1980s. A lot of times what surprises me is that people who have done a lot in the city don’t think their experience as history. Schools desegregated during their lifetimes, isn’t that a big deal? It’s hard when you’re living through it to think about the future.”
Another example is the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, which Lee said had an impact in Alexandria, but there wasn’t much local recorded or saved from when it happened. Read More
Over a dozen local residents and supporters rallied yesterday (Tuesday) to protest what they described as unsanitary conditions Morgan Properties locations in Alexandria’s West End.
Residents, ranging from children to seniors, held up photos they said were taken in the homes — including nests of rats, filthy water flowing into a bathtub, mold and holes in the wall.
Carlos, a resident at one of the local Morgan Properties locations, is living there through Section 8 housing and said exponentially increasing utility costs have put that in jeopardy, and that Morgan Properties staff have been inaccessible to ask about unexplained increases in utility costs.
“This is my first time living in a place and I don’t want to leave,” Carlos said. “They haven’t done anything about the mice, and I’ve only been here six months. Others have been dealing with this for years.”
Jessica has been living in Morgan Properties for three years and said residents have become used to being belittled by management.
“We had a water pipe burst on the third floor,” said Jessica. “All the bed, the furniture, the clothing, shoes, they all got wet. We went to management and they said they couldn’t help and then they were laughing.”
Another resident, Ashley, was with a group of supporters from a group called FTP DC. Ashley had also been a tenant at one of the Morgan Properties residences for two years.
“I was at Brookdale for over a year and I had a hole in the ceiling that they didn’t fix until I was moving out,” Ashley said. “People have to go to court over things, like they’d double charge rent.”
Ashley said her apartment was rife with rats, a recurring concern from many local residents.
Ingris Moran, lead organizer with regional organization Tenants and Workers United, said that the protestors are demanding a change in administration overseeing the properties. ALXnow reached out to a public relations firm listed as the media contact on the Morgan Properties website, but received no answer at time of writing.
In emails between Tenants and Workers United and Morgan Properties, property management said they were willing to meet with Tenants and Workers United and the City of Alexandria, but Moran said that her organization would not agree to discussions with Morgan Properties that didn’t include representatives from local residents.
Photo via Tenants and Workers United/Facebook