A new survey shows widespread support for the installation of metal detectors within Alexandria City Public Schools.
There were 4,374 respondents to the survey, which ACPS opened on Feb. 24 and closed on March 8. Included in the survey were 1,181 students, 609 staff, 2,295 family/guardians, and 289 community members. About 85% of survey respondents supported using weapons screening equipment in all or some schools, and 58% of respondents want the metal detectors in every school.
The news comes as the Alexandria School Board on Thursday (March 16) will give final consideration to a pilot program to install metal detectors at the city’s middle schools and high school. If approved, the “advanced weapons abatement technology” will be installed next month in both Alexandria City High School campuses and at the city’s middle schools. The program would go live in May, before the end of the school year.
About 80% of respondents said they wanted the metal detectors to make the school system safer, and 72% reported that weapons entering schools are a significant concern/problem. About 65% of respondents also said that metal detectors crate a less anxious environment, and 49% said that the metal detectors are a much needed security upgrade for the school system. A majority of those against the proposal (59%) responded that the metal detectors detract from a welcoming feeling within schools, 32% were concerned with the cost of the equipment, 20% said weapons are not a significant problem, and 19% said that the current safety protocols are adequate.
There were 15 weapons-related incidents in the first two quarters of the 2022-2023 school year, and weapons seized include knives, brass knuckles, stun guns/tasers, a BB gun and pepper spray, according to a school safety report. ACPS began the school year last August with new security upgrades, like the installation of door alarms, upgraded security cameras, a new student ID process and a new visitor and emergency management system.
It costs $60,000 for every affixed metal detector, and $13,000 for mobile detectors, the latter of which would be used for outdoor athletic events and as-needed. The devices use artificial intelligence to detect weapons, while students, staff and guests can freely walk through them without emptying their pockets or bookbags in a lone line.
ACPS will need at least four units for Alexandria City High School’s King Street campus alone, and up to three units at the Minnie Howard campus, Alicia Hart, the ACPS chief of facilities and operations, told the Board last month. It was not clear how many will be needed for the city’s two middle school campuses.
The survey results are below.
- 44% (519 students) want the metal detectors in all schools
- 29% (337 students) only want metal detectors at the middle schools and high school
- 28% (325 students) want no metal detectors
- 58% (356 staff members) want the metal detectors in all schools
- 33% (198 staff members) only want metal detectors at the middle schools and high school
- 9% (55 staff members) want no metal detectors
- 65% (1,484 family members/guardians) want the metal detectors in all schools
- 25% (577 family members/guardians) only want metal detectors at the middle schools and high school
- 10% (234 family members/guardians) want no metal detectors
- 63% (182 community members) want the metal detectors in all schools
- 20% (59 community members) only want metal detectors at the middle schools and high school
- 17% (48 community members) want no metal detectors
The Alexandria Police Department (APD) announced today that it will start rolling out its body worn camera program in April.
In a release, APD said the deployment will be on a rolling basis, with the goal of every sworn personnel being issued a camera within the next year.
According to the release:
In April 2023, APD will begin deployment of Body Worn Cameras (BWC) throughout the Department. This in turn will create greater transparency and accountability in its interactions with the public.
Deployment of the cameras will be on a rolling basis, with a goal of ensuring every sworn personnel is issued a camera as a part of their required gear within a year.
APD also released an FAQ outlining what the cameras do. The FAQ also notes that many policies, including the one that says who will be allowed to watch body camera footage and public requests for video, are still in draft form and have not been completed.
The department also said it will soon release a draft policy regarding the cameras, including how they will handle media requests.
APD has been struggling to get a body worn camera program off the ground since 2016. Funding for body worn cameras was approved last year with the goal of officers wearing cameras starting that summer.
Additional funds for the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney to handle the added workload from body worn cameras was included in City Manager Jim Parajon’s proposed budget, released earlier this week.
The Alexandria Police Department will soon be adding Body Worn Cameras to their uniform.
This will result in greater transparency and accountability in our interactions with the public.
If you are interested in learning more, please visit: https://t.co/cFbLK1db2Q pic.twitter.com/ZOvevR85PW
— Alexandria Police (@AlexandriaVAPD) March 2, 2023
Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) leadership presented some recommendations for a school safety plan to City Council members, but faced some pushback that the process is moving too slowly and occasionally missing the point.
ACPS leadership presented interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt’s recommendations for a School Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) in a joint City Council/School Board meeting yesterday. Broadly, the recommendations emphasize continued funding of school resource officers along with a reexamination of protecting student confidentiality and new de-escalation strategies.
One focus of discussion early in the meeting was a need to address some of the roots of school violence.
“We do have conversations with our [Alexandria Police Department] counterparts in general as it relates to school safety data that we present,” said Alicia Hart, director of facilities and operations for ACPS. “In the last three reports, we’ve noted our black males have the highest number of arrests in the high school and middle school categories. It’s going to take a lot of conversation to dig into the why behind that. Again, some behaviors that we may be seeing, that are not unique to students of color, but some are escalating to criminal activity which is now being reflected in our arrest data, is something that we need to dig into more.
Police Chief Don Hayes said pushing back against violence, like the murder of a student at McDonalds last year, is a community effort:
We are meeting with the community, the managers of the shopping center, the schools… all of us are putting our heads together to develop a strategy on how to approach this. The approach is not to make arrests, that is not the goal. The goal is to find out how we can get ahead of that and how we can get them to a point where mcDonald’s is not the hang out place. A lot of people don’t want to talk about this, but a missing part of this is the parents that need to be involved in these situations. We need to be able to contact them to come up with a comprehensive plan.
Hayes said the Bradlee Shopping Center is paying for the police officers to monitor the gathering spots for local teens, but Hayes also said the solutions can’t just be police-led.
“It’s not just a police situation, it’s got to be the community,” Hayes said. “It has to be teachers and everybody coming together. Something as simple as moving a bus stop from in front of the McDonald’s would alleviate [the problem] because that’s where the kids get off… but it’s not that simple. We’re looking at outside-the-box type things to resolve this situation, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Meanwhile, School Board Chair Meagan Alderton said there were structural issues at play within ACPS that need to be addressed.
“I am willing to bet that we would find trends that students who are being arrested are Black males,” Alderton said. “I’m willing to bet we would see overrepresentation in discipline data and not so great academic data. We have to address all of those. When we’re seeing the arrest, we’re seeing the symptoms. If we can tackle those inputs: how are we addressing academic achievement for our black males? How do we engage with them socio-emotionally? We have to dig into this so deeply, it’s such a huge and heavy lift, but we have to do that.”
The discussion comes as the School Board and APD need to approve a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) before the end of the school year in May. The current MOU between ACPS and APD allows SROs to work within ACHS and Alexandria’s middle schools and runs until the end of May. The two-year agreement was set to expire last October and was extended in November.
City Council members, by and large, expressed a lack of enthusiasm for the process up to this point. Council member Canek Aguirre compared Alexandria’s process to a similar safety review process in Arlington and lamented that Alexandria’s process has been slower.
City Council member John Chapman said the pieces of the school resource officer (SRO) discussion seemed stuck back where they have been for years and fundamentally missed the point of City Council’s concerns.
As we’re talking about [SROs] being a specific piece of the puzzle, looking at that specific piece and seeing how we adjust that, how we make that more student friendly. Everyone on Council understood there was an opportunity for benefit to extracurricular activities and a real strong connection with individuals there… but as I note what happened with the subcommittee, I didn’t see innovative steps or pointing to other jurisdictions doing things different. It seems like we just want to keep what we have and add training… rather than looking at the needs of our kids and providing something that says ‘we want to build a relationship that might not be what we do now.’
That was the main thrust of what council was looking at: how do we change the regular mode of what our SROs are and look at something more innovative and modern, something more student-friendly… and that seems to be missed from where we are today.
Hart said the discussion around SROs won’t stop with the SLEP recommendations.
“I think there is an opportunity to still get there,” Hart said “even if it didn’t necessarily come out of this particular advisory group.”
“This is not the end,” said Alderton. “If people are concerned about the length of time: I think six months is a pretty quick turnaround. This is not the only work [our staff] is doing, so we’re going to have to take this in chunks, we just have to, if we’re going to be respectful to the other work that goes into running a school and a city.”
The City of Alexandria has been picked for a Safe Streets grant that will help the city take another look at seven high-crash intersections around Alexandria’s West End.
The grant approval comes as Alexandria is going through a sweep of safety audits looking at some of the city’s most crash-prone intersections. The projects involve examining the causes of the crashes at the intersection and providing analysis, as well as a community engagement and design process.
The total cost of the audits is $1 million, with the federal grant covering $800,000, the city’s media relations manager Jacqueline Woodbridge told ALXnow.
The full press release from the City of Alexandria is below:
The U.S. Department of Transportation has selected the City of Alexandria as a grant recipient of the Safe Streets & Roads for All program. This grant will fund safety audits for seven high-crash intersections on Alexandria’s West End. The intersections include:
- South Van Dorn Street and South Pickett Street
- South Van Dorn Street and Edsall Road
- Seminary Road and Mark Center Avenue
- Seminary Road and Kenmore Avenue/Library Lane
- King Street and Dawes Avenue
- King Street and 28th Street
- King Street and Park Center Drive
The project will begin in Fiscal Year 2024 and will include safety audits, analysis, community engagement, and conceptual design for each of the seven intersections.
This project supports the City’s adopted goal of zero traffic deaths and severe injuries in Alexandria by targeting safety improvements at locations with a history of fatal or severe crashes. The Safe Streets & Roads for All Program is a new funding program created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law intended to prevent roadway deaths and severe injuries.
Visit alexandriava.gov/VisionZero for more information about the City’s efforts to improve traffic safety.
For inquiries from the news media only, contact the Office of Communications & Public Information at [email protected] or 703.746.3969.
This release is available at alexandriava.gov/go/4309
Image via Google Maps
As the city works through some of the most high-crash intersections, it’s setting its sights on twin troublesome intersections in southern Old Town: the intersections of Duke Street with Route 1 (South Henry and South Patrick streets).
The Duke Street intersections with Route 1 are among the most crash-prone in the city, with over 70 crashes at the intersection since 2014, the city said in a release. Of those, four resulted in severe injuries and more than 20 resulted in non-life-threatening injuries.
The intersections are just north of where the two streets converge, crossing with the aterial Duke Street. Contributing to the chaos is a right turn lane off Duke Street onto South Henry Street.
The City of Alexandria has launched a the “Duke Street & Route 1 High Crash Intersection Audits Project” with the goal of evaluating safety issues and developing designs for improvements.
The City is collecting feedback on mobility, safety and access issues at the intersections. Feedback can be submitted online anytime before Tuesday, Feb. 28.
The project is supported by a grant from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) Regional Roadway Safety Program.
The long and tangled history of the Appomattox statue that once stood at the intersection of S. Washington Street and Prince Street took another turn this week as ALXnow learned the base had been installed in a Carlyle-area cemetery.
The statue had been removed in 2020 after years of debate over its presence. While some neighbors have expressed misgivings at the base’s new home above Confederate graves in the Bethel Cemetery not far from historic Black cemeteries, the new location is on private property and the cemetery’s owner said he’d like to see the statue reinstalled there.
It was also a tumultuous week at Alexandria City High School.
Twice this week, the school had to be evacuated due to bomb threats. On the second day, students had already been dismissed, but parents and faculty were still in the building for parent-teacher conferencing.
Unrelated to the threats, the Alexandria School Board approved new metal detectors at two Alexandria schools, over the concerns expressed by a student representative on the School Board who said students would feel uneasy with the new security measures.
The most-read stories this week were:
- Old Town residents and business owners cry foul over new George Washington Birthday Parade route
- Fire alarms didn’t go off during Saturday’s high-rise apartment fire in the West End
- Two Alexandria restaurants featured on Washingtonian’s ‘Very Best’ list
- Petitions launched for and against ABC Virginia opening new store in Old Town
- JUST IN: Alexandria City High School evacuated for second day in a row due to bomb threats
- Teen shot to death in West End hotel Friday night
- The base of the Appomattox statue has resurfaced atop Confederate graves in Alexandria
- Lorton man charged with DWI after multi-vehicle crash in Old Town
- Alexandria teens make suggestions for city to help on youth safety issues
- New regional plan offers significant steps to boost affordable housing in Alexandria
A few intersections along Patrick and Henry streets could turn into “no turn on red” intersections as part of an effort to clamp down on crashes in Old Town and Parker-Gray.
Both streets were identified as high crash corridors in the city’s Vizion Zero Action Plan. The city said over a dozen people have been struck and injured walking on Patrick and Henry streets in Old Town since 2016.
The city said restricting right turns on red lights can be a cost-effective way of reducing collisions with pedestrians. Nearby D.C. voted last year to ban right turns at most red lights by 2025.
“[No turn on red] restrictions are a low-cost safety treatment that protects pedestrians by reducing collisions between pedestrians and people turning right at a red light,” the city’s website said. “These are typically coupled with signal treatments known as leading pedestrian intervals, which give pedestrians a head start into the intersection and further enhance safety.”
The City is proposing "no turn on red" (NTOR) restrictions for some streets turning onto Patrick and Henry Streets. The proposed changes would take effect in early 2023. For more information >> https://t.co/Uc0ZXHXXVa pic.twitter.com/bpMoa7HUNp
— Alexandria Transportation & Environmental Services (@AlexandriaVATES) January 5, 2023
Patrick and Henry Streets are the parts of Richmond Highway split into separated northbound and southbound streets that run through the Parker-Gray (or Braddock, depending on your preference) and Old Town neighborhoods.
The restrictions would be put into place on these intersections with Henry Street:
- Wythe Street
- Oronoco Street
- Princess Street
- Queen Street
The restrictions could be in place for these intersections with Patrick Street:
- Montgomery Street
- Wythe Street
- Pendleton Street
- Oronoco Street
- Princess Street
- Cameron Street
Potentially getting rid of the right turn on red option for those intersections is part of a broader Vision Zero effort, which includes a push to overhaul some of the city’s more crash-prone intersections.
According to the website, the city is soliciting public feedback on the potential change until Feb. 6.
The City is accepting public comment on the proposed changes. To submit a comment, please email [email protected]
Image via Google Maps
About 58% of Alexandria City Public Schools students feel safe in school, with bullying, gang activity and selling/using drugs topping a new list of concerns.
Consequently, ACPS is considering enhancing the role of its school resource officers to not only serve as law enforcement but as teachers and informal counselors.
Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt will use the report by Hanover Research and recommendations from an advisory group to present a plan next month. The plan will focus on a reimagined partnership with the ACPS and the Alexandria Police Department’s school resource officer program.
The new arrangement has been months in the making — including 18 discussion group meetings — and will go into effect at the end of this school year in June.
Hanover is recommending the “triad” concept; a method of policing backed by the National Association of School Resource Officers where SROs serve as law enforcers, teachers, and informal counselors.
“In effective SRO programs, SROs fulfill educational and counseling functions in addition to providing law enforcement services,” Hanover said. “Discussion group participants suggest that intimidation and opposition to SROs can be overcome through community-building activities such as classroom visits or athletic events.”
SROs have been a contentious issue in Alexandria. The officers were defunded by the City Council in last year’s budget, and ACPS spent the first few months of the 2021-2022 school year without them. They were returned after ACPS pleaded to Council for their return after multiple incidents with weapons in schools.
“I feel safe from outside threats,” a Black student at Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard campus said in a report. “But within our hallways, we have a lot of fights that break out randomly throughout the day, and I just don’t want to be caught up in that.”
There were 46 students arrested and 68 injured in the 2021-2022 school year, with 194 incidents that provoked a police response, according to an ACPS safety report.
The school system is using the 2021-2022 school year as a baseline for future improvement.
This school year began with new safety protocols, like a new identification requirement for students and staff at Alexandria City High School, staggered dismissal times, and designated entrances for students and staff at schools.
Hanover’s student safety survey of 5,200 students, staff, parents and community members found that just 35% of community members feel that the school system provides a safe environment, versus 75% of parents and 72% of ACPS staff.
“Students also identify drug use as a major concern and express substantial discomfort with drug sales and use in bathrooms,” the report said. “Staff express concern about a perceived lack of follow-up actions to address student violence.”
Between October and November, Hanover Research conducted 18 focus groups with 142 participants, in addition to garnering feedback from more than 5,200 people in the survey.
“Most non-staff members don’t even know how to contact the SROs at the schools,” Marriam Ewaida of Hanover Research told the Board. “The ones that have interacted with the SROs actually have largely positive perceptions with their interactions, but some of them… describe the SROs as being sometimes intimidating or distance in their limited interactions. Most respondents did not see the SRO as an informal mentor or educator.”
The survey also found that:
- ACPS has problems with violence or theft — 47% of students agree, 63% from the community, 38% from ACPS staff, and 37% of parents
- ACPS has a cyberbullying/bullying problem — 39% of students agree, 73% from the community, 46% of staff, and 34% of parents
- ACPS has a gang presence problem — 32% of students agree, 57% from the community, 31% from ACPS staff, and 31% of parents
Alexandria has started identifying pedestrian safety improvements around Alexandria City High School and a number of other school campuses.
Staff with the city’s Department of Transportation & Environmental Services are creating “walk audits” with available for public review in a final report by next June.
The walk audits will be conducted at both campuses of Alexandria City High School, George Washington and Francis C. Hammond Middle Schools, and at the city’s newest school — Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School.
“We will be coordinating with the school communities for each of those schools,” said Bryan Hayes, the City’s Complete Streets coordinator. “That’s the principals, teachers, parents, the students… to help identify things that make it challenging or unsafe for students to walk or bike to school.”
It’s all part of Alexandria’s Complete Streets and Safe Routes To School programs, which are devoted to making infrastructure improvements like adding new sidewalks, enhancing crossings and traffic calming.
Five years ago, the City identified 250 transportation improvement recommendations at 13 elementary schools. The city has completed about half of those recommended projects, according to the Department.
Staff will gather data through this winter and spring. To develop recommendations, the Department will have a small team of city staff, consultants, school representatives, and others to observe students walking to schools.
Making the improvements will be a multi-year process, said Alex Carrol, program manager of the City’s Complete Streets project.
“We’ve we’ve tackled a lot of the low hanging fruit in the recommendations,” said Carrol. “These were always intended to be multi-year efforts. I don’t have a specific timeline for when we expect all of the recommendations to be completed, but it is going to be a multi year process.”
Alexandria City Public Schools officials say that their strategies to make school safer are working, although it will take time to tell if they’re right.
Flanked by city, school and police officials, interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said at a student safety forum on Wednesday night that crime incidents are down this school year.
Kay-Wyatt didn’t present data to back up the claim that schools are safer, but said that it’s because of a new identification requirement for students and staff at Alexandria City High School, staggering dismissal times, designating entrances for students and staff at schools, and providing all ACPS students with a mandatory 30 minutes of daily Social and Emotional Learning (SEAL) time.
“While we see that incidents are down, I remain very hopeful,” Kay-Wyatt said. “I believe that it’s (due to) of some of those SEAL lessons that are in place and other supports that we put in place throughout the school year to make sure that we are supporting families and students.”
There were 46 students arrested and 68 injured in the 2021-2022 school year, with 194 incidents that provoked a police response, according to an ACPS safety report. The school system is, in fact, using the 2021-2022 school year as a baseline for future improvement.
Transportation-wise, the city recently approved the installation of speed cameras in five school zones, as well as reducing speed limits in school zones to 15 miles per hour. The city is also working on walk audits for potential pedestrian improvements on roadways near Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School, George Washington and Francis C. Hammond Middle Schools, and both ACHS campuses.
By December, Kay-Wyatt will also receive recommendations on a reimagined partnership between ACPS and the police department, the latter of which provides school resource officers to the high school and the city’s middle schools. In the meantime, a proposal will be presented to the School Board to continue the SRO program as it stands until the end of the school year.
“Last year was very challenging, extremely challenging,” John Contreras, ACPS Director of Safety and Security Services, said at the forum. “It was a very challenging year and this year is a bit calmer.”
Contreras also did not present any safety data on this school year.
While the school system might feels safer, it will take time to collect the data to really see what’s working, said School Board Member Abdel Elnoubi, who attended the meeting as an audience member.
“You’ve got to give it time,” Elnoubi said.
One high school student at the event said that SEAL lessons aren’t working, and that the information being presented to the community is being “sugar-coated.”
“They have us do community circles to share our emotions, but it’s high schoolers,” another student said. “Nobody want to talk about how they feel. It’s just an awkward experience.”