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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The deadline is 11:59 p.m. next Wednesday (October 28) for the community to weigh in on a survey on whether Alexandria City Public Schools should change the names of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.

The survey is part of the renaming process for both schools, and the school board will officially vote next month on whether to change the names.

Thomas Chambliss Williams was the superintendent of ACPS for 30 years. He required that all Black students wanting admission to previously all-white schools to go through an application process. Only 75 Black students (about 3%) were allowed to transfer to formerly white schools by the time Williams announced his retirement in 1962, and that was three years after the city officially desegregated schools.

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.

According to ACPS, “One of the ways that we can move forward is by acknowledging our own history, while refusing to allow that history to define who we currently are as a school division in the present.”

The short survey asks whether respondents “strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree” on having a good understanding of Williams and Maury, and whether they agree on a name change. The survey also asks for your zip code and relation to ACPS, whether as a student, staffer, parent or community partner.

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Alexandria City Public Schools are not likely to fully reopen until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. told CNN on Wednesday. The interview with Jake Tapper was hours before the School Board tabled a proposal to phase in kids from kindergarten to eighth grade in January and February.

“I think having all of our students at one time in our classrooms, it definitely, probably won’t be until a vaccine occurs,” Hutchings told CNN.

The school board on Wednesday shelved a proposal to bring back students from kindergarten to the eighth grade starting in January and February. The board did approve sending kindergarten through second graders with disabilities to Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 International Baccalaureate School on November 5, and expand to include all citywide special education students by December.

Hutchings and ACPS staff told the board Wednesday night that building capacity and staff shortages will prevent a phased-in approach. Using a single 24-student first grade classroom at Samuel L. Tucker Elementary School as a model, Hutchings said that the only feasible option for students would be for them to attend school one day a week, hire a significant number of additional teachers and find more classroom space. Additionally, 44% of teachers already said they are very or somewhat unlikely to go back to school in the event of facilities reopening with COVID restrictions.

“This is going to be another challenging transition for our children, and I want folks to really understand what that in-person learning for students is going to look like,” said School Board Member Michelle Rief. “This means that the instructional model is going to change. The teacher might actually have to teach your child in person and other children virtually at the same time. There’s a chance your child may change teachers or your child may not even be in the same school building that they are familiar with. And if the case counts rise, we may have to pivot again back to 100% virtual, not to mention being prepared for all the quarantine that may have to happen in response to people’s exposure.”

Hutchings said that the only way that in-person schooling could work is if teachers conduct virtual and in-person instruction at the same time.

“You can’t continue to keep adding more and more professional learning and expectations on top of a stretched staff already,” Hutchings told the Board. “There’s also limits, like how much further can you take them? They have gone from overnight being in a classroom… having to now do virtual lesson planning, having to do breakout sessions, having to figure out how to do classroom management and engagement virtually, and they have been doing a bang-up job.”

Board Member Veronica Nolan said that the one-day-per-week model “isn’t very doable,” and it was not fiscally possible to hire significantly more teachers.

“It just seems still insurmountable,” Nolan said.

One concerned parent of an ACPS child said that the school system needs to get more creative.

“It’s seems like to me that last night’s meeting was a three hour presentation of what we can’t do,” the parent said. “I’d like to hear more of what we can do. ACPS has made it clear that they cannot get our children back into schools. It’s time to get creative and work toward something we can do safely. I think learning pods and family/neighbor learning co-ops for our younger kids is something that should be encouraged and explored.”

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The Alexandria School Board will vote tonight on the Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr.’s phased plan to reopen elementary and middle schools starting next month.

The board will discuss and then vote on the proposal, which was unveiled on October 15. The meeting starts at 7 p.m.

Under the proposal, kindergarten through second graders with disabilities would go to Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 International Baccalaureate School on November 5.

The full proposed schedule, which does not include T.C. Williams High School, is below.

  • November 17: Expand to include Students with Disabilities in grades 3-5 who are enrolled in the Citywide Special Education program who opt into in-person learning
  • November 30: Expand to include ECSE students who opt into in-person learning [to be housed at the Early Childhood Center (ECC)]
  • November 30: Expand to include Students with Disabilities in grades K-5 who receive self-contained Language Arts and Math instruction who opt into in-person learning
  • December 2020: Expand to include Students with Disabilities in grades 6-8 who are enrolled in the Citywide Special Education program who opt into in-person learning
  • January 2021: Expand to include all remaining students in grades PreK-5 who opt into in-person learning
  • February 2021: Expand to include all remaining students in grades 6-8 who opt into in-person learning

The phased approach will help with some staffing issues.

recent survey found that 56% of staff would be very or somewhat likely to go back to school in the event of facilities reopening with COVID restrictions. The same survey found that younger grade levels are having more challenges with screen time than older students, and that younger families need child care.

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Alexandria City Public Schools are planning on slowly reopening their doors to students and teachers next month.

On Thursday, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. formally unveiled his phased approach to reopening the city’s public school system. Desks will be outfitted with sneeze guards and students and teachers will have to wear face masks and maintain distancing.

“Everything that we present today, there could be changes a month from now, two months from now,” Hutchings told the Board. “Not just here in Alexandria City Public Schools, but within the City of Alexandria, within the region, and also across the nation. We just have to be prepared to be able to pivot when needed, and to be flexible throughout this process.”

The pandemic forced Alexandria City Public Schools to send students home in March. Under the proposal the school system would open its doors to the city’s most vulnerable students starting in November. There are more than 400 students needing specialized instruction that would be phased into the school Between Nov. 5 and Nov. 30.

“There is a lot that will go into this and it’s not going to be easy,” said Board Member Meagan Alderton.

Per the draft plan, students with disabilities would go to Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 International Baccalaureate School, starting with kindergarten to second grade students on November 5. Third-fifth grade students would then be phased into the school in January.

Staffing remains an issue. A recent survey found that 56% of staff would be very or somewhat likely to go back to school in the event of facilities reopening with COVID restrictions.

Hutchings will also ask the Board to support the development of a virtual school learning option for PreK-12 families “choosing not to return to in-person learning for the foreseeable future.”

Starting in January, ACPS would also develop “Teaching and Learning Centers” for students in kindergarten through fifth grade at middle schools in the West and East Ends of the city.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the proposal on Wednesday, October 21.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Ashley Sanchez-Viafara, one of the student representatives on the Alexandria School Board, reported that she was called the n-word in an online forum discussing race in Alexandria City Public Schools.

The school system is in the renaming process for T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School, and the October 7 student forum was the second conversation on where ACPS stands in regard to racial issues.

The student was called the slur in a chat comment during the online conversation.

“I feel it’s necessary to address what occurred during the second student conversation, which was unacceptable and extremely hurtful,” Sanchez-Viafara told the School Board on Thursday. “We need to make tremendous changes within ACPS, because that was not acceptable, and no student should have to confront something as mentally and physically wounding as that.”

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said at the end of the meeting that ACPS must be relentless and unapologetic in getting the renaming work done.

“We have to stand tall, and we have to look past that and we have to understand that there are still some people out there that are just ignorant,” Hutchings told the Board.

Helen Lloyd, the ACPS executive director of communications, said that the comment was not made by a student, and that it was a person with a personal grievance against the school system.

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It’s been a little more than a month since school started virtually, and thousands of students, teachers and families are divided over the Alexandria City Public Schools’ VirtualPLUS+ program.

On Thursday, the Alexandria School Board will publicly review survey responses filled out by 5,952 students (53% of students grades 3-12), 2,060 teachers (77% of full time employees) and 7,439 families (48%) on their VirtualPLUS+ experience.

There are 15,579 students currently enrolled in ACPS, and student screen time was listed as the top challenge by 48% of students, 56% of staff and 51% of families.

“Most families (65%) and students (58%) feel that the amount of teacher–led live instruction time is ‘just right,'” according to ACPS. “Staff were almost equally divided between feeling that the amount of teacher–led live instruction time was too much (48%) and just right (47%).”

Younger grade levels also reported having more challenges with screen time than any other age category. Younger families also reported needing child care.

Additionally, 56% of staff reported they would be very or somewhat likely to go back to school in the event of facilities reopening with COVID restrictions, including face masks, distancing and other measures.

See the full survey results here.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Desks with sneeze guards, social distancing and face masks — those are a few of the recommendations that the Alexandria School Board will receive at its meeting on Thursday as Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. is set to unveil his phased approach to reopening the city’s public school system.

The pandemic forced Alexandria City Public Schools to send students home in March. Under the proposal the school system would open its doors to the city’s most vulnerable students starting next month. There are more than 400 students needing specialized instruction that would be phased into the school Between Nov. 5 and Nov. 30.

Per the plan, students with disabilities would go to Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 International Baccalaureate School, starting with kindergarten to second grade students on November 5. Third-fifth grade students would then be phased into the school in January.

Hutchings will also ask the Board to support the development of a virtual school learning option for PreK-12 families “choosing not to return to in-person learning for the foreseeable future.”

Starting in January, ACPS would also develop “Teaching and Learning Centers” for students in kindergarten through fifth grade at middle schools in the West and East Ends of the city.

On Thursday the Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent will be presenting the next phase of his reopening plan…

Posted by Justin Wilson on Monday, October 12, 2020

Charts via ACPS

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William Olson says that his nine-year-old autistic son was improperly interrogated by an Alexandria Police officer last year.

On Thursday, Olson and a number of students, parents, and representative from the Alexandria NAACP, Tenants and Workers United, and Grassroots Alexandria told the School Board at a public hearing that it should not renew its bi-annual memorandum of understanding with the Alexandria Police Department to provide school resource officers at city schools.

Olson’s son is a mixed-raced special needs student with an anxiety disorder, and was questioned on December 13, 2019, without the knowledge of his parents, he said.

Olson questioned whether police could adhere to rules set by the Alexandria City Public School Board regarding the detainment and questioning of students.

“The interrogation took place after (administrators) determined our child was not a threat to himself or others and had returned to class,” Olson said. “This interrogation resulted in our child suffering negative mental health consequences. Even when we informed both APD (Alexandria Police Department) and ACPS about our concerns about these events, neither seems to be sufficiently concerned about complying with the board policy requiring a reasonable effort to contact parents.”

The Board did not comment during the public hearing, and only received public testimony.

School resource officers were reassigned to the APD patrol division when the pandemic shut down the school system in mid-March for the remainder of the 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.

“As a general practice, unless there is a clear and imminent threat to safety, requests from school staff for SRO or other law enforcement assistance are to be channeled through a school administrator,” according to the 2018 MOU. “SROs are responsible to lead the investigation and questioning of students related to suspected violations of criminal law.”

Lorraine Johnson, a T.C. Williams High School senior and student representative on the school board, said that Black and brown students are disproportionately targeted by SROs.

“We need better training for these officers and officers in the community,” Johnson said. “There has to be a longer, better and more effective training on how to deal with students of color and especially students with disabilities.”

In 2018, a SRO was put on administrative leave after discharging his firearm inside his office at George Washington Middle School. The officer was later reassigned by Police Chief Michael Brown. The officer is no longer an SRO.

LaDonna Sanders, president of the Alexandria NAACP, provided statistics obtained through the Freedom Of Information Act.

“An analysis of the 2018 data that we were able to obtain through a FOIA request revealed that there were 140 out of school suspensions, which is equivalent to 80% of all our school suspensions,” Sanders said. “A significant enough proportion of the suspensions involve referrals to law enforcement.”

Sanders continued, “We want the contract to end. 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 updated MOU must be signed by Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown and the Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. by November 2, 2020.

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Every seven weeks, Alexandria City Public Schools will evaluate where it stands on reopening schools, Superintendent Gregory Hutchings recently told the School Board.

The school system is currently hearing a backlash from many families of younger students over its VirtualPLUS+ model. Parents are saying their kids spend too much time looking at screens, and Hutchings recently told the Board that staff are working through solutions to provide “different experiences for some of our most vulnerable students, which are our youngest learners.”

Hutchings said that future in-person classes will adhere to CDC guidelines, students will be required to wear face masks and socially distance, and school facilities would undergo “special cleaning sessions.”

On Friday (September 25), ACPS will survey families and staff to see who is willing to go back to school. This is part of the school system’s “phased reentry.” He will present the board with an update on October 15.

“Along with guidance from the Alexandria Health Department and analysis compiled by our staff, we will use that survey data to help us make informed decisions about our next steps,” Hutchings said. “Every seven weeks we’re going to be re-evaluating where we are as a school division and informing the community where we will stand.”

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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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