Two Alexandria City Public Schools will be getting metal detectors before the end of this school year.
On Thursday night, the School Board voted 7-0 (Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Member Christopher Harris were not present) to approve the process for “advanced weapons abatement technology” to go into operation at two unnamed ACPS schools in May.
The Board approved staff to proceed with a public engagement process that will end in March, followed by the installation of the equipment in April.
The new system is “less invasive” than traditional metal detectors and handheld wand devices, Alicia Hart, the ACPS chief of facilities and operations, told the Board. Students, staff and visitors would walk through at a normal pace and artificial intelligence will be used to detect weapons.
“It is important to note that the advanced weapons technology tends to use engineering and artificial intelligence to detect most weapon threats,” Hart said. “This is a departure from traditional metal detectors. Additionally, some of the current weapon abatement systems have the ability to indicate via photograph the specific area in which a concealed item has been detected.”
Hart said that the locations of the schools for the pilot have not been released, however, the school system will focus on the middle schools and Alexandria City High School.
“The level of incidents with weapons, as reported previously, tend to happen at our secondary levels, so at our middle schools and our high school,” Hart said. “Naturally, between those schools, that would be one place where we would want to do a pilot.”
Emily Milton, an ACHS senior and student representative on the Board, said that the new detection system will not sit well with students.
“I feel like it’s a bad look for our school if we put them in there,” Milton said. “I feel more uncomfortable, honestly, having those in my school.”
Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said that the installation of metal detectors is a “proactive preventative measure.”
“I take this very seriously,” Kay-Wyatt said. “When I hear that the students are going to feel that this is uncomfortable, think about a call that would be more uncomfortable — that we would have to call and say there’s an injury or tragedy to somebody.”
There were 28 incidents involving students with weapons in ACPS last school year — 13 incidents in the first semester, and 15 in the second semester, according to a safety report. The weapons seized include a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray. In all, 46 students were arrested and 68 injured, with 194 incidents that provoked a police response.
ACPS began this year with a number of new security upgrades, including the installation of door alarms, camera upgrades, a new student ID process and a new visitor and emergency management system.
Board Member Willie Bailey said that the school system wants to avoid a situation like last month’s shooting of a teacher by a six-year-old student in Newport News.
“God forbid, we do not want that to happen here in Alexandria City in our school system,” Bailey said. “Whatever we can do to prevent that, I am for it 110%.”
Hart said that the decision to install metal detectors wasn’t easy.
“We value stakeholder and community feedback, and staff feedback and student feedback, which is why we’re not implementing it right away,” Hart said. “But I also ask for students to keep in sight the other side of that coin and to understand the decisions that, as adults, sometimes we have to make to make sure that you are safe. It’s not fun. It is not easy. But it is something that we are charged in our positions to do.”
Metal detectors are not being considered at Alexandria City Public Schools.
After a rocky start to the school year with multiple students caught bringing weapons to Alexandria City High School, the issue has been publicly raised more than a few times in recent weeks.
In the October 12 City Council meeting where school resource officers were returned to ACHS, George Washington Middle School and Hammond Middle School, City Councilman John Taylor Chapman asked School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., about metal detectors.
“It hurts to think that we have to have metal detectors in our schools, because we’ve never had to have them,” replied Alderton. “How many entrances would we have to have… It doesn’t feel right.”
Violent incidents have overshadowed the school year so far, including a recent shooting of a student down the street from ACHS at the McDonald’s at the Bradlee Shopping Center, a student being arrested with a gun on ACHS grounds, a student being arrested with a knife at ACHS, a firecracker incident that led to the evacuation of a football game, brawls inside ACHS and George Washington Middle School and more.
Ricardo Roberts, a District B candidate for the School Board, made an impassioned plea for metal detectors to the Board in last week’s public comment period. It wasn’t the first time that Roberts has pressed the Board on the issue, and he promised it would not be the last.
“The metal detectors deter kids from continuing to bring in knives and guns and weapons into our school,” Roberts said, adding that it was he who asked Chapman to bring up the subject at the Oct. 12 meeting.
Hutchings said he does not support metal detectors, although the school system’s safety and security team are exploring various options within school facilities.
Mo Canady, president of the National Association of School Resource Officers, doesn’t think metal detectors are the answer. He also said that anyone who didn’t think there would be an increase in violence and student mental health issues coming into this school year “had their heads in the sand somewhere.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind, and common sense should tell us all this, that law enforcement presence deters criminal activity,” Canady said. “The problem with metal detectors is that they provide a false sense of security.”
Canady continued, “You’ve got to make sure that you’re hiring highly capable people to manage those metal detectors. Those detectors need to be constantly maintained, and your people need to be constantly trained and updated. Also, these metal detectors are probably going to be at the primary entrance. What about all the other perimeter doors of the school building? I’ve been around school buildings that have 100+ perimeter doors. What’s to stop someone from opening the door for someone else to bring something in, and I’ve been around schools all over the country. This goes on all day long. Kids, even teachers are constantly opening those perimeter doors.”
A 2019 study by the WestEd Justice & Prevention Research Center found that, “metal detectors may provide a visible response to concerns about school safety, (but) there is little evidence to support their effectiveness at preventing school shootings or successfully detecting weapons at schools.”
The study found, by looking beyond schools to airport security, that some airports had fail rates as high as 95% on screening checks for weapons.
“On the whole, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) averaged around 80 percent in failing to identify weapons during metal detector searches that same year,” the study concluded.
Alexandria could likely get partial state funding to pay for metal detectors via School Security Equipment Grants. Last year, the state awarded $12 million to 489 schools, including $250,000 to Alexandria for security upgrades at Cora Kelly Elementary School, George Washington Middle School, Naomi L. Brooks Elementary School, William Ramsay Elementary School and Alexandria City High School. In years past, the grants also funded metal detectors in public schools throughout Virginia.
The council voted four to three to temporarily restore the program after several complaints by parents about violent encounters involving their children in Alexandria City Public Schools since the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. This move was a reversal of the decision made by the council in May 2021 to end the SRO program in favor of school-based mental health programs.
SROs are police officers that are assigned to Alexandria City Public Schools middle and high schools who are armed — unlike school security staff — and fulfill the duties of regular police officers. The program had been in place since 1997 but was recently a source of scrutiny, especially after an officer at discharged his weapon in George Washington Middle School. Further calls to remove SROs came after nationwide protests against police brutality in 2020.
Tenants and Workers United (TWU), an Arlandria/Chirilagua-based organization that advocated for dismantling the SRO program, expressed dissatisfaction in a press release made in response to the council’s decision. TWU had led a multi-year campaign which resulted in the vote for reallocation from the SRO program to mental health programs. TWU pushed for the move citing how SROs affected students of color and contributed to the student-to-prison pipeline.
“It’s deeply disappointing that the communities most impacted by violence and injustice, who know what solutions are needed to best support their communities, are ignored during decision making processes,” Mia Taylor, development lead for TWU, said in a press release. “This is an issue of democracy, racial justice, White Supremacy, and power and privilege. Once again, Alexandria City finds itself on the wrong side of history. Many low-income students of color have been through a year-and-a-half of severely interrupted schooling, loss and grief, severe poverty, lack of adequate food and resources, housing instability, stress, and even trauma. For these reasons, we have long anticipated a difficult return to school this year, but police are not the answer”.
TWU Executive Director Evelin Urrutia said there is a need for the mental health programs over the SROs due to students coming back to school from the coronavirus pandemic.
“We believe that kids deserve better, they deserve to have mental health in place, we have to take into consideration that we are in the middle of a pandemic and that a lot of our students have gone through so much and we need to focus more on positive programs for them,” Urrutia said. “We know that the SROs are not the best thing that we can bring to kids at this moment, not into our schools. We should be focused on how are going to work moving forward.”
The restoration of the SRO program came after a six-hour city council meeting in which the SRO decision took up most of the time.
The full press release from TWU is available below the jump:
A video has surfaced of a brawl Thursday (August 26) in the cafeteria of Alexandria City High School (ACHS). While the police weren’t called, it was one of two fights broken up that day, according to sources.
“It was a big fight,” said a witness. “It started with two people, and then more than 10 people jumped in.”
In the video, security guards and staff are shoved around in the cafeteria of Virginia’s largest high school, and one security guard falls to the ground as she races to break up the melee.
“The school administration is aware of this and has handled the incident, following standard protocols,” ACPS School and Community Relations Chief Julia Burgos said in a statement to ALXnow.
The police have not been called regarding any fights since school started on Tuesday, Alexandria Police senior public information officer Amanda Paga told ALXnow.
“We have not been called for any fights,” Paga said. “The school is patrolled regularly as part a Patrol officer’s assigned beat. APD will respond to all calls for service when 911 is called.”
Some parents attribute the violence to the absence of school resource officers.
“This was going to happen,” an ACHS parent told ALXnow. “Take away the police from inside schools and you’re going to see people get hurt.”
The Alexandria City Council voted 4-3 in May to redirect nearly $800,000 in SRO funding toward student mental health resources, a vote that has since been decried by the School Board. The reallocation took away a police presence inside Alexandria City High School, Francis C. Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School.
None of the Council members who voted to defund the SRO program commented on the fights at ACHS.
Mayor Justin Wilson said he is happy to discuss the issue with school officials and the police. Wilson voted against eliminating SROs, and previously said he was “dismayed” by the deteriorated relationship between Council and the Board because of the decision.
What an absorbing week in Alexandria.
Just as the ball gets rolling with reopening and loosened restrictions, the pandemic rears its ugly head. With coronavirus transmission levels climbing, Alexandria is once again recommending that residents go back to wearing face masks indoors.
Our weekly poll found that 37% of respondents (337 votes) don’t plan to wear masks indoors again unless required, 32% (291 votes) never stopped wearing masks and plan to continue, and 30% (275 votes) stopped wearing masks indoors and plan to start again.
In the meantime, Three Dog Night, Tanya Tucker, and more are scheduled to play at the Birchmere next month, and the Little Theatre of Alexandria has gone back to in-person performances with its latest farce, Neil Simon’s Rumors. The city’s annual sidewalk sale is also on track to be largest ever, with participation from more than 70 local boutiques on the pedestrian-only blocks between 700 and 1100 King Street.
Turning toward the Olympics, Alexandria boxer Troy Isley won his first contest earlier this week, but lost his second match in a close split decision on Thursday night. Next week, Alexandria City High School will host a watch party for alumnus star sprinter Noah Lyles, who is the favorite to win the gold medal in the 200 meter race.
- Woman killed walking on Interstate 495 in Alexandria on Sunday morning
- ACPS to decide next week whether to require face masks when school restarts
- Newcomer Founders Bank eyes expansion to Alexandria
- Torpedo Factory Art Center goes back to requiring masks indoors
- Carjacking suspect suffers medical emergency while getting booked into Alexandria jail
- Rep. Beyer: Calls to defund police ‘one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard’
- GoFundMe launched for Will Nichols, retiring manager of St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub in Del Ray
- Report details life of Black Alexandrians post-Civil War in home slated for redevelopment
- Soul food brings flavor to multi-sensory African American walking tour in Old Town
- Alexandria exhibition for vintage and bizarre cars returns this fall
- Alexandria car dealership receptionist busted for alleged credit card fraud
- One year of lane closures in Potomac Yard starts today
- Man arrested after armed carjacking in West End
- BREAKING: Potomac Yard Metro opening pushed back to September 2022
- New Potomac Yard luxury condo community sells 30% of properties before construction starts
- Residents protest against conditions at West End apartment complex
- Local Democrat challenges Rep. Don Beyer in 8th District Primary
- Cigar and vape shop to open on Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray
- EXCLUSIVE: Halal slaughterhouse opens, gives away free chickens for first two days in business
- Without School Resource Officers, Superintendent wants more private security inside and police patrolling outside
- Poll: Do you plan on wearing a mask indoors again?
Have a safe weekend!
An Alexandria man was caught trying to get past a security checkpoint with a .38 caliber handgun and seven bullets at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Friday, July 18.
The man had his weapon confiscated and now faces upward of $10,000 in federal financial civil penalties.
This was the sixth gun that Transportation Security Administration officers seized in a little more than a week. Three guns and a knife were recovered on July 14, and guns were also found on July 8 and July 11. So far this year there have been 18 guns caught at National Airport, an increase from 10 guns in 2020, 14 guns in 2019, 16 gunds in 2018 and 13 guns in 2017.
“The number of guns that our TSA team here at Reagan National Airport have caught this year has skyrocketed,” said Scott T. Johnson, TSA Federal Security Director for Reagan National Airport. “We have caught more guns in just the first seven months of this year than any other full calendar year. The most common excuse we hear is that someone forgot that they had their gun with them. That’s just not acceptable. And let me be clear that even if you have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, you still cannot bring it on to your flight. Bringing a loaded gun to a checkpoint is careless and an accident waiting to happen. If you own a firearm, you need to know where it is at all times.”
Passengers are allowed to check their firearms, provided that they are declared and in hard-sided and locked cases.
The Alexandria School Board last Thursday approved a revised bi-annual memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Alexandria Police Department to provide school resource officers in the city’s public schools.
Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. also said that all Alexandria City Public Schools employees will get racial diversity training.
“That is what’s going to help us to tackle some of those racial disparities, because unfortunately society has made black and brown people in general seem as if we are criminals, and that is the perception that people have in their minds,” Hutchings said.
Last 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.”
However, “In the event of a significant and articulable threat to health or safety school or for school officials may disclose any information from student records to the appropriate parties, including law enforcement officials, whose knowledge of the information is needed to protect the health and safety of a student or other individual,” according to the MOU.
The Board approved the MOU 6-3, and Board Members Michelle Rief, Jacinta Green and Heather Thornton voted against its approval. As previously reported, the MOU has “measurable objectives” for SROs, meaning that the officers have to complete statistical reports, data collection for quarterly performance reports, and after-action reports after incidents with students.
Beyer Says Acting Homeland Security Chief Should Resign — “Ordering the occupation of US cities, seeking the escalation of violence, and intentionally risking American lives over peaceful protests and graffiti is unfathomable and unacceptable. Acting Secretary Wolf must resign immediately or be fired.” [Twitter]
Del Ray Used Book Store to Open in August — “Piles and boxes of thousands of donated books crowd Donald Alexander’s house as he prepares to turn his vision for a used bookstore in Del Ray into reality.” [Alexandria Living]
Police Report Carjacking on Edsall Road — “The Alexandria Police Department is investigating a carjacking in the 6000 block of Edsall Road. There were no injuries. Expect police activity in the area.” [Twitter]
ACPS Staff Discussion on Reopening Today at 12:30 p.m. — “In order to be able to hear voices from across every school during the Reopening Community Chats, ACPS has asked for representation from various staff groups across the school division to serve as conduits for feedback and questions from their school, department, office or facility.” [ACPS]
Food Drive at Trinity UMC Wednesday — “Thank you to all who have and are continuing to contribute to the food drive for Rising Hope United Methodist Church, which takes place each Wednesday from 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church.” [Rising Hope UMC]
Metro Expanding Operations in Mid-August — “Metro will add more buses, more trains, and more hours of service beginning on August 16, restoring most service to pre-Covid levels while maintaining a strong response posture to Covid-19. Metrorail will add 15 hours more service per week, with opening times returning to normal and the system closing two hours later each night in anticipation of potential increases in ridership after Labor Day.” [Facebook]
New Job: Nanny — “MyWoosah provides personalized childcare solutions for busy families across the country. Our services include childcare, transportation, home management, and nanny share.” [Indeed]
Following a knife attack on a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, Alexandria is stepping up its security for local synagogues.
On Twitter, Mayor Justin Wilson said the city’s police department and sheriff’s office are in touch with the Beth El Hebrew Congregation and Agudas Achim Congregation about a heightened police presence.
Our public safety agencies have been in touch with both synagogues in the City and are maintaining heightened visibility given the attacks in Monsey.
We stand against this violent anti-Semitism and for the premise that ALL should be able to safely worship.
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) December 29, 2019
Alexandria police would not specifically say what measures were being taken, citing security concerns, but spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine said city police were aware of the incident in New York and have taken precautionary measures in Alexandria.
Anti-Semitic attacks have been on the rise in the United States. Another attack targeting Jews in Jersey City earlier this month left three dead in a kosher supermarket. Eleven were killed last year in a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Incidents have happened locally as well, like the vandalism of the Jewish Community Center in Fairfax.
Last night, the Beth El Hebrew Congregation gathered for the 8th night of Hanukkah in Del Ray in a special ceremony dedicated to solidarity against anti-Semitism, according to a Facebook post.
Photo via Beth El Hebrew Congregation/Facebook
In response the June 6 shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Alexandria is preparing to install tighter security measures at City Hall in Old Town.
New security improvements include:
- Limiting building access to the Cameron Street and Market Square entrances
- The addition of uniformed daytime security guards
- The approval of arming City Hall security guards
“City employees who work in City Hall expressed concerns that they believed that the building was not safe due to the lack of security guards during daylight business hours,” said City Manager Mark Jinks in a memo.
The recommendations came out of the Old Town Campus Safety Committee created after the Virginia Beach shooting.
“Committee also recommended that the security guards be armed and be trained in de-escalation and customer service so they also augment the City’s priority to provide a friendly, helpful demeanor when interacting with members of the public,” Jinks said.
In Arlington, the County Board approved adding armed, private security guards for added security and cited similar concerns after the Virginia Beach shooting
The limited building access will mean the stairwells that lead directly into city offices and the City Council chambers will be accessible only by keycard holders only — though they will still be available as exits from the building.
“One of the major concerns of City employees and the Committee regarding City Hall are the number of entrances that visitors can utilize to access the facility during normal business hours,” Jinks said. “The City Manager authorized General Services to restrict access to City Hall through the East and West stairwell doors to City employee access cardholders only. Egress from the building by the public will still be permitted through these stairwell areas.”
The new security measures are estimated to cost $550,000 in capital costs with $200,000 in ongoing annual costs for security guards as well as monitoring and testing the security technology. The costs are planned to be funded with year-end surplus funds remaining from FY 2019.