Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) said long lines to get into Alexandria City High School (ACHS) are part of the growing pains as the system adjusts to new security measures.
Earlier this year, ACPS approved new security measures including metal detectors and handheld wand devices. The security measures were in response to several security issues at the school in recent years. Earlier this year, a teacher at ACHS’ Minnie Howard Campus seized a handgun from a student.
But the installation of new security measures at ACHS and the school district’s two middle schools led to long lines to get into the building.
new achievement unlocked: longer to get into achs than to get though tsa pic.twitter.com/Af5pADXvbd
— ilona (@5qu1rtl3) May 15, 2023
In a statement, ACPS leadership said the school district saw similar lines with student IDs last fall, but that the process will get more refined with time.
According to Alicia Hart, ACPS Chief of Facilities & Operations:
We sent a communication to staff and families yesterday regarding some adjustments to the screening process that we will be implementing to minimize wait time. As we anticipated, with any new process, adjustments and revamping may take place as we refine the process. As an example, we had a similar experience with lines when we launched the student ID process this past fall. Within a few weeks, the process improved and the length of time to get through the ID process diminished.
Below is the message sent to the ACHS community:
Greetings ACPS Middle and High School Staff and Families,
We shared last week that Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) was officially launching the weapons screening pilot program at Alexandria City High School (ACHS) – King Street campus on Mon., May 15, 2023. In today’s launch, we were able to screen most students (not including late arrivals) within a 75-minute timeframe. As we anticipated, with any new process, adjustments and revamping may take place as we refine the process. As an example, we had a similar experience with lines when we launched the student ID process this past fall. Within a few weeks, the process improved and the length of time to get through the ID process diminished.
Today’s weapons screening launch provided additional insight into the process and how to make the screening process more efficient for the remainder of the rollout. Please see the insights below:
In addition to Chromebooks/laptops, it was discovered that a small percentage of eyeglass cases (lined with metal), certain umbrellas and large three-ring binders may cause the system to falsely alert. To this end, we asked students to have these items outside of their belongings prior to walking through the system
Cell phones, coins, ear pods, spiral notebooks, keys, wallets, lunch containers, etc. do not need to be removed. Students can keep these items on their person as they walk through the equipment
We will have bus drivers remind students to remove the requested items from their belongings prior to exiting the bus to the extent possible. This should help in reducing lines
We are also asking administrators to remind students, via SEAL lessons and announcements, of the process
At the onset of introducing this pilot program, we noted that students would not have to remove items from their personal belongings. However, as we learned that certain components within select items may create false alerts, we decided to proactively ask for those items to be removed. The intent in doing so is to minimize students having to go through the secondary search process for items that we know are not weapons.
We would like to thank all of the students for their patience and grace this morning as we introduced this process. We would also like to thank families for your understanding as we continue to work through the process and logistics of this system. Lastly, we would like to thank staff for supporting the screening process today. The end goal is a smooth, seamless process for students while reducing the likelihood of weapons in our facilities.
We will provide more updates if we discover additional adjustments are necessary as we continue the roll out this week.Sincerely,
Dr. Alicia Hart
Chief of Facilities & Operations
Personal security cameras, speed cameras in school zones, summer youth employment programs and eviction prevention funding are just a few of the final additions included in the fiscal year 2024 budget by the Alexandria City Council on Tuesday.
Council approved funding a $20,000 program to encourage businesses and homeowners with a “small incentive” to set up security cameras to deter crime, as well as increase their coordination with the Alexandria Police Department.
“I like the concept,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “I think we want our residents to partner with us in providing this kind of neighborhood visibility.”
Other additions include $490,000 for five speed cameras at school crossing zones around the city. Last year, Council approved $400,000 for the speed camera program in five school zones.
Not all of the requests made the final cut. Vice Mayor Amy Jackson’s request to give the Alexandria Commission for Women $20,000 for it’s 50th anniversary event failed to gain consensus.
Council also took $657,629 from the budget that was intended for the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center (200 S. Whiting Street), pending proposals from City Manager Jim Parajon to find alternative uses for the facility, pursue regional partnerships for facility use and optimize capacity for the underutilized space.
The full list of additions to the budget are below.
- Out of School Time Program (OSTP) staffing ($200,000) — This increases paid leave and benefits for part-time staffing with the city’s Out of School Time program.
- Fee waiver for OSTP participants ($15,000) — This would fund a waiver for program participants eligible for SNAP and TANF.
- Speed cameras in school zones ($490,000) — This adds five photo speed cameras to school crossing zones prioritized by the city’s Department of Transportation and Environmental Services
- Childcare services ($50,000) — This will provide child-minding services at City COuncil town hall events, as well as select board, committee and commission meetings.
- Additional eviction prevention funding ($150,000) — This would increase the current funding level of $100,000, all of which will “reasonably assist 40 households in FY24,” according to the city.
- Central coordinator for immigrant affairs/refugee settlement ($110,000) — This would explore a new position or series of positions that could advance efforts to connect immigrant communities with information, resources and services and address the city’s challenges with immigrant populations.
- RPCA Mental Health Pilot position ($75,000) — These funds would go toward developing a Department of Recreation Parks and Cultural Activities pilot program for youth mental health services.
- Summer youth employment program ($214,943) — This would expand the program by 50%, to serve 255 children (85 more than the current program).
- Study for local housing voucher program ($250,000) — This would add funding for a study on a voucher-like program that stabilizes housing and enables access for low-income housholds across the city’s private rental market.
- City library security ($70,000) — This funding maintains library security staffing at current levels.
- Department of Aging and Adult Services ($19,000) — This fills the gap created by Virginia budget formula changed related to the Older Americans Act.
- DASH service line expansion on Line 33 ($120,000) — This would expand DASH Line 33 service from once every 60 minutes to 30 minutes on Sundays, easing connections to the new Potomac Yard Metro Station.
- Visit Alexandria advertising ($78,000) — This additional funding can be used by Visit Alexandria for any sort of media, online or print advertising, either regionally or nationally at their discretion.
- City Council aide compensation increase ($5,300) — This is a 2% scale compensation adjustment.
- Private security camera incentive program ($20,000)
- Continuation of AEDP economic recovery manager ($147,208) — The ERPM is responsible for creating and administering AEDPs Business Association Grant program, which supports Alexandria business associations as well as other ARDP rogramming to promote economic recovery.
- Rental inspection program enhancement ($136,000) — This allows staff to evaluate non-compliant multi-family rental properties.
The budget will be approved on May 3 and go into effect on July 1.
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 Alexandria City Council’s reversal on a decision to reallocate funds meant for school resource officers toward mental health programs has upset those who fought for the move.
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.”
Months after the SRO program had been defunded parents protested to restore the program after relating stories of fights, stories of extreme bullying, and other accounts of concerning behavior.
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.
Caution: The following video contains disturbing behavior.
“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]