Last week in this space we criticized Alexandria City Public Schools for not notifying Minnie Howard parents about an alleged sexual assault at the school on Oct. 6, 2021. This lack of communication was, in our opinion, unacceptable. That ACPS doubled down rather than apologizing by saying they followed their communication protocols only made it worse. Visit www.alextimes.com/2022/03/our-viewmisplaced-priorities-at-acps/ for last week’s editorial.
We stand behind that sentiment. However, we also sympathize with what ACPS was dealing with at the time.
After almost a year and a half of mostly remote learning due to the COVID19 pandemic, students returned to classrooms late last summer having fallen behind both academically and socially. This unforeseen negative aspect of the pandemic was not endemic to Alexandria. It was universal.
The alleged assault in question took place on a 9th grade campus, meaning that all students involved had lost almost a year-and-a-half of socialization during the crucial 7th and 8th grade years of middle school. Anyone who can remember back that far likely recalls the middle school years as tumultuous in the best of times.
The Minnie Howard incident was not isolated. Instead, it was part of widespread disruptive behavior last fall that was particularly bad in September and October. We know this:
• anecdotally, from videos of fights on the Alexandria City High School campus, at the Bradlee Shopping Center McDonald’s and at other locations;
• from reports of a student who was arrested in October after bringing a loaded gun to the ACHS campus;
• and from ACPS data showing that roughly 25% more incident reports – when ACPS calls the police – were filed in September/October than in November/December.
The other main factor in this disturbing jump in violence to start the 2021-22 school year was City Council’s decision in May 2021 during budgetary add-deletes to remove school resource officers from city schools.
Whatever one thinks about the long-term propriety of armed police officers within city schools, it was an extremely short-sighted decision to abruptly remove the officers just as students were returning to classrooms after being gone for more than a full school year.
ACPS Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D. and the School Board leadership at the time, particularly Vice Chair Veronica Nolan, had argued strongly against removing SROs. That their pleas were ignored by City Council and there was a spike in violence was not their fault.
Violence within ACPS is a troubling, ongoing problem even with SROs, and we are not giving the school system or its leadership a pass on this. A better approach to school security must be developed. But we are heartened that Hutchings is asking council to place funding for SROs for the 2022-23 school year back in the city’s budget to allow time to develop a much-needed comprehensive security approach for ACPS.
Council needs to let the near-term physical safety of students, teachers and staff be their priority and grant Hutchings’ funding request.