By Olivia Anderson | [email protected]
City Council and the Alexandria School Board held a joint meeting on Monday, in which they discussed ways to bolster student safety in schools.
In the meeting, both parties addressed how they can work together to reduce gun violence; identify gaps in systems and processes that result in student violence; and identify the expected products of the School Law Enforcement Partnership.
The meeting came following a school year rife with violence throughout, that culminated May 24 when Alexandria City High School student Luis Mejia Hernandez died after being stabbed at Bradlee Shopping Center. A 16-year-old student has been arrested and charged with murder in Mejia Hernandez’ killing.
“This is really an opportunity to think about, ‘How do we activate multiple departments? How do we activate and mobilize every resource we have available to ensure the health and safety of our young people?’” Councilor Alyia Gaskins said at the top of the meeting. “… It really is a starting point and a call to action to give space for us to listen to our young people, hear what they have to say, be able to evaluate what we’re currently doing, identify the things that we’re not doing, and then put in a plan that we are holding ourselves accountable to.”
A memo, written by Gaskins and Mayor Justin Wilson, outlined possible reform policies that address youth trauma and mental health; coordinate across sectors to identify challenges, needs and opportunities; develop sustainable strategies to align services and existing initiatives; identify metrics and transparent processes to ensure accountability; prioritize equity; and target investment at identified gaps.
The memo recommended partnering with ACT’s Alexandria Youth Council and other youth leadership organizations to host a youth safety and violence prevention summit where youth can share concerns openly. It also recommended organizing a special task force with representatives from youth-serving agencies to turn the summit discussion into an action plan, review
ing SLEP recommendations and potentially using American Rescue Plan Act funds to implement the action plan.
Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D., did not attend the meeting. Hutchings announced his resignation from Alexandria City Public Schools on June 10.
During the discussion, School Board member Michelle Rief emphasized the importance of not just engaging in a “one and done” approach, expressing concern that many students feel there is a lack of care from the community.
She supported the memo recommendations but suggested looking forward to longer-term solutions as well, specifically ones that engage students.
“Maybe it’s less of a report and recommendations that we’re looking for, but more of an opportunity to have this ongoing dialogue with youth, parents and our community,” Rief said.
Multiple people pointed out the unlikelihood of discovering brand new solutions that have never before been explored but said taking reiterative steps would still be helpful.
Councilor Sarah Bagley expressed support for heading into the next school year with a concrete plan regarding student safety, even if the steps are small and incremental.
“Even publicizing and uplifting options – let’s at least try to have something to point to before this next school year and then maintain it as a process,” Bagley said. “… Even if it’s just drawing up a memo of existing tools that parents may not have been aware of, teachers, students, that we want to make sure they are, maybe fund additionally in whatever emergency ways that we have, and then continue the conversation.”
The meeting also touched on the SLEP committee, with Councilor Kirk McPike asking if everyone except council’s appointed member is assembled. Chair Meagan Alderton confirmed that the group is otherwise set and that the first meeting was scheduled for Tuesday.
That group is composed of ACPS student administrators, the Alexandria Police Department and community members. It will evaluate the partnership between ACPS and APD in regard to the district’s school resource officer program.
Alderton said the plan is to present a final recommendation to the board in December.
“There will be a series of meetings. We’re also going to have some checkpoints with the board, so as they’re doing their work, when we’re in agenda setting we’ll determine at what points we’ll get some updates to the School Board from the committee,” Alderton said.
At their Tuesday legislative meeting, council approved former School
Board member Chris Lewis as the city’s representative for SLEP. Although there was some debate about whether to approve Lewis or Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Service Unit Director Mike Mackey, whom Vice Mayor Amy Jackson said would bring more of a “neutrality factor,” Bagley made the motion to appoint Lewis, with Councilor John Chapman seconding.
“Having people who have been at the table already in the past in developing this partnership and seeing it evolve, I think will matter,” Chapman said. “… Somebody who has been a former School Board member and on the other side of receiving that policy would be a perfect person to give the correct policy and appropriate policy to a group of School Board members.”
The resolution passed 6-1, with Jackson dissenting.