This can’t happen

This can’t happen
An excerpt of Matthew Henry's letter to the Alexandria City Public School Board. (Letter/Matthew Henry)

In the year 2024, in progressive Alexandria, it is absolutely unacceptable that a teacher in a public school should face harassment for his sexuality. 

The teacher in question, Matthew Henry, Ph.D., who is gay, decided to go public with his claim of harassment in the hallways of Alexandria City High School by sending a letter to the School Board last week. Henry’s letter is shocking on two fronts. 

The first is simply the claim itself: That a teacher in this day and age should be dealing with harassment, being called names by students and feeling physically threatened in the hallways of ACHS. And it raises concerning questions. 

The school has many students who are openly gay as well as numerous transgender students. Are these students also being harassed because of their sexuality or identity? Are other teachers being harassed because of their sexuality, religion, political views, gender or ethnicity? 

The second shocking facet of Henry’s letter is the fact that he felt the need to write it at all. Echoing what many others have said, and police scanner traffic confirms, Henry called the hallways of ACHS a “nightmare.” He also called the response of school and district administrators “unsatisfactory.” 

It is perhaps easy to see how a complaint such as Henry’s could get lost in the chaos. ACHS administrators in recent years have dealt with repeated drug overdoses by students, frequent fights in the hallways, with multiple weapons being confiscated – not to mention a student that was killed two years ago off campus during school hours at the hand of another student. 

It’s true that being called a name, however offensive, is less pressing than guns, drugs and knife fights; however, it’s just as reflective of the larger, systemic problems within ACHS. 

We think there are two primary causes of the chaos with the hallways of ACHS. The first is that the school is simply too large – and the rebuilt Minnie Howard campus alone isn’t going to solve that problem. 

Alexandria, which attempts to copy Arlington in many policy areas – from implementing a business improvement district to Zoning for Housing – needs to emulate our northern neighbor in another way: We need multiple, smaller high schools rather than one large school. Arlington has three high schools, each with just over 2,500 students. Even those schools are large, but they’re dwarfed by our one supersized high school. 

The second problem is that we repeatedly hear the claim from parents that students aren’t expelled from ACHS for chronic misbehavior. “A Chance for Change” is a great idea, but it’s obviously not accomplishing its mission if disruptive students simply spend a short period of time there and then return to the hallways of ACHS, their miscreant behaviors intact. 

These are serious problems that require a genuine look in the mirror from everyone on the School Board, Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D. and the school’s entire administrative team. Canned public relations responses that express general and, frankly, worthless, regret mean nothing. 

Use Henry’s letter constructively, as a call to action. No one deserves to feel unsafe in the hallways of ACHS – not a student, and certainly not an educator who has dedicated more than a dozen years to teaching students in Alexandria.