By Olivia Anderson | [email protected]
After a May 24 fatal stabbing incident at the Bradlee Mall that left an Alexandria City High School student dead, parents, leaders and community members are scrambling to figure out the best way to promote the student safety.
In pursuit of that goal and an ongoing investigation, Alexandria City Public Schools has implemented a modified back-to-school schedule that began Tuesday and will continue through Friday.
ACHS executive director Peter Balas emailed families over the weekend detailing the changes, which emphasize ‘social, emotional and academic learning to help meet critical conditions in-person graduation and provide students with the social-emotional support they need.”
While some groups of students meet face-to-face over the last four days of the school year, such as seniors who must meet graduation requirements or students in a special education program, others participate to asynchronous virtual learning.
“My heart goes out to all of Titan’s students, staff and families as we go through this incredibly painful time together,” Balas said. “This year has been far from normal. And it’s important that we don’t try to normalize it. We must come together to support each other now, next week and into the future.
Some parents supported this change, while others did not. Marcus Lindsey, whose daughter is a student at Minnie Howard, works occasionally as a substitute on campus. He asked what exactly was in the district’s decision to reverse its original plan to send all students back to school this week, expressing frustration at another virtual learning shift for many students in the wake of the incident.
“Right now my daughter is sitting upstairs again having virtual classes. Why is that? Don’t they feel safe?” Lindsey said. “It’s a tragedy, it’s a tragedy singular, and it impacts the whole community, but I go back to ‘Why aren’t we back in school?'”
Lindsey also called for tougher citywide policy changes, saying the discipline’s culture is too relaxed.
“The big piece for me is, ‘Who’s responsible for this?’ There’s a kid who died, and it was during school hours,” Lindsey said. “…Our system led from behind on a lot of things, but no one was held accountable and accountable for Now we have a murder.
The incident involved 30 to 50 students who started a fight that erupted into a melee in the McDonald’s parking lot at the Bradlee Mall. ACHS senior Luis Mejia Hernandez, 18, was stabbed during the fight and died after being taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. The Alexandria Police Department announced on Wednesday that it arrested a juvenile suspect, a 16-year-old man, and charged him with the murder of Mejia Hernandez.
Video of the incident has circulated on social media and shows a large crowd of students fighting in the parking lot. In the video, a student suffering from a stab wound stands up briefly before falling back down.
Some community members have blamed the Alexandria Police Department for not doing more sooner and effectively breaking up the fight, but others argue that the police scanner timeline shows the quick response of ODA as events unfolded.
Police scanner audio reveals a Bradlee dealer called at 11:29 a.m. complaining of “disorderly conduct” and that several children were making noise in the parking lot. At 12:03 p.m. an officer reported that two patrol cars drove through the area and saw nothing. At 12:25 p.m. an officer called for reinforcements to help with an altercation, then again called for additional units and medics. At 12:27 p.m., a stabbing was reported for the first time.
CSPA revealed additional security measures in response to the melee. For the remainder of the school year, ODA Support Officers will patrol the King Street and Minnie Howard campuses. Student ID cards will be required to access all campuses, staggered layoffs will be implemented to reduce the number of students leaving at the same time, and sports competitions will be held on outdoor or non-ACHS grounds. in the city.
In addition, CSPA is making changes to its “Lunch & Learn” program, during which students do not have to eat in the cafeteria. The APD responded to the incident at 12:26 p.m., during the CSPA lunch break.
The amended policy, like the old policy, prohibits students from leaving campus during lunch. It appears the previous policy was not enforced on May 24 when the incident occurred in Bradlee. It is not clear if it has ever been applied with regularity.
In a statement to The Times, Balas clarified the current lunch hour policy.
“The current lunchtime wait allows students to eat out on school grounds and travel between campuses via ACPS buses,” Balas told The Times. “They are not allowed to go anywhere else or leave campus during the school day.”
The King Street Campus ‘Lunch & Learn’ program will now be split into two 35-minute sessions, halving the number of students eating lunch at the same time. Students will have access to select locations on campus, with a four-minute transition period between sessions. They will continue to be allowed to eat out but will not be allowed to leave campus.
The Minnie Howard campus will retain its current structure, where class blocks swap after the designated 30-minute time block. Both campuses will have area and hallway monitoring with an increase in the number of adults on duty monitoring.
Some community members have criticized the “Lunch & Learn” policy for being too lenient and a possible contributing factor to the May 24 incident, but others say the issue is more nuanced.
School board member Abdel Elnoubi, who has previously been outspoken about social-emotional learning and safety support staffing, called for a detailed review of the district’s current policies once the police investigation completed.
“I think it’s too early to jump to conclusions. Waiting [we should] continue to take precautionary measures [has] been the case since the incident,” Elnoubi said. “I personally believe that once the investigation is complete, the Board should review any relevant policies that may need to be reassessed or better enforced.”
Melynda Dovel Wilcox, who served as president of the Alexandria PTA Council from 2008 to 2009 and again from 2013 to 2014, said in an emailed statement that no individual or party is responsible for what happened. ‘has passed. Instead of pointing fingers, she said, community members and leaders should remain flexible and open to change while determining next steps.
“As much as I mourn the students who have lost a classmate, I mourn our teachers at [Alexandria City High School] who continue to work under very difficult conditions because they love what they do and truly care about the students,” Wilcox said in the statement. “I hope the coming school year brings some normalcy for them and for the students. And I hope those who make it a sport to criticize our schools will think twice before posting this comment to the media. that denigrates our administrators, teachers, and elected school board members. We can all do better.
Elnoubi pleaded for more conversations in the near future to prevent similar events happening down the line.
“We must come together as a community and as a society to tackle the root causes of violence,” he said. “There are socio-economic factors that are more important and beyond the reach of the school board or city council, but we should use all the tools available as decision makers.”