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Majority backs continued weapons screening in Alexandria public schools

Most people who answered an Alexandria City Public Schools survey support making the ongoing Weapons Abatement Pilot Program into a permanent fixture at city high schools and middle schools, and the Virginia school system agrees.

However, despite a proportionately high number of parents and family members saying the program should be implemented in elementary and K-8 school locations, the school system said there’s not enough current data to support adding weapons scanners at those schools.

During a May 23 school board meeting, Chief of Operations Alicia Hart provided an update on the program, which launched in May 2023.

“We have seen a 71% reduction in weapons-related incidents at secondary schools since the implementation,” Hart told the board members, during . “Using the weapons abatement process removes levels of subjectivity as it relates to student searches, as the system’s alert is what prompts a secondary search within the process.”

Alexandria is among the D.C.-area school systems using weapons detectors, some of which use artificial intelligence, to prevent weapons from entering schools. Prince William County schools in Virginia also launched a similar program last year.

In Alexandria, the devices are located at ACHS King Street, ACHS Minnie Howard, ACHS CFC, George Washington Middle School and Francis C. Hammond Middle School.

Hart said there are periodic bottlenecks in screening students — she encouraged reminding students of the BLUE acronym — “BLUE, meaning binders, laptops, umbrellas, and eyeglass cases, which are items that should be removed prior to screening, which helps avoid false alerts.”

A chart showing the level of support for this statement: “I believe the weapons abatement pilot program should continue at ACPS secondary locations.” (Courtesy Alexandria County Public Schools)

As for the future of the program, Hart said the staff believes it should continue in middle and high schools: “Our team strongly recommends making the weapons abatement process a permanent and formal part of the security posture at the secondary locations.”

However, “Our team does not currently recommend implementing weapons abatement at the elementary or K-8 schools at the time.”

In the survey of whether the weapons abatement program should include schools with younger students, the top choice for parents and family members was “strongly agree,” with the second-highest choice being “strongly disagree.”

Hart said the choice to introduce the program at secondary schools was data-driven.

“The data does not reflect the same frequency of incidents, calls for service, or arrests or referrals at elementary or K-8 schools, as for secondary schools,” she said.

chart
A chart showing the level of support for this statement: ” believe the weapons abatement program should be implemented at elementary and K-8 locations from this presentation, to be displayed near the following graphs about the future of the program.” (Courtesy Alexandria County Public Schools)

However, Hart said the school system will continue to study whether the weapons systems in all schools would be affordable.

“In terms of the elementary schools, we would be able to come back to the board with the full cost of implementation, not just for the equipment, but also the security officer costs, and any other data that we felt would be pertinent for discussion at that time,” Hart said.

The school board is expected to vote on the recommendations at its June 6 meeting.

WTOP’s Scott Gelman contributed to this report.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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