Are new scanners at Alexandria schools detecting weapons?

A knife, taser and razor blade are among the weapons that new scanners at some Alexandria City Public Schools have identified students bringing onto their campuses.

Last spring, the Virginia school district’s board voted to approve a weapons abatement program on its middle and high school campuses. The pilot program launched in May.

At a school board meeting late last month, Chief of Operations Alicia Hart said the detectors have conducted over 181,000 scans to date. A scan, she said, represents an actual walk-through — not the number of people who walk through the detectors. If one person walks in and out of a building multiple times, Hart said they could be counted for several scans in a single day.

About 93% of people, Hart said, get cleared through the first walk-through and don’t have to go through additional screening.

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 this 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.

At the end of the first semester, Hart said, city officials will provide recommendations for the pilot program’s future.

The update on the weapons detectors came during a longer presentation about school safety data. In the third and fourth quarters of the last school year, there were 68 reported fights or assaults, 59 incidents requiring EMS help that weren’t related to a fight or assault and 13 confirmed incidents involving weapons.

Middle schools, Hart said, had the highest occurrence of incidents during the 2022-23 school year.

Between the 2021-22 school year and the 2022-23 school year, there were 66 more incidents, 31 more police calls for service and 12 more arrests last year than the year prior, according to the city’s presentation.

In the second half of last year, Black male, non-Hispanic students made up the highest number of arrests at both the middle and high school levels, Hart said.

“The data around African American and Black males continues to be disturbing to me and I’m sure to the rest of school board as well,” Board member Jacinta Greene said.

To address those concerns, Hart said the city is “advancing our focus on mentoring Black males within our division. Last spring, we held our first mentoring event aimed at our Black male youth.”

There’s also a cohort of Black male administrators, Hart said, “who are working on ways to engage our Black male students more regularly throughout the year.”

More information about the second-semester data is available online.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up