Arlington Public Schools has hired a well-liked high school principal from Alexandria.
APS announced four new principal appointments last night, after their approval by the Arlington School Board. Among them: Alexandria City High School (ACHS) Principal Peter Balas, who will take over as principal of Wakefield High School in the fall.
Wakefield, which has faced the overdose death of a student as well as threats of violence this year, has its top spot open with Principal Chris Willmore being promoted to Director of Secondary Education at APS.
Balas, who has been with Alexandria City Public Schools for 22 years, took over at then-T.C. Williams High School in 2017. Since then, Balas has navigated the school through Covid, a consequential decision to stick with one large high school for the city, the school’s renaming and issues around violence in and outside of the school.
ACHS saw frequent leadership turnover in the years before Balas took charge and, despite continued turnover at the leadership level in the years that followed, Balas has been a stabilizing force for the school.
“To watch these students grow over time is more rewarding than I ever anticipated,” Balas wrote in announcing his decision to take the Wakefield position. “And, seeing all of my elementary school students now at the high school has given me one of the most unique and special opportunities of my career. My time in ACPS has made me a better teacher, leader and person.”
Balas said he won’t leave until June and will see the school year through until graduation.
Also last night, APS announced a trio of elementary and middle school principal appointments, including Long Branch Elementary Assistant Principal Carolyn Jackson becoming principal of Gunston Middle School.
At its May 11 meeting, the Arlington School Board appointed Carolyn Jackson as Principal of Gunston Middle School. She currently serves as the Assistant Principal of Long Branch Elementary School.
Jackson earned a Bachelor of Science from North Carolina A & T State University, a master’s from George Washington University and George Mason University and is currently working on a Doctor of Education from William and Mary.
Jackson has been an educator serving Arlington Public Schools in a variety of roles for 23 years. Throughout her career, she has served in different capacities at Gunston Middle School, including teacher, activities director, Director of Counseling Services and Assistant Principal. Jackson also served as a counselor at Claremont Immersion School, Assistant Principal at Nottingham Elementary School and a Supervisor in the Office of Equity and Excellence.
Rounding out the appointments are new Hoffman-Boston Elementary Principal Helena Payne Chauvenet and new Carlin Springs Elementary Principal Carmen De La Cruz Scales. Payne Chauvenet is another external hire — she is currently principal of Maury Elementary School in D.C. — while De La Cruz Scales is an assistant principal at Arlington’s Washington-Liberty High School.
The hiring of Balas, meanwhile, is reverberating around Arlington’s southern neighbor, with many on social media lamenting a titanic loss at a time of transition for Alexandria’s school system.
Wow. Mr. Balas is truly a phenomenal principal. Wakefield is lucky to have him!
— Yahney-Marie Sangaré (@yahneymarie) May 12, 2023
💔 We love you, @PrincipalTitan https://t.co/XLpsgBecVv
— Ashley Simpson Baird (@ASBforACPS) May 12, 2023
That shattering sound you hear is my heart breaking. https://t.co/txZOXt8yQd
— Laura Simons (@_Simons_says) May 12, 2023
Vernon Miles contributed to this report
Last Thursday, the Arlington School Board promoted two veteran secondary school principals to new positions.
Wakefield High School Principal Chris Willmore will become Director of Secondary Education while Gunston Middle School Principal Lori Wiggins will lead Arlington Community High School.
Their appointments are effective July 1.
Willmore began his career at APS in 1995 as a teacher at the Spanish immersion school Escuela Key. After briefly leaving the school system, he returned in 1999 as a teacher in the Gunston’s immersion program. Willmore became an assistant principal at Wakefield High School in 2002 and eight years later, was named principal.
“I have loved my time at Wakefield and I am very proud of what the Wakefield community has accomplished and what the Wakefield student body and community represents,” Willmore told the School Board during last Thursday’s meeting. “As I hear time and time again, Wakefield is what the world will look like and our students at Wakefield get to experience that now, every day that they come to school.”
In an email to the school community, shared with ARLnow, Willmore said he poured his heart and soul into his work “because I feel strongly that that is the bare minimum of what our incredible students and staff deserve.”
After a 13-year tenure, which he described as an anomaly, he said he asked Superintendent Francisco Durán about changing jobs.
“This was a difficult decision for me to come to, but I feel that this is the right path forward for me and ultimately for Wakefield,” he continued.
The high school experienced difficult times earlier this year after a 14-year-old overdosed in a school bathroom and later died at the hospital, prompting the School Board to act and teachers to voice their fears this could happen again if protocols did not change. In late February, the school launched a confidential online form for people to report unsafe situations concerning a student.
Wiggins, meanwhile, has been with APS since 2012, serving as the principal of Gunston Middle School for the last 11 years.
Before coming to Arlington Public Schools, Wiggins worked in West Virginia as the executive director of the Office of Professional Preparation in the state Department of Education. In West Virginia, she also served as a middle school principal and assistant high school principal. She got her start teaching Spanish in East New York, Brooklyn.
Wiggins earned her bachelor’s degree from Messiah College, her master’s from California State University, Northridge, and her doctorate from West Virginia University.
“I am excited about this opportunity,” she told the School Board. “I’m looking forward to being able to grow, being able to bring lessons learned from my 11 years at Gunston, a passion for school leadership, a relentless drive to improve outcomes… and to work with a community that is highly mission driven.”
After a fatal overdose on school grounds last month, Arlington Public Schools has been urging staff to call 911 for potential overdoses.
For incidents that might not be life-or-death, however, staff members are still being instructed to tell administrators when students show signs of being high or drunk, sending them to the school nurse for evaluation.
But multiple school sources tell ARLnow that, in their experience, they’ve already been reporting possibly impaired kids to administration and getting them evaluated by nurses, and neither step made inroads for students who are repeatedly coming to school high.
They added that they don’t feel heard by administrators. Students who are evaluated are either sent home or — in at least one case — returned to class while obviously high, per a video inside a classroom that ARLnow reviewed.
The instructions to staff were not enough to address their long-standing concerns about a group of teens at Wakefield that included Sergio Flores, the student who died last month, according to some teachers and local teachers union president June Prakash.
Before Flores was found unconscious in a bathroom at the school last month, staff had intervened when they discovered him and other students doing drugs — and had told administrators they were doing drugs and skipping class, according to a teacher with knowledge of the situation and documentation shared with ARLnow.
Despite following protocol, the teachers say the behavior continued.
“It’s going to happen again and again if this is all Arlington Public Schools is going to do,” the teacher told ARLnow, on the condition of anonymity, fearing retribution. “I don’t want to see this story or our students buried again.”
“As educators, we are in loco parentis” — acting in the place of the parent, in Latin — “but where does that begin and end?” Prakash asked.
It’s a question rattling teachers, says parent Judith Davis.
“Teachers are not okay, at all,” she tells ARLnow.
One Wakefield teacher is now even taking it upon herself to raise money to support families who cannot afford residential drug treatment for their children, which can cost some $60,000 for 90 days. Nearly $2,400 has been raised so far.
“I believe some students’ only chance to recover from opioid addiction is to remove them from the school environment and place them in a residential program,” the teacher wrote in the GoFundMe description. “Help me raise funds so that a student’s ability to pay is never an issue when finding a placement.”
Opioid use appears to be on the rise among youth and in Arlington Public Schools, and this issue is more widespread than just Wakefield.
In 2019, there were no recorded opioid overdoses involving juveniles in Arlington. Last year, that number jumped to eight, none of which were fatal. This year alone, there have been four, three of which occurred at school, and one of which was fatal, per remarks Tuesday by County Board Chair Christian Dorsey.
Sources say the writing has been on the wall for months and perhaps since the end of widespread virtual instruction during the pandemic. They said teachers do not feel heard by administrators when they report their concerns or refer students for evaluations. Such concerns extend to lower grades, including at local elementary and middle schools.
“This does seem like a no-win situation in a lot of ways,” Prakash said. “On the one hand, you report something, and it seems to go unnoticed, or it looks like nothing is happening.”
“On the other hand,” she continued, “you have untrained staff trying to make these assessments — and what if they are wrong — what are the consequences for thinking a kid might be under the influence and then having them sent home?”
A pair of incidents have prompted police investigations at two Arlington middle schools to start the week.
A student at Thomas Jefferson Middle School allegedly brought a weapon to school on Monday that turned out to be an airsoft gun. Police say they confiscated the airsoft gun and juvenile charges are pending.
From today’s Arlington County Police Department crime report:
CARRYING AIR GUN IN PUBLIC (late), 2023-02060183, 100 block of S. Old Glebe Road. At approximately 7:03 p.m. on February 6, police were dispatched to the late report of a brandishing. Upon arrival, it was determined at approximately 1:15 p.m., the juvenile suspect allegedly opened his backpack and exposed the handle of what was later determined to be an airsoft gun to several juveniles. No threats were made and the airsoft gun was not brandished during the incident. During the course of the investigation, officers identified the involved juvenile and recovered the airsoft gun. A petition is pending for violation of Arlington County Code § 13-8.
The following email was sent to Thomas Jefferson families.
Dear Jefferson Families:
This is to inform you that around 6:40 p.m. on Mon, Feb. 6, our administrative team was informed that a student had a gun during the last period of the school day. The Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) was immediately made aware and confiscated an “airsoft gun” from a student. Information and support from our school community enabled us to quickly investigate and take immediate action. In addition, appropriate disciplinary action is being taken.
Students are reminded that bringing weapons of any kind into the school is against the law and will result in disciplinary action by the school as well as a referral to ACPD. Again, please be assured that we always take these incidents seriously. The safety of our students and staff is our top priority. […]
An incident at Dorothy Hamm Middle School, meanwhile, involved a threatening note “slipped under a teacher workroom door.”
Police do not believe the threat to be credible, according to an email sent to families this morning.
Dear DHMS Staff and Families,
Dorothy Hamm Middle School was informed of a threat of violence written on a piece of paper and slipped under a teacher workroom door. The threat was non-specific and did not include any information other than that something would happen today, Feb. 7.
The Department of Safety, Security, Risk and Emergency Management (SSREM) and the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) have been contacted, and while we do not believe the threat is credible, they are investigating. The school is operating as normal at this time, and all students and staff are safe.
As a precaution, there will be increased police presence at the school today. Any staff or students who have knowledge of this are asked to contact the school or Arlington County Police Department.
Students are reminded that making threats of any kind is unacceptable and in violation of the Student Code of Conduct and will result in disciplinary action by the school as well as a referral to law enforcement.
We appreciate the staff member who brought this to our attention and ask all members of our community to report any threats they may see or hear, whether they believe they are credible or not.
We will keep you updated if we receive new information. Thank you for working together to make our school safe. If you have any questions, please feel free to call the office at 703-228-2910.
Dorothy Hamm Middle School
It has been a busy couple of weeks for police at Arlington’s public schools, following a fatal suspected overdose and threats of potential gun violence at Wakefield High School last week, as well as other substance-abuse-related dispatches.
Police and medics have been dispatched to Wakefield High School at least twice for students experiencing suspected substance abuse-related issues since Tuesday’s fatal overdose.
The dispatches seem to point to administrators taking an extra-cautious approach to the medical treatment of students observed to be under the likely influence of drugs and alcohol in schools.
Arlington County police and medics were dispatched around lunchtime today for what was initially described as a possible overdose. The dispatch suggested that a 14-year-old student was breathing normally but exhibiting signs of impairment.
“At approximately 12:10 p.m. on February 6, police were dispatched to the 1300 block of S. Dinwiddie Street for the report of a possible overdose,” Arlington police spokeswoman Ashley Savage confirmed to ARLnow. “The preliminary investigation indicates this is a possession of alcohol by minor incident. The patient did not require transport to the hospital. The investigation ongoing.”
“They had to call EMS out of an abundance of caution,” said Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia.
Medics were also dispatched to the school during dismissal this past Thursday, following an extended lockdown for a potentially armed trespasser, for what was initially feared to be a student overdose.
“At approximately 3:23 p.m. on February 2, police responded to Wakefield High School for the report of an overdose,” said Savage. “The investigation determined this was not an overdose incident, but it did involve possession of a suspected controlled substance by a juvenile. Petitions for a narcotics violation were obtained for the juvenile. In accordance with Virginia Code, additional details are not releasable due to the juvenile’s age.”
It’s not just Wakefield and not just high schools that are experiencing drug-related issues in Arlington. Around the same time as today’s incident, police were dispatched to Kenmore Middle School for a report that administrators had discovered possible drug paraphernalia.
Parent groups have been sounding the alarm about drug use in Arlington Public Schools for at least a year. A twin epidemic of opioid use and mental health issues have led to the deaths of at least three APS students since Christmas. Parents marched outside Wakefield and spoke out at the School Board meeting last week following the death of the 14-year-old student who suffered the apparent overdose on Tuesday.
Wakefield principal Chris Willmore told WJLA that it’s unclear whether drugs in general are being used more often by students, but said that the nature of the drugs being used has changed.
“I don’t know if it’s gotten worse in terms of the number of kids that are using illicit drugs,” Willmore said in an article published by the station today. “It’s the deadliness of the fentanyl now that’s the most concerning.”
The national epidemic of fentanyl-related deaths has been blamed, at least in part, on accidental overdoses stemming from the powerful synthetic opioid being added to fake prescription drugs. Users believe they’re taking oxycodone or even the focus-enhancing drug Adderall but instead get a crudely-made counterfeit containing a fatal dosage of fentanyl.
WJLA’s article noted that Arlington police have no plans for sweeps of schools using drug-sniffing dogs.
Arlington County police say they are actively reaching out to and engaging with the younger population, building relationships, and that there’s a youth outreach unit.
When 7News asked if narcotics-trained K9s might be searching the schools for fentanyl, a spokesperson said the county does have these K9s available but there are no plans to use them at schools.
An email sent by Willmore to Wakefield families after this afternoon’s emergency response is below.
Wakefield High School is back open, with heavy hearts and extra vigilance.
Last week a student died in the hospital two days after an apparent overdose in a school bathroom. This is the first day of school since his passing.
The school was also locked down Thursday and then closed Friday due to a potentially armed trespasser who was reported to be seeking out a specific student as part of an ongoing dispute, leading to an arrest.
Arlington County police have increased patrols around the school today, with an extra focus on arrival and dismissal times, according to an email to families obtained by ARLnow. That’s in response to rumors of new threats against students circulating on social media.
Parents tell us that the rumors have students worried about a shooting at the school. They say that the trespassing stemmed from a dispute between two gangs and may be related to a recent shooting in Arlington.
“I am not sending my student to school today,” one parent told us this morning.
Another parent, however, noted that the apparent social media threat could also be interpreted simply as a reference to a music video.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the ACPD will provide increased patrols around Wakefield [Monday] including at arrival and dismissal,” Wakefield principal Chris Willmore said in the email to families. “The safety and security of our students and staff is our priority and we will keep you informed of any developments as we are able.”
No marked police units were spotted around the school as of 9:30 a.m., according to ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott.
Police have only described the events leading to the trespassing as “an ongoing dispute” between the suspect and a “juvenile victim.”
The full email to families is below.
Dear Wakefield Families:
We are aware of concerning social media posts circulating. The Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) and APS Safety and Security staff have been alerted and are investigating. Out of an abundance of caution, the ACPD will provide increased patrols around Wakefield tomorrow including at arrival and dismissal. The safety and security of our students and staff is our priority and we will keep you informed of any developments as we are able.
I understand this continues to pose a significant strain on our wellbeing as a community. We will have additional counseling support available tomorrow and will structure our day to incorporate community circle opportunities for students to share their thoughts and feelings if they need assistance.
If your student needs to speak with their counselor, please reach out to the Wakefield counseling office […]
Dr. Chris Willmore
(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) A march against drugs drew a large crowd of parents and community members to Wakefield High School, where a student died this week.
Sergio Flores was found unconscious in the bathroom Tuesday morning and rushed to the hospital in critical condition. He died Thursday and his death is being investigated as a possible overdose.
Latino parents, mostly mothers, planned the march as a way to show love and support for their children.
Classes were canceled for Wakefield students today (Friday) after the overdose this week and a lockdown Thursday prompted by a possibly armed trespasser. Arlington County police have since arrested an 18-year-old man in connection with the trespassing incident.
Still, parents marched, carrying signs saying “Your community is here for you!” and “Queremos lo mejor para nuestros hijos,” Spanish for “We want the best for our children.”
The idea came from a community meeting held by community activists Elder Julio Basurto and Janeth Valenzuela — who wear many hats, but this time, were organizing under their organization, Juntos en Justicia. They have been advocating for more attention to opioids in Arlington Public Schools for more than a year through the organization.
Attendance swelled and other community members, as well as some School Board and County Board members, joined the march.
“It was very scary for me to read the student involved in the drug incident has died,” said Green Valley resident Frederick Craddock. “That just gives you an example: It’s in our neighborhood schools. It’s in the home somewhere, so then parents have a big role. It’s all got to come together. Maybe this will raise more awareness of the issue.”
Rebecca Brunner said three generations of her family have attended Wakefield. The high school needs police officers returned and the school system needs to be more transparent, she said.
“Don’t tell us there’s a medical emergency when a child ODed. Tell us the truth so we know what to tell our children, we know how to talk to them, we know to tell them, ‘don’t take anything,'” she said. “Fentanyl is out there.”
“Yesterday, I’m getting a video from inside the school of the SWAT team coming through the doors with assault rifles and they’re telling us, ‘Oh, we might have a possible trespasser,'” Brunner continued. “Yeah, something way more than that is going on.”
An 18-year-old Arlington man is behind bars after police say he snuck into Wakefield High School yesterday to confront a student, triggering a lockdown.
Kenan Owens was arrested around 1 a.m. this morning in the Douglas Park neighborhood by an Arlington County Police Department tactical team. According to scanner traffic, a total of nine people were detained in the operation, which targeted a small house on the 4200 block of 16th Street S., near the intersection of Four Mile Run Drive and S. George Mason Drive.
The police department said Owens “was known to carry a firearm” and “had an ongoing dispute with” the targeted student.
“The suspect fled the scene prior to police arrival and was later observed in the victim’s neighborhood,” said ACPD. Initial reports suggested that the dispute might be related to a recent shooting and that Owens was spotted wearing a ski mask while inside the school.
The trespassing incident triggered an hours-long lockdown of the school and a large police response. Classes were cancelled today at Wakefield, which is also mourning the death of a student from an apparent overdose.
More on the arrest from an ACPD press release, below.
The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit is announcing the arrest of an individual following a trespassing investigation at Wakefield High School. Kenan Owens, 18, of Arlington was arrested and charged with Trespassing at School, Stalking, Remove/Alter Serial Number of Firearm, and Allowing Access to Firearm by Children (x3). He is being held without bond in the Arlington County Detention Facility.
At approximately 12:30 p.m. on February 2, police were dispatched to the 1300 block of S. Dinwiddie Street for the report of a trespasser. Initial information received by the Emergency Communications Center indicated the trespasser was known to carry a firearm, however, no weapon was observed during the incident. The school was placed on lockdown as police investigated the incident. The investigation ultimately determined the trespasser was not currently on school property and students were dismissed on time.
The preliminary investigation indicates the suspect allegedly entered the school and attempted to locate the juvenile victim whom he had an ongoing dispute with. Witnesses reported this information to school administration who then contacted police. The suspect fled the scene prior to police arrival and was later observed in the victim’s neighborhood.
During the course of the investigation, detectives identified the suspect and obtained warrants for his arrest. In the early morning hours of February 3, the Emergency Response Team took the suspect into custody at a residence in the 4200 block of 16th Street S. During the execution of a search warrant, three firearms were recovered including one with a removed serial number.
This remains an active investigation and anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Tip Line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected] Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).
Hat tip to Dave Statter
(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) The teen found unconscious in a Wakefield High School boys bathroom Tuesday after an apparent overdose has died.
“The Arlington County Police Department is conducting a death investigation following the teen’s passing yesterday at the hospital,” ACPD said in a statement this morning. “The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will determine cause and manner of death.”
The name of the student was not given but he was identified in an online fundraising campaign and by a speaker at last night’s Arlington School Board meeting as Sergio Flores. He was reported to be 14 years old in the initial fire department dispatch on Tuesday.
A GoFundMe campaign to help pay for his funeral has raised more than $22,000 as of publication time.
“We want to give Sergio Flores the memorial he deserves, to honor his memory and say our last goodbyes,” said the page. “Sergio was a sweet caring person, he was someone who showed what real love was either family or friend wise.”
“He was someone that made everyone laugh he always had jokes he always wanted to put a smile on his friends and families face,” the page continued. “He would always be dancing with music or no music. Even if he wasn’t having a good day he always tried his best to make people happy and smile and you will be watching over all your friends and family… we love you fly high little one️.”
In recent months numerous parents and advocates have sounded the alarm to ARLnow about opioid use and overdoses in Arlington’s public schools, including middle schools and high schools.
Arlington police responded to Arlington Public Schools buildings seven times for reported overdoses between January and October 2022, according to ACPD stats. APS has been trying to combat a twin epidemic of opioid use and mental health crises among students, leading to what is now at least three student deaths since Christmas.
Still, some parents say there is more the school system should be doing. A parent march is planned in front of Wakefield High School at noon today, though classes were cancelled after yesterday’s lockdown for a potential armed trespasser.
“Say his name. Sergio Flores,” Judith Davis, Wakefield High School PTSA president, said during blistering remarks at last night’s School Board meeting. She accused APS of a “lack of leadership and inaction.”
Every single one of you in this room has been told by parents, teachers, students, PTSAs, and community leaders that we will have someone die at Wakefield. Since we came back from Covid, that has been the constant conversation and you all failed to address it. After what happened Tuesday, the only two people who contacted parents, students or PTSA were (Chief of Staff) Stephen Linkous and (School Board member) Mary Kadera, while her mother was dying. Entirely unacceptable. Stop celebrating your collective lack of performance and lack of leadership. It resulted in a loss of life. Every one of you knew this day would come. Say his name. Sergio Flores. He died. This kid is not going back to his family. The action items you claim were already happening are not in place at Wakefield. Lack of leadership and inaction is what resulted in what happened on Tuesday and what happened today. Where is the accountability for what happened? Do better. Stop celebrating yourself and talk to the community. Talk to parents. Talk to students.
Four other teens were treated by medics at Wakefield on Tuesday, at least some of whom were believed to have drug-related symptoms. Medics were also dispatched to the school yesterday, during dismissal, for a possible student overdose, according to dispatch recordings.
Police are asking the public for any additional information about Tuesday’s fatal overdose.
“This remains an active investigation and anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Tip Line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected],” said ACPD. “Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).”
(Updated at 11:55 p.m.) Wakefield High School was placed in lockdown Thursday afternoon after reports of a trespasser, possibly armed with a gun, and a threat against a student.
The cause for concern is related to a recent shooting in the Green Valley neighborhood, according to initial reports. So far, there are no reports of any acts of violence inside the school.
The initial dispatch went out around 12:30 p.m. A large police presence surrounded Wakefield and officers — some heavily armed — searched the building and classrooms, as well as nearby neighborhoods.
During the search, a student who was not considered a suspect was escorted out of the school by police, ARLnow hears.
The lockdown was lifted and student dismissal started shortly after 3 p.m. under the watchful eye of police.
“ACPD’s investigation determined the trespasser, possibly armed with a gun, is not currently on school property,” Arlington Public Schools said in a statement. “The investigation into the incident is ongoing, according to ACPD… All students and staff are safe.”
“After-school and evening activities are canceled,” the statement added. “The safety and security of your student is our top priority.”
During dismissal, a medic unit was dispatched to the school for what what described as a separate incident unrelated to the trespassing.
Groups of parents started gathering near the school after the lockdown started but were then directed to a reunification center at a nearby church, per scanner traffic. TV news crews also gathered outside of the school.
Wakefield students were dismissed early Tuesday after a student was hospitalized in critical condition after an apparent overdose in a bathroom. Friday classes were cancelled as of Thursday evening, according to APS.
Wakefield High School will be closed for instruction tomorrow, Fri, Feb. 3, 2023. We will keep the building open during normal hours to provide counseling services and mental health support for students and staff who may need help processing this week’s incidents.
— Arlington Public Schools (@APSVirginia) February 2, 2023
POLICE ACTIVITY: ACPD is investigating the report of a possible trespasser at Wakefield High School. The school has been placed on lockdown while police investigate. Expect continued police presence in the area. pic.twitter.com/SIvasFAyej
— ArlingtonCountyPD (@ArlingtonVaPD) February 2, 2023
A student at Wakefield HS gave us permission to show this video of police with long guns entering a classroom at Wakefield HS. A reunification area has been set up at a nearby church. @wusa9 pic.twitter.com/8HLNUEqTEC
— Matthew Torres (@News_MTorres) February 2, 2023
Please expect bus delays this afternoon due to police activity that occurred at Wakefield High School. Multiple bus routes are impacted. We appreciate your patience.
— Arlington Public Schools (@APSVirginia) February 2, 2023
(Updated at 9:55 p.m. on 2/3/23) A coalition of parents will be marching on Friday at Wakefield High School to encourage students not to use drugs and to demand a countywide response to in-school opioid use.
The planned silent demonstration responds to an apparent drug overdose on school grounds discovered yesterday morning (Tuesday). An unconscious student was found in a boys bathroom and taken to the hospital in critical condition. Medics evaluated four additional kids at the school and students were released early so police could conduct an investigation.
Parents who plan on marching came up with the idea during a Spanish-language Zoom call hosted by Juntos en Justicia (Together in Justice in Spanish), a community advocacy group, last night after the news of the overdose spread.
“We’re going to walk to Wakefield with signs of encouragement and love for students,” said Juntos en Justicia founder Janeth Valenzuela. “We want to let them know they’re not alone.”
She said co-founder Elder Julio Basurto intend to meet with Superintendent Francisco Durán. Kenmore Community Families in Action, a school community-based organization which she helped found, intends to host a meeting open to all parents on Thursday, Feb. 23 at Kenmore Middle School.
“Every community has this issue,” said Valenzuela, who previously sounded the alarm about opioids in a report ARLnow published last fall.
Last night, parents floated a number of APS responses, including an immediate increase in school security.
“You can improve your security right now. You can check the bathrooms right now,” said Basurto. “We continue to have reports about distribution inside the school, and usage in hallways, bathrooms and classrooms. We still have reports of… people coming in and out of buildings without being checked.”
They heard from parents that drug deals involving dealers from within and outside Arlington are facilitated via social media and that some students are, allegedly, bullied into taking drugs.
Many meeting participants expressed a desire for the return of School Resource Officers, Basurto and Valenzuela said. The Arlington School Board removed them from school buildings to decrease racial disparities in interactions with police inside school buildings.
Should SROs be reinstated — a process that the Arlington County Police Department have previously said could take years due to staffing shortages — Valenzuela said some feel the dynamic could be different because of recent policing reforms. Anecdotally, she said newer recruits “don’t treat us with disregard” during stops or when responding to 911 calls.
“Parents think that the respect for the uniform will alleviate the problems,” she said.
Parents asked about supervised after-school programming and suggested that the Arlington County Dept. of Parks and Recreation update existing programs to be more relevant to younger generations and do fresh promotion.
Some parents want more effective disciplinary action for students caught dealing drugs while others want the zoning code to prohibit vape shops from opening near schools.
Basurto says APS needs to evaluate the efficacy of existing drug abuse curricula in schools.
“Just because we have presentations doesn’t mean we’re having success,” he said.
Last year, APS published a newsletter summarizing the work by its six substance abuse counselors, staff and teachers and Arlington Addiction Recovery Initiative to combat the opioid crisis. These are some of the efforts to date:
- Substance use counselors have trained more than 100 school staff on how to reverse an opioid overdose using naloxone, known by the brand name “Narcan”
- AARI provided some 65 boxes of Narcan throughout school buildings
- Counselors and AARI are developing resource folders and medication deactivation bags for families and have provided community education at PTA meetings, school events and online
- Counselors added a K-12 over-the-counter medication safety curriculum this year and provide regular education on avoiding use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs in the middle and high schools, as well as lessons for fourth and fifth-grade students
Last night, more than 100 parents tried to log into the Zoom meeting and Valenzuela constantly let in new people as others logged off. The demand for information and action underscores the longstanding concern among parents, Basurto says.
“We’ve been telling the schools for over a year now about the situation in Arlington Public Schools, we’ve shared concerns specifically about Wakefield,” he said. “This is a serious problem and we need to take immediate action on these issues.”