The City of Alexandria has released a statement in response to the article published here at National Review last Friday, chronicling a cover-up of an alleged campus sexual assault. Despite receiving the information via email, the school board, superintendent, and mayor all failed to formally notify Alexandria City Public School (ACPS) parents about an incident on Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard campus that resulted in an arrest for rape, forcible sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery.
The perfunctory statement from the city reads, in part, “In response to recent references in the media about a sexual assault involving juveniles in Alexandria, the City of Alexandria is aware of the incident, that it was adjudicated in Court, and that the defendant was acquitted.” Notably lacking in the statement is any apology to parents for keeping them in the dark for months about this important information with implications for their children’s safety.
In its statement, the city refers to Code of Virginia §16.1-301, which governs the release of juvenile records; the defendant here was 14. In Virginia, all three offenses connected with the arrest – rape, forcible sodomy, and aggravated sexual battery — are felonies and seem to fall squarely within the law’s defined exception for a juvenile 14 or older who is charged with a violent juvenile felony.
Even if the charges fell outside of the exception, it’s misleading for the city to imply that this is a matter of privacy for the victim and perpetrators when none of the reporting, including the original National Review article, has disclosed any identifying information or confidential details from law-enforcement records.
What parents want to know — and what they have every right to know — is not protected law-enforcement details but the information that will help them ensure their children’s safety at school. A joint school board–city council hearing on school safety took place mere days after the incident at Minnie Howard. Had the school, the board, or the city released the information at that time, transparency would have allowed parents to demand answers to important questions such as these:
- The emails refer to multiple assailants, but only one juvenile was arrested. What is the status of the other(s) involved in this incident?
- Are the perpetrator(s) still enrolled in ACPS?
- What policy failures may have contributed to making such an incident possible on campus, and what policies will be changed in the future to prevent another such incident?
In light of the information that has come out since the National Review story was published, the City of Alexandria should answer further questions such as:
- Was the defendant in fact “acquitted” as indicated in the city’s statement, or were the charges dropped?
- If the details of juvenile records are so tightly sealed, how did the city know the defendant was “acquitted” as referenced in their statement?
The basic appeal that ACPS provide parents with information relevant to their children’s safety so that they can hold the school accountable is far from the unreasonable request the Washington Post suggests it is in its own account of the incident, especially as the paper’s reporting confirmed all pertinent facts of the case. This included independently corroborating the veracity of the FOIA-obtained emails concerning the incident, as laid out in NR on Friday.
The district source quoted in the Post article also suggests that the police somehow constrained the release of information to parents: “Sometimes, [ACPS spokeswoman Julia Burgos] noted, the school and police must together consider whether releasing information will impede law enforcement investigations.”
Unfortunately for school officials looking to shift the blame to the Alexandria Police Department, the police were the only ones willing to confirm the basics of the incident to parents and, later, to media outlets. In fact, among the FOIA documents is an email from Acting Chief Don Hayes confirming the basic elements of the incident to a concerned parent who asked directly about it on October 9, 2021. That email’s recipients included Superintendent of Schools Greg Hutchings and Mayor Justin Wilson, so it is difficult for the city to now claim that the police needed to protect this information for the sake of the case or that sharing it was prohibited by the Code of Virginia. Formally notifying the broader community, however, was clearly the responsibility of ACPS, the superintendent, and the mayor, not the police department.
This was not confidential information protected by law; rather, it was information that the mayor, school board, and district clearly did not want in circulation among Alexandria parents.
Just down I-95 in Chesterfield County, Va., a similar incident at Thomas Dale High School resulted in the arrest of a 15-year-old student on charges of rape and abduction of a classmate. There, the school principal confirmed the incident to parents and media without providing details that could identify those involved, and a spokesman for the district released a statement on it. Clearly, as evidenced by this district’s actions, such disclosures are within the law.
Furthermore, ACPS schools have notified parents about other occurrences, some of them also involving alleged crimes committed by minors. Emails were sent out to parents about a non-fatal shooting off campus, a case involving firecrackers at a football game, and various other incidents on and off ACPS campuses. Emails have been sent to ACPS parents about much more minor occurrences, such as a student bringing an unloaded BB gun to school.
Even more damning for those claiming that parents simply could not be notified about an alleged sexual assault is the fact that the district notified parents at Alexandria City High School (ACHS) of another criminal incident that same day, October 6, 2021. There, the school immediately informed parents of a student — presumably also a minor — “who possessed a weapon outside of the school building.” The whole community was notified that a police-department investigation had been opened for that incident.
In many Northern Virginia schools, even a single reported positive Covid test necessitates an email to the school community. And yet a case that resulted in an arrest for three felonies, including rape, somehow did not meet the threshold for informing parents.
For a school district to promptly inform parents about an incident of this magnitude while withholding names and other details in the interest of privacy is not an impossible balancing act. The mayor, superintendent, and school board failed to meet their basic responsibilities.
In its statement, and its spokesperson’s comments to the Washington Post, the City of Alexandria deceptively frames the matter as one of privacy for juvenile offenders. This is a blatant attempt to escape scrutiny for its decision, along with the school board and Mayor Wilson, to withhold information from parents about an incident that casts serious doubt on their ability to keep students safe at school.
Mayor Wilson can smear me, the Independent Women’s Forum, and National Review (laughably) as “fringe,” but he cannot escape the Alexandria parents now asking critical questions about what’s going on in their children’s schools and in city hall.