In Arlington Public Schools, ‘Most Incidents Get Buried’
EdNews Virginia | February 8, 2023
“The lack of transparency around health and safety incidents is undermining parent confidence in APS,” County Council of PTA’s President Claire Noakes told members of Arlington County’s school board Thursday night. “In the month of January alone, I’m sorry to say, there were six incidents of drugs or violence in our schools — including a rape and a mob assault.”
Noakes pleaded for transparency and proactive communication from school officials. “There are other incidents that schools didn’t report,” the PTA leader said. “Trust is eroded when parents learn information outside of APS.”
Six days after Noakes’ remarks, officials have still not offered any details on her most alarming claim that someone was raped last month. On Monday, EdNews Virginia sought comment from the district and specifically asked if a rape or sexual assault was in fact reported. EdNews Virginia additionally requested statistics on incidents of sexual violence in the county schools. “We are actively investigating Ms. Noakes’ allegation,” is the only response a spokesman provided on Tuesday afternoon.
EdNews Virginia sought clarification as to whether a rape or sexual assault was reported in the county schools last month, or if the district first learned of this claim from Noakes’ remarks on Thursday. More than 24 hours later, the district spokesman has not responded.
TRANSCRIPT OF CLAIRE NOAKES’ REMARKS:
I’m Claire Noakes, and I’m speaking on behalf of the executive board of the County Council of PTA’s. We will be sending you a letter requesting an analysis of how the next budget will fund research-backed programs that are proven to prevent youth drug abuse. Tonight, however, we want to share one clear message with you.
The lack of transparency around health and safety incidents is undermining parent confidence in APS. We still can’t get an answer about why one school’s electricity took three days to fix while it stayed closed. We don’t know what the protocol is for schools to respond to threats. But this is not about one policy or event.
In the month of January alone, I’m sorry to say, there were six incidents of drugs or violence in our schools — including a rape, and a mob assault. Only one of those is being discussed tonight, because a parent went public. There are other incidents that schools didn’t report. Trust is eroded when parents learn information outside of APS.
Keeping parents in the dark reduces our engagement at a time when we need to step up and provide more supervision, ask questions, and sometimes seek professional help for our children. We are not asking for private student information. We are asking for transparency about APS responses. Right now, the incentive structures work against that goal.
We have a system that allows principals to decide which students get the cops called on them, with little oversight. We have a system where some incidents get town halls, but most incidents get buried. Shame and silence doesn’t fix anything. Problems can’t be solved without acknowledging them first.
We need a systemwide overhaul of incentive structures, so that no one benefits from sweeping problems under the rug.
UPDATE (05/26/23): EdNews Virginia emailed Arlington Public Schools again today. A district spokesman sent us the following incident summary that was issued by county law enforcement on February 9, 2023:
“At approximately 6:07 p.m. on January 17, police received the report of a sexual assault in the 1300 block of S. Dinwiddie Street. Additional information is restricted from release in accordance to Virginia Code § 16.1-301 and Virginia Code § 19.2-11.2. The investigation has not supported criminal charges and there is no apparent ongoing threat to the community related to this incident.”
The remainder of our inquiry was sent to a district “FOIA process,” the spokesman informed us.