ALEXANDRIA, Va. (DC News Now) — On Wednesday night, Alexandria City Public Schools held a safety forum to inform families of how it, along with city and police leaders, are efforting safety improvements in schools.

The forum came at a critical time, as a recent survey found students, staff, and parents all felt they (or their children) were safer in Alexandria schools last year, as opposed to this year.

A survey initiated by ACPS of nearly 7,000 students, parents, and teachers highlighted an alarming trend. A lower percentage of each of those groups felt safer in school this year, as opposed to last. In last year’s survey, 75% of students said they either strongly agreed or agreed with the statement that they feel safe in schools. This year, just 57% responded that way.

“Maintaining safety in our schools and community is top priority,” said Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt.

Between January and June of 2022, 26 ACPS students were arrested — 16 for fights/assaults. That doesn’t include a brawl and fatal stabbing that happened at the Bradlee Shopping Center in May, an incident that prompted a return to virtual learning and raised concerns over mental health and physical safety.

“I think [our schools are] really well equipped and I appreciate the prioritization to student wellness because we have a full student support team,” said Faiza Jackson, the district’s Director of School Social Work.

Community members also heard from a school resource officer, even as the roles of SROs are being weighed by a committee that could recommend their removal.

“Kids come over and hug me,” said Richard Sandoval. “Just know that we’re committed to your children and look forward to a continued relationship.”

DC News Now has previously reported on back-and-forth letters between the city and school leadership in Alexandria and Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares, who has criticized the district for considering removing SROs.

Parents also asked about what the district is doing to train students and staff regarding school shootings.

ACPS Director of Safety & Security Services John Contreras said all exterior doors are locked during the school day and all K-12 students do between four and six active shooter drills a year.

There are no plans for metal detectors, but Contreras said that’s on the table.

“We are constantly exploring different opportunities for technologies that can help us do what we need to do,” he said.

Alexandria High School Parent Diane Devendorf told DC News Now she appreciated the openness provided at the forum and feels confident in the district’s safety plans.

“I think it’s come a long way,” she said. “We feel safer to have our kids here. We just want to make sure that they feel supported and safe.”