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Petition asks Arlington schools to stop limiting student attendance at athletic events

WJLA – Washington D.C. 10/3/2022 Heather Graf
Petition asks Arlington schools to stop limiting student attendance at athletic events
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As high school football teams in Arlington County take the field on Friday night, some people are pushing for a change to the school system's admissions and attendance policy for athletic events.  Arlington Public Schools currently limit attendance, with high school students only allowed to go to games in which their school is playing as either the home or visiting team.

"I've heard from countless folks who are very frustrated with this entire situation," said Kevin Hughes, who said he has two sons who play football at Washington-Liberty High School.

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Hughes recently launched an online petition that asks Arlington Public Schools to "allow APS high school student football fans to attend any game played in the county."  The petition, which has been signed by more than 200 people as of Friday evening, calls the current attendance policy "wrong" and asks the school board and superintendent to make a change.

"I believe, and evidence shows, that students from other high schools who attend games are not the cause of violence," Hughes told 7News.  "And this policy basically tears apart the community.  These athletic events strengthen the bonds between everyone who lives in the community."

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Hughes says his sons have felt the impacts of the attendance restrictions firsthand.

"They both attended the countywide Spanish immersion program through 8th grade, and they have friends who attend the other high schools.  Right now, their friends can only see them play one game in-person," he said. "And it's more than just the football players, it also affects families of band members, family and friends of the cheerleaders, family and friends of the dance team."

On Friday, a spokesperson for Arlington Public Schools told 7News the current attendance policy was put into place in the fall of 2019.  Hughes says this year is the first time he's heard of it.

"There were no restrictions at that time," he said, referring to the 2019 season, which was prior to the coronavirus pandemic and any COVID-related attendance restrictions that have since been lifted.

APS said admissions and attendance procedures for school athletic events that have been in place since the fall of 2019 include the following:

  • Any student 8th grade or younger must be accompanied by parent/guardian/caregiver for admission to any Arlington high school sporting event.
  • The adult accompanying the student or a group of students needs to be in attendance as a point of contact for the duration of the event. According to APS, this allows staff to respond appropriately if issues arise among younger students who are unfamiliar to high school staff, and "can help ensure a safe environment for students and families who are there to enjoy the game."
  • Students are not allowed to bring bags or backpacks.
  • No outside food or drinks are allowed.
  • Only high school students from the home team or the visiting team are permitted to attend the game. Students who attend an APS high school program may attend if their home school team is playing (ID required).
  • Students attending athletic events must bring valid student identification with them to show high school staff upon entering an athletic venue.

“The decision to revise our admission procedures for high school athletic events is based on our commitment to providing safe, secure environments for students, staff, and spectators, as well as to support the school staff who are charged with managing the crowds and maintaining safety and security during these events," an APS spokesperson said in a statement.

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While Arlington County Police no longer provide security at school athletic events  due to the police department's ongoing staffing shortage, APS maintains that's not related to the current restrictions on game day attendance.

RELATED: Short-staffed Arlington County Police Department reducing services

"This has been our previous practice and is not related to the absence of police officers at our games," the APS statement continued.

There are some new elements to APS athletic event security this year, as a result of Arlington County Police no longer providing security at the games.  APS said the school system has hired its own security staff, with between four to six "school security coordinators" working each game.

Both the school system and the police department said they still work together closely.

"The Arlington County Police Department continues to participate in the APS Threat Assessment Team and School Safety Audit. We also have a primary liaison to APS and we are in contact with APS leadership on any public safety concerns they may have," a police department spokesperson told 7News.

Hughes said he doesn't think APS' attendance restrictions at athletic events are related to the lack of police presence at games.

"No, I don't. I think what is happening is, this is APS hiding behind a façade of fear," Hughes said, adding that he still doesn't understand why such strict attendance limits are necessary in Arlington Public Schools. "They have a $750 million operating budget to address any of these concerns... so I am really miffed as to why this policy was put into place without any consultation with the families who are affected."

SEE ALSO: MCPS superintendent announces revised safety plan following football game brawl

Hughes also voiced his concerns directly to the school board during public comment at a recent board meeting.

He said he has yet to receive a response from school district leadership, but plans to continue speaking up and advocating for the athletic event attendance policy to be changed.

"We will keep knocking at the door until somebody opens it and actually has a conversation and we can work on a solution," Hughes said. "So that students from other high schools will be allowed to attend these sporting events."

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