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AG Herring urges FCC to provide e-rate funds for remote learning

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RICHMOND (February 23, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a bipartisan coalition of 30 attorneys general in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fund internet connectivity and internet-enabled devices to K-12 students whose schools are closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and who are learning online at home or other locations.

“Internet and broadband access have become crucial to Virginians’ daily lives during the COVID pandemic as they have been forced to move to school, work, healthcare, and almost everything else online,” said Attorney General Herring. “Our children have been learning remotely for almost a full year now, and we should be making it as easy as possible for them and their parents to have access to affordable internet services and devices.”

This month, the FCC asked for comment on petitions urging the commission to temporarily waive some restrictions on its E-Rate program to allow schools to extend their broadband internet networks to students’ homes and to allow E-Rate funds to support Wi-Fi hotspots or other broadband connections for students who lack adequate internet connectivity to participate in remote schooling.

In their comment letter to the FCC, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues urge the commission to promptly take action to unlock the doors of the virtual classroom while physical schools remain closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The E-Rate program provides funding to better connect schools and libraries in all parts of the nation—urban, suburban and rural. Now, all parts of the nation are struggling with the best means to educating K-12 students during the waves of a pandemic.

At least 55 million K-12 students in the U.S. have, at one time or another, been forced to rely on online learning when their classrooms were closed. When schools are closed, the living room, bedroom, or basement becomes the classroom and deserves the same E-Rate support.

School districts stand ready to use E-Rate funded services to rapidly connect their students to high-speed internet. In a recent survey of more than 2,000 E-Rate program participants, 93% reported that they would use E-Rate funds to connect students at home for virtual schooling if allowed by the FCC.

Attorney General Herring and his colleagues also state in their letter that, given the special circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC is authorized to amend or waive E-Rate program rules as necessary to provide broadband connectivity for remote schooling.

Joining Attorney General Herring in today’s effort is the attorney general of Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

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Governor Northam increases capacity limits for outdoor sports and entertainment venues

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On February 24, 2021, Governor Ralph Northam announced that as COVID-19 hospitalizations and infection rates continue to decline and vaccinations rise in Virginia, certain outdoor sports and entertainment venues may begin to operate at increased capacity starting Monday, March 1. He amended Executive Order Seventy-Two with the next steps of the “Forward Virginia” plan to safely and gradually ease public health restrictions while mitigating the spread of the virus.

“Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of all Virginians, hospitalization and positivity rates across the Commonwealth are the lowest they have been in nearly three months,” said Governor Northam. “As key health metrics show encouraging trends, and we continue to ramp up our vaccination efforts, we can begin to gradually resume certain recreational activities and further reopen sectors of our economy. Even as we take steps to safely ease public health guidelines, we must all remain vigilant, so we can maintain our progress—the more we stay home, mask up, and practice social distancing, the more lives we will save from this dangerous virus.”

The Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued strict health and safety protocols including physical distancing, mask-wearing requirements, gathering limits, and business capacity restrictions. The current modified Stay at Home order will expire on February 28, 2021.

Governor Northam is beginning to ease public health restrictions by taking steps to increase capacity limits in outdoor settings, where evidence shows the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 is lower. The key changes in the Third Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two include:

• Social gatherings: The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 25 people for outdoor settings, while remaining at 10 persons for indoor settings.

• Entertainment venues: Outdoor entertainment and public amusement venues will be able to operate with up to 1,000 individuals or at 30 percent capacity, whichever is lower. If current trends continue, these venues may be able to operate at 30 percent capacity with no cap on the number of people permitted to attend starting in April. Indoor entertainment and public amusement venues must continue to operate at 30 percent capacity with a cap of 250 people. All entertainment venues were previously limited to a maximum of 250 individuals.

• Dining establishments: The on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol will be permitted until midnight, extended from 10:00 p.m. All restaurants, dining establishments, food courts, breweries, microbreweries, distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms still must be closed between midnight and 5:00 a.m.

• Overnight summer camps: As of May 1, overnight summer camps will be able to open with strict mitigation measures in place. Registration can begin now.

The new guidelines will be effective for at least one month and mitigation measures may be eased further if key health metrics continue to improve. Current guidelines for retail businesses, fitness and exercise, large amusement venues, and personal grooming services will remain in place. Individuals are strongly encouraged to continue teleworking if possible.

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Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – February 24, 2021

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Governor Northam joins the Virginia Emergency Support Team to share the latest updates on the COVID-19 response.

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Lawmakers pass bill to keep schools from suing over student meal debt

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Adelle Settle learned in 2017 that school lunches were being taken out of children’s hands when they couldn’t pay for the meal. Instead, children were given a cheese sandwich or a snack.

Settle was inspired to start Settle the Debt, a nonprofit organization that pays off school meal debt at Prince William County schools. The organization has raised almost $200,000 in almost four years, Settle said.

“It leaves the kid hungry, you’re not giving the child an adequate meal at that point and people see it,” Settle said. “It makes them feel terrible about themselves, so I just wanted to make sure that we were not stigmatizing children in a place where they go to feel safe.”

Del. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, introduced House Bill 2013 that would prohibit school boards from suing families to collect school meal debt. The bill passed the House of Delegates late last month with a 69-31 vote. The Senate passed the bill Monday with a 29-10 vote. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

The measure builds off of two bills Roem introduced during the 2020 General Assembly session, HB697 and HB703. The legislation went into effect last summer.

HB 697 prohibits school employees from discarding a meal that was served to a child who then couldn’t pay for it. HB 703 allows school boards to solicit donations to offset or eliminate school meal debt.

“School meal debt as a concept should not exist and school meal debt shaming, likewise, should not exist,” Roem said. “We are talking about penalizing children and keeping children from eating or shaming children for their parents financial situation. Both of which are messed up and shouldn’t happen.”

Roem said there are 27 school divisions in the state that have policies to take legal action against those with outstanding school meal debt. She said in one instance, a school division outlined the policy on its Facebook page.

Roem said she thinks if debt occurs, schools should deal with it directly instead of taking people to court.

“Essentially, we are penalizing parents for being poor and that’s messed up,” Roem said.

There are families that don’t qualify for free and reduced lunch but also can’t afford to pay for lunch, Samora Ward, a community organizer for Virgina Black Leadership Organizing Collabrative, said earlier this month during a Senate subcommittee meeting. Virginia Bloc’s The Care Project is an organization that is aimed at making sure students have access to school meals as well as “to protect the financial security of families trying to pay for school meals.”

“We know that this pandemic and its economic repercussions will only exacerbate this problem, leaving families burdened with school meal debt,” Ward said.

Roem said 15% of the outstanding school meal debt in Prince William County has been from students on reduced lunch.

Tom Smith, legislative liaison for the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said during the bill’s subcommittee hearing that the association sent an informal survey to school divisions to find the outstanding debt cost. About half of school divisions in the state responded and the total was over $1.3 million, he said.

Smith recommended an amendment to the bill that would have allowed school divisions to apply to the state literary fund to recoup the debt, capping it at $250,000 per year, per division.

“The literary fund is provided through fines and tickets, so people committing crimes would help feed children,” Smith said.

Roem said during the meeting that she reached out directly to Smith’s office for feedback before the bill was introduced. Virginia Association of School Superintendents said they opposed the bill but didn’t provide other feedback, Roem said. She said the suggested amendment should have happened “considerably earlier in the process.”

Stacey Haney, a chief lobbyist for the Virginia School Boards Association, said the organization supported allowing school divisions to use money from the literary fund to recoup the debt.

“It gets what the delegate wants, in that lawsuits won’t be filed, but it also enables school divisions to recoup the money from the literary fund so that we can keep our school lunch programs afloat and don’t have to cut from other places to recoup that debt,” Haney said.

Salaam Bhatti, staff attorney for the Virginia Poverty Law Center, wrote a poem in support of the bill and read it aloud earlier this month during a subcommittee meeting.

“Roses are red, violets are blue,” Bhatti said, “when a child can’t pay for a meal, it doesn’t mean we should sue.”

By Noah Fleischman
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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“There Is No Context”: General Assembly votes to remove Byrd statue

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The Virginia General Assembly has voted to remove the statue of former U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. from Capitol Square, the area around the Virginia State Capitol.

House Bill 2208, introduced by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, instructs the Department of General Services to place the statue in storage until the General Assembly chooses its final location. The bill passed the House in late January on a 63-34 vote, while the Senate approved the measure Tuesday on a 36-3 vote.

Byrd served as state governor from 1926 to 1930 and U.S. senator from 1933 to 1965. His massive resistance campaign pushed Southern states to reject the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, cutting off state funding and closing schools that tried to integrate.

Jones called the statue a reminder of the institutional racism in Virginia during the bill’s first committee hearings. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, echoed Jones’ sentiments during the bill’s final reading on the Senate floor.

“When I was an intern working for the first African American governor and walked past that statue every day, I knew I was his worst nightmare,” McClellan said. “I feel it every time I walk past it.”
McClellan spoke of the pain African Americans have endured in Virginia due to Byrd’s disenfranchisement of Black voters and the dehumanization that Byrd cast on them.

“There is no context that could be placed on a statue on Capitol Square, the ultimate public park with public art, that could erase the pain that Harry Byrd and his legacy invokes for African American Virginians,” McClellan said.

Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Warrenton, gave a speech on the Senate floor portraying Byrd as a humble, industrious man who worked in the apple business, saved a local newspaper, and improved Virginia’s highway infrastructure. Vogel described Byrd’s “massive resistance” campaign against school integration in the 1950s as a stain on an otherwise remarkable career.

“That is a great stain on his career and a great embarrassment,” Vogel said. “But he was a man of a certain time in a certain era.”

Vogel asked the senators to “look at the whole man and consider that we are each a sum of all our parts, the good and the bad.”

Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Springfield, pushed back on Vogel’s request, saying probably 100,000 students if not more were kept out of school for years due to Byrd’s push for segregation.

“I just don’t see how we can overlook the fact that all of these children … were kept out of school for four years,” Saslaw said. “I think that we should not be honoring people to that degree in Capitol Square.”

Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, introduced a bill last year to remove Byrd’s statue. Walker later pushed for his bill to be removed.

Walker voted against HB 2208 during its final reading in the House on Jan. 27.

The push to remove statues of Confederate leaders accelerated after protests began following the death of George Floyd last May. Floyd died in the custody of a Minneapolis police officer who has been charged with second-degree murder.

The Department of General Services estimated the statue’s removal will cost approximately $250,000, according to the bill’s impact statement. Storage costs are estimated at $7,000 per year until the final home of the statue is determined.

Byrd’s statue was erected in Richmond’s Capitol Square in 1976 after his death in 1966. The bipartisan vote to remove it comes on the eve of the 65th anniversary of Byrd’s massive resistance campaign, according to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.

Sens. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Vogel were the only senators to vote against the bill.

Rita Davis, counsel to Gov. Ralph Northam, spoke of Northam’s support for the bill during committee hearings. Northam is expected to sign the bill.

By Zachary Klosko
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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Lawmakers repeal ban on abortion coverage through state exchange plans

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The Virginia General Assembly passed two bills that repeal the ban keeping some health insurance plans sold in the state from covering abortions.

House Bill 1896, introduced by Del. Sally L. Hudson, D-Charlottesville, and Senate Bill 1276, introduced by Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan, D-Richmond, loosen restrictions through Virginia’s health insurance exchange. The exchange offers health insurance to approximately 270,000 Virginians who are self-employed or don’t have access to insurance through employers, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Although the legislation will allow insurers to provide these services, it will not require them to do so.

The current restriction on abortion coverage through Virginia’s health insurance exchange was put in place in 2011 during Republican Gov. Robert McDonnell’s administration after the Affordable Care Act was passed. Federal funds can’t cover abortion costs due to the Hyde Amendment, except for specific circumstances.

“The current ban on providing abortion care for private insurance companies does nothing to promote or protect the health and safety of anyone — it’s purely politically based,” said Rae Pickett, communications director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.

“Abortion is the only legal medical procedure that is prohibited by Virginia law from even being offered by private companies that sell plans through an exchange,” McClellan said during the bill’s committee hearing.

Jamie Lockhart, executive director at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, called the current ban the “ultimate government overreach.”

Advocates for the bill said banning abortion services through insurance companies disproportionately affects lower-income individuals, and the bill will allow access for more people to get needed care. Pickett said customers can currently choose a plan from the marketplace that fits their needs such as ones that offer different kinds of contraception.

“Abortion should be the same way,” Pickett said.

The federal health insurance marketplace is typically used by low-income people who struggle to afford health care, “particularly women, transgender people, and non-binary people of color,” according to a press release from the Feminist Majority Foundation. The Virginia-based nonprofit organization advocates and organizes for women’s rights, including reproductive rights.

Almost 80% of Virginians support legal access to abortion, according to a poll commissioned last year by the Virginia Pro-Choice Coalition. The election of more pro-choice candidates and the Democratic seizure of both chambers has led to the introduction and passage of more progressive legislation. Legislators have pushed for the abortion services rollback for years. The votes on both measures were along party lines.

Opponents of the legislation fear the measures could “grease the wheels” for state funding of abortion. Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life, is concerned that a repeal of the Hyde Amendment by the Democratic majority Congress could lead to state money being used to fund abortions. Turner said Virginians may be supportive of legal abortion, but there is “a great deal of opposition to taxpayer funding of elective abortions.”

Turner said the Virginia Society for Human Life is concerned it could become difficult to find a plan in the market that does not include abortion services. The bill’s passage could lead to more expensive plans for consumers since more services would be covered, Turner said.

W. Bruce Vogel, an associate professor in the Department of Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics at the University of Florida, specializes in health care economics. He expects the law to have limited impact since only a small fraction of health insurance marketplace users have abortions in a year.

“More worrisome may be whether a low-income pregnant woman can pay the bill out-of-pocket in the absence of insurance coverage,” Vogel said in an email. “Beyond the first-term, abortion costs can rise into the thousands of dollars, and that is a big hurdle if you are poor.”

By Cameron Jones
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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DMV reminds motorcyclists to “Gear Up” for spring-like weather

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As some spring-like weather rolls in, motorcyclists roll out to enjoy the highways and byways of the Commonwealth. To help spread a message of safety, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) launched a campaign this week urging motorcyclists to wear the proper gear when taking to the road and motorists to be on the lookout for the more vulnerable road users.

“Motorcyclists must do everything they can to protect themselves as they are sharing the road with vehicles that are many, many times the size of theirs,” said DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb, the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative. “Gearing up with the right safety equipment every time is the simplest way to do that.”

Wearing the proper gear, from head to toe, can often save a motorcyclist’s life during a crash. In 2020, 87 motorcyclists died in crashes on Virginia roadways, according to preliminary figures. More than 1,700 crashes involving motorcyclists were reported and 1,479 motorcyclists were injured; 672 of those injuries were categorized as serious.

A helmet is the most important piece of safety equipment that a motorcyclist can wear. In Virginia, the law requires that motorcyclists and their passengers always wear a helmet that must meet or exceed the standards as specified by the Snell Memorial Foundation, the American National Standards Institute, Inc., or the U.S. Department of Transportation. A rider without a helmet is 40% more likely to suffer a fatal head injury than a helmeted rider.

Motorcyclists and other vulnerable road users, such as bicyclists and pedestrians, are more susceptible to serious injuries as a result of crashes because they are much smaller and lack the protection of larger vehicles on the road.

“Safety is a shared responsibility,” Commissioner Holcomb said. “Whether you are a new driver or have been on the road for 50 years, we all need a reminder of the importance of looking out for each other. Stay focused behind the wheel because people’s lives actually depend on it. Yours does as well. We all want to get home safely at the end of the day.”

DMV offers some tips to help motorists heighten their awareness of motorcycles:

• Allow for the extra following distance behind motorcycles because riders often slow down by downshifting or coasting, which means the brake lights aren’t always activated.

• Since a motorcycle’s narrow profile can cause it to be hidden in a car’s blind spot when it’s behind a car, check rearview mirrors often to be aware of motorcycles approaching or following.

• Take an extra moment to look twice for motorcycles when changing lanes, turning at intersections, pulling out of driveways, or pulling into traffic because motorcycles may look farther away than they actually are, and it can be difficult to judge a motorcycle’s speed.

• Be mindful that a motorcycle’s turn signals aren’t always self-canceling like a car’s turn signals. Some riders, especially beginners, may forget to turn them off after a turn or lane change.

• Be aware that when motorcyclists adjust lane position within a lane, they are not being reckless or trying to show off. The adjustment is often made to improve visibility and to minimize the effects of debris, passing vehicles, or wind.

For more information about motorcycle safety, visit tzdva.org. View DMV’s safety message about the importance of gearing up before heading out on a motorcycle below.

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Feb
25
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6:30 pm Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
Feb 25 @ 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training @ Online Event
The Warren Coalition, in partnership with Northwestern Prevention Collaborative, will offer area residents two opportunities to take a free, virtual Course 1 Trauma-Informed Training in February. This course is designed to provide information about identifying[...]
Feb
27
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6:00 pm Parent’s Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Parent’s Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Feb 27 @ 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Parent's Night Out @ Code Ninjas
Help Code Ninjas Front Royal celebrate our Grand Opening! We are hosting our first Parent’s Night Out! $35 per child, space limited to 5! – Drop them off. Go have fun. Just remember to pick[...]
Mar
1
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9:00 am Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mar 1 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free tax preparation will be available again this year through the AARP Tax Aide at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Front Royal, Monday and Wednesday mornings beginning Feb. 15th. To make an appointment, please call[...]
Mar
3
Wed
9:00 am Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mar 3 @ 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Free Tax Preparation @ Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Free tax preparation will be available again this year through the AARP Tax Aide at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Front Royal, Monday and Wednesday mornings beginning Feb. 15th. To make an appointment, please call[...]
Mar
9
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6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 9 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Mar
13
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10:00 am HSWC Polar Plunge @ Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center
HSWC Polar Plunge @ Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center
Mar 13 @ 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
HSWC Polar Plunge @ Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center
The Humane Society of Warren County “Polar Plunge” delayed from February 20 due to “too-polar” weather here in northwestern Virginia has been rescheduled to Saturday, March 13 – Don’t worry, it will still be a[...]
Mar
16
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6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 16 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Mar
23
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6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 23 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
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2:00 pm Pictures with the Easter Bunny @ Warren County Community Center
Pictures with the Easter Bunny @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 28 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Pictures with the Easter Bunny @ Warren County Community Center
Come join the staff of Warren County Parks and Recreation and get your picture taken with the Easter Bunny! Pictures will be taken and printed on site; upon departure you will be given an Easter[...]
Mar
30
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6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 30 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]