A new Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) COVID-19 reopening plan received unanimous approval from the Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, February 17 meeting.
Beginning on March 15, all WCPS students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12 will attend in-person instruction four days per week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday) with every Wednesday reserved for virtual instruction for all students.
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger reviewed the school division’s reopening plan, which calls for allowing additional days for secondary students in grades 6 through 12.
“We know how important it is for our students to be in class. We want them in class,” said Ballenger, who added that not being physically in the classroom has been shown to cause both short-term and even lifetime challenges for students. “We have to do what’s right for students,” he said.
The WCPS 2021 School Year Phase III: COVID-19 Reopening Plan incorporates updated guidance issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released last week. WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration Melody Sheppard, WCPS Special Services Director Michael Hirsch, WCPS Director of Secondary Instruction Alan Fox, WCPS Transportation Director Aaron Mitchell, and WCPS Director of Elementary Instruction Lisa Rudacille joined Ballenger in outlining the new CDC guidance for the School Board members, highlighting how the school district has handled instruction, transportation, and mitigation strategies since schools were shut down statewide in March 2020 due to the pandemic.
For instance, Hirsch said that WCPS follows recommendations for its mitigation strategies from both the CDC and the Virginia Department of Health. Last March, said Hirsch, WCPS established a division-level COVID-19 team to analyze the impact the ongoing pandemic was having on schools and instruction.
Since then, “we’re stepping it up,” Hirsch said. “We’ve now implemented and activated school-based teams. So, there is a COVID-19 mitigation team at each school that’s going to look at related measures taken in each building and how it is impacting students.” Then, each team will communicate and share information with the division-level team, which then can have a more global view to make further improvements, Hirsch said.
Continuous communication remains ongoing between WCPS and the Lord Fairfax Health District every day, he added, and health and absenteeism data is being sent daily to the health department. “Our clinics and our care rooms are continuing to stock and update PPE [personal protective equipment] and consistently looking at new and improved equipment that’s coming out on the market that we can purchase to keep our staff and our students safe,” Hirsch said.
Additionally, WCPS has made social-emotional learning opportunities available at every school building and a whole new initiative has been started around those opportunities by the division’s social-emotional learning coach, who is focusing on students’ mental health, according to Hirsch.
Other mitigation strategies include efforts by families and students to “just stay home when they’re sick,” Hirsch said. “That mitigation strategy alone has done more good than all the others combined.”
WCPS faculty and staff also continue to encourage handwashing and the use of hand sanitizer — strategies that Hirsch said are now being taught to elementary school students and students with disabilities.
Another ongoing WCPS mitigation strategy is that face masks also must be worn when students are in school or on the bus. WCPS has purchased some additional face shields, which are placed over a person’s masked face for added protection when physical distancing cannot be maintained, such as on a school bus, where the WCPS mitigation strategy calls for one student per seat.
Mitchell said the school district’s current ridership data shows that WCPS “should be able to maintain one student per seat with everyone going back to four days a week.” Ballenger added that because each school bus has a total of 26 seats, there are only three buses that would be over that “magic number” of having one child per seat and that the face shields will help in such instances.
School Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower asked if the face shields are disposable and if not, are students or staff responsible for cleaning them. Hirsch said they can be cleaned and reused and WCPS “has purchased a significant amount of them.” Ballenger noted that each bus driver has extra masks for students who don’t have one, as well as the face shields for busloads carrying more kids than one per seat.
Board member Ralph Rinaldi asked if there was more than one student per seat, whether everybody on that seat has to wear a mask. Ballenger said yes, all students must wear a mask to ride the school bus or be removed.
These strategies are in addition to ongoing cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitization of the school buildings. “The custodial staff has been outstanding in keeping our buildings clean,” Hirsch told School Board members. “All of these strategies have become second-nature to us and our students. We’re staying vigilant to keep our students and staff safe during this difficult time.”
Updated federal guidance
The CDC’s new Recommended Implementation of Mitigation Strategies and K-12 School Learning Modes by Level of Community Transmission says that across the board, all schools are required to continue the universal and correct use of masks, as well as implement other key mitigation strategies, including handwashing and respiratory etiquette — also known as covering your mouth and nose with your arm if you sneeze — cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities, and contact tracing and diagnostic testing in combination with quarantine and isolation, Sheppard said.
Likewise, CDC indicators and thresholds for community transmission of COVID-19 vary for each mode, said Sheppard, pointing out that a total of new positive cases per 100,000 persons in the last seven days indicates which mode a school district falls into and what strategies should be used. For example, 0-9 positive cases fall into the Low Transmission mode; 10-49 positive cases are in the Moderate Transmission mode; 50-99 are in the Substantial Transmission mode, and over 100 positive cases would be in the High Transmission mode.
Currently, WCPS reports there are 69 positive cases district-wide, putting the division in the Substantial Transmission mode. What this means for WCPS is that the district should be providing hybrid education to all students, with reduced attendance for middle and high school students, and six feet of social distancing across all grade levels, per the new CDC guidance.
At the same time, sports and extracurricular activities should “occur only if they can be held outdoors, with masks and physical distancing of six feet or more required,” according to the CDC recommendations.
In considering all this data, Superintendent Ballenger said that WCPS would like to bring back all students to four days of in-person instruction while freezing its current elementary school plan whereby virtual students remain virtual and in-person students remain in-person under until after Spring Break. Then, a process will be established to consider formal requests to move a student from virtual instruction to in-person instruction, he said.
This strategy would help minimize an onslaught of students returning to in-person instruction that could potentially create a backslide in the transmission of the coronavirus, said Ballenger, adding that WCPS does not “want to open the floodgates and let everybody back in” at the same time.
School Board Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr., called it “a solid plan,” while Rinaldi appreciated “a very informative” presentation from WCPS Central Office staff.
Bower made a motion to accept the WCPS plan to reopen schools on March 15 at the secondary level while freezing the current schedule for now, “keeping in mind that we may need to make some changes as things progress.” Rinaldi seconded the motion, which received unanimous approval from Williams, Bower, Rinaldi, and School Board members Kristen Pence and James Wells.
Watch the entire School Board’s February 17 meeting below.
Page County police-civilian shooting deaths investigated by State Police
At the request of the Town of Stanley Police Department and the Page County Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Culpeper Field Office is investigating the line of duty death shooting of Officer D.J. Winum and the subsequent fatal officer-involved shooting.
The first shooting occurred at approximately 3:15 p.m. Friday (Feb. 26) during which a Town of Stanley Police Officer was fatally shot outside a residence in the 600 block of Judy Lane. The officer had initiated a traffic stop on a vehicle. Before the officer could even exit his patrol vehicle, the driver got out of his vehicle and opened fire. The officer, D.J. Winum, succumbed to his injuries at the scene. The shooter, Dakota G. Richards, 29, of Stanley, Va., fled into the nearby woods on foot.
Law enforcement personnel responded to the scene and assisted with tracking Richards. He was later located hiding out in a barn in the 700 block of Marksville Road. There, Richards made a threatening movement and was shot by Page County Sheriff’s Deputies.
Richards succumbed to his injuries. His remains will be transported to the Office of Medical Examiner. No additional law enforcement was injured. The investigation remains ongoing at this time.
Earlier, Page County authorities released the following statement on the incident:
The Chief of Police asked for VSP to assist with the release of his statement to the media:
Statement by Town of Stanley Police Chief Ryan Dean:
It was with heavy hearts this evening that we must inform our community of the line of duty death of one of our own: Officer Dominic “Nick” J. Winum, 48. Since joining our department in 2016, he proudly served and protected the Stanley community. I know the Stanley and Page County community are keeping Nick and his family in their prayers during this most difficult and tragic time.
Officer Winum was fatally shot this afternoon while attempting a traffic stop in the Town of Stanley. Thanks to the immediate response of his fellow Stanley Police Officers and the Luray Police Department, Page County Sheriff’s Office, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, and the Virginia State Police, the suspect shooter was tracked to and taken into custody in a field off Marksville Road. There is no additional threat to the community this evening.
COVID-19 Updates for County, Health District, State, Nation and Global
Since our last update at the end of January, in the first three weeks of February 2021, Warren County has reported 236 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths, to 41 from 37, attributed to the Coronavirus pandemic. Twelve more people, to 88 from 76 were hospitalized here due to the viral infection.
And unhappily, as pointed out by reader Kelli Hart in an Open Letter to our county and town elected officials reprinted in our OPINION section, Warren County, including the Town of Front Royal, continues to report a higher death rate per reported cases (1.82%) than both the Commonwealth of Virginia (1.32%) and the nation (1.78%), as well as carrying the third highest deaths per cases ratio in the Northern Shenandoah Valley region, including our five fellow Lord Fairfax Health District (LFHD) communities.
In the past four months since late October through the predicted Phase 3 and holiday COVID surge, Warren County has recorded 29 of its 41 fatalities. But as Warren County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall noted in his introduction to the February 21 numbers tabulated the following morning: “Good News: LFHD reports that both the COVID-19 case rate and associated death rate is finally declining in the District.”
We can only hope that trend continues as vaccine distribution becomes more available across the health district, state and nation.
A check of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website on February 22, at 6:30 p.m. indicated 111,434,130 reported cases and 2,467,481 deaths globally. The U.S. cases (28,409,397) and deaths climbing over half million at 504,012, continue to account for about 25% to 20% of the global cases and deaths, with the U.S.’s 4% of the world population. Note: local vaccination information will be reported in a companion report.
Below, see the full comparative COVID-19 statistics in several week increments as reported by County Emergency Services since the turn of the year:
- COVID-19 Information (Current Data, as of 2/22 at 8:56 AM):
- Good News: LFHD reports that both the COVID-19 case rate and associated death rate is finally declining in the District.
- Lord Fairfax Health District: As of today (per the VDH website), the number of total COVID-19 cases per locality are: Clarke 749, Frederick 6,673, Page 1,809, Shenandoah 3,669, Warren 2,249 (88 are/were hospitalized, 41 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 1.82% total cases), Winchester 2,447; the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
- Commonwealth: 5,762,389 total people tested (PCR only); 565,270 total cases [8.3% positive rate (PCR only)]; 23,530 total hospitalized; 7,486 total deaths (1.32%total cases).
- United States: As of February 21, 2021, there are 27,882,557 total cases and 496,112 total deaths (1.78%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.
- Current CDC Guidance Regarding When to Quarantine/Options to Reduce Quarantine
- Updated CDC guidance as of February 11, 2020.
- Recommend everyone familiarize themselves with the updated guidance. See attached and website link below for details.
- COVID-19 Information (Feb. 1, 2021):
- Lord Fairfax Health District: As of today (per the VDH website), the number of total COVID-19 cases per locality are: Clarke 677, Frederick 6,023, Page 1,660, Shenandoah 3,417, Warren 2,013 (76 are/were hospitalized, 37 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 1.84% total cases), Winchester 2,301; the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
- Commonwealth: 5,261,801 total people tested (PCR only); 507,640 total cases [11.7% positive rate (PCR only)]; 21,444 total hospitalized; 6,474 total deaths (1.28%total cases).
- United States: As of January 31, 2021 at 12:26 PM, there are 25,921,703 total cases and 438,035 total deaths (1.69%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.
- COVID-19 Information (January 15, 2021):
- Lord Fairfax Health District: As of today (per the VDH website), there are 12,733 confirmed COVID-19 cases (Clarke 491, Frederick 4,661, Page 1,289, Shenandoah 2,756, Warren 1,633 (71 are/were hospitalized, 36 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 2.20% total cases), Winchester 1,903); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
- Commonwealth: 4,730,680 total people tested (PCR only); 422,634 total cases [15.2% positive rate (PCR only)]; 19,741 total hospitalized; 5,656 total deaths (1.34%total cases).
- United States: As of January 14, 2021 at 12:16 PM, there are 22,965,957 total cases and 383,351 total deaths (1.67%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.
- COVID-19 Information (December 30, 2020):
- Lord Fairfax Health District: As of today (per the VDH website), there are 9,877 confirmed COVID-19 cases (Clarke 385, Frederick 3,703, Page 1,015, Shenandoah 2,186, Warren 1,321 (69 are/were hospitalized, 33 deaths attributed to the County; deaths 2.50% total cases), Winchester 1,637); the current status of these patients is unknown (admitted to hospital, discharged to home isolation/quarantine, departed the District/County).
- Commonwealth: 4,220,943 total people tested (PCR only); 344,345 total cases [12.7% positive rate (PCR only)]; 17,910 total hospitalized; 4,984 total deaths (1.45%total cases).
- United States: As of December 29, 2020 at 2:25 PM, there are 19,232,843 total cases and 334,029 total deaths (1.74%total cases) attributed to COVID-19.
Sheriff’s Office investigates virtual student threat to WCMS
The Royal Examiner received this press release on February 26, 2021.
On February 24, 2021, Warren County Sheriff’s Office received information referencing threats to Warren County Middle school by a virtual student.
The threats were immediately investigated and Warren County School Administration notified. Through investigation and consultation with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, it was determined the threats were not creditable.
At no time was the safety of staff and students at Warren County Middle School at risk. Warren County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank Warren County School Administration staff and Warren County Middle School staff for their assistance throughout the investigation.
Summary of the Warren County EDA Board meeting of Friday, February 26
The EDA Board of Directors conducted their regular monthly board meeting this morning, February 26, via Zoom. The Board welcomed Front Royal Town Manager Steven Hicks prior to going into Closed Session. Mr. Hicks noted that the Town’s budget proposal for the fiscal year 2022 was being prepared. A summary overview was included in the board packet and digital copies of the 32-page presentation are available from the EDA office. Please contact Administrative Assistant Gretchen Henderson at 635-2182.
Board Chair Jeff Browne congratulated Mr. Hicks on his appointment to Executive Director of the Front Royal EDA and stated that the Board of the Front Royal Warren County EDA is looking for working with him.
Following an approximately 30-minuted Closed Meeting, the Board approved a motion on the disposition of McKay Springs. In order to facilitate and expedite the sale of parcels at the McKay Springs location, the Board approved transferring the parcels deeded in the name of the EDA to Warren County.
Continuing in Open Session, Jeff Browne gave a report from the Executive Committee. He advised the Board and the public that Warren County will be designated as a Spotted Lanternfly quarantine locality in mid-March, along with Clarke and Frederick counties, and the City of Winchester. This will impact businesses located in and doing business in Warren County. For more information please visit www.vdacs.virginia.gov/plan-industry-services.shtml
Director Jim Wolfe shared information on the progress of the EDA Strategic Plan updates. He’s looking forward to feedback on the working document and completing a final draft for review.
Asset Committee Chair Greg Harold discussed a new development that will have an impact on the EDA-owned property on Royal Lane. He shared the news that the Town of Front Royal is considering updating the Town Code to allow a Conditional Use Permit to be bonded with the property rather than the owner. With this change, Harold expects to improve the successful marketing of this property for a developer of multi-family workforce housing. The EDA is very interested in selling this property and supports the Town Planning Department in its efforts.
EDA Executive Director Doug Parsons had several items of interest to share, including the launch of the renovated EDA website at www.wceda.com, and that the auditors are finalizing their report. Additionally, he reported that the proceeds of $323,179.18 from the sale of the Afton Inn have paid down the principal on the First Bank & Trust Line of Credit. This lowered the payment, saving the taxpayers $1,242.70 per month, or $14,912.40 per year.
Shower Trailer update for Warren County’s Thermal Shelter guests
The shower trailer will be available to the guests of our local Thermal Shelter during the winter. It will also be available in case of disaster and for emergency personnel. In the past we have borrowed shower trailers from other counties. We are finally filling a high demand need!
The goal is to have three separate shower stalls installed. The trailer will be complete with hot water heaters and toiletries. Each stall will have it’s own door for privacy and convenience.
In the links below, there are items that are needed for purchase if you would like to help in lieu of a cash donation. Links provided by Robert Hupman, the man with the plan!
- 275 Gallon Water Tank
- Fold Up Step for 30″ Door
- Roll A Ramp – portable ramp 16ft L x 26″W – Fill your cart with this item: A12615A19 ($1,469.99)
Story provided to you by the Rotary Club of Warren County. To learn more about Rotary visit our website!
United Way following through on $5,500 pledge to Blue Ridge Legal Services
The United Way of Front Royal-Warren County is making good on its promise to support Blue Ridge Legal Services with $5,500 in grant funding for this fiscal year. Many positive results have been achieved from the $46,052 given by the United Way to Blue Ridge Legal Services over the past seven years, and the community has benefited from this partnership. The United way hopes to renew and increase its commitment to this organization in the coming years.
According to Jennifer Locke, the Managing Attorney for Blue Ridge Legal Services serving Front Royal-Warren County, COVID-19 forced some changes for the organization in 2020. For example, the legal clinic is no longer accepting in-person applications. Additionally, since June 2020, the clinic has experienced an increase in demand for services.
The three biggest issues that the clinic works with clients to resolve are Domestic Violence (45%), Evictions (30%), and Bankruptcy (20%). The clinic closed 41 cases in Front Royal-Warren County in 2020, aiding 121 residents during this process. They achieved $500 in lump-sum judgments, $800 in monthly benefits, and $97,293 in avoidance of claims/liability for the clients they serve. Additionally, they achieved three bankruptcy discharges, three prevented evictions, and two delayed evictions.
In working to increase its efforts in the community, the clinic has has hired an additional attorney to help serve Front Royal-Warren County. They were able to accomplish this using a grant from IKEA and a dollar-for-dollar match from the Virginia Governor’s Office.
If you would like to partner with the United Way as we work to support our partner agencies, please visit the DONATE page on our website. Since 1950, the United Way has worked to advance the common good in Front Royal-Warren County. The community wins when a child succeeds in school, when families are financially stable, and when people are healthy. The United Way’s goal is to create long-lasting change by addressing the underlying causes of the challenges we face. Living United means being part of the change!
To reach the United Way offices in Front Royal-Warren County (134-B Peyton Street, Front Royal, VA, 22630), please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 540-635-3636.