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.
School Board updated on restroom study, construction & reno projects, amphitheater
Several projects are underway, completed, or in the design stage for facilities in Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) and property owned by the Warren County School Board.
For instance, all renovations at A.S. Rhodes Elementary School are now complete, WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith told the School Board during its Wednesday, September 15 work session.
New windows and roller shades have been installed, and the bus loop asphalt was resurfaced prior to the beginning of the new school year. HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems are now functioning as designed, said Smith, adding that Lantz Construction has received the full occupancy permit.
“A.S. Rhodes, as we know, is our smallest school,” Smith said, inviting members of the board to visit it to view all the improvements. “It’s a very beloved school, and it’s nice to see all the things done to it to make it more of a home for our students and our staff.”
Other completed projects include construction at Skyline High School of a greenhouse, which Smith said received its final building inspection from Warren County. At Skyline Middle School, the exterior painting of windows and the front entry columns for the historic part of the school are finished, as was the replacement of one set of concrete stairs and roughly 350 linear feet of sidewalk. There are also several upcoming and ongoing projects, according to Smith.
The Virginia Department of Education, for example, recently approved HVAC replacements at Blue Ridge Technical Center and HVAC replacement and renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School.
The School Board during its September 1 regular meeting approved the $1.04 million contract for architectural and engineering services to Grimm & Parker Architecture Inc. for both facilities. The projects will be funded through grants and funds available in the WCPS capital improvement plan. The contract also includes design and engineering work for renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser.
The legal staff for WCPS is currently reviewing the draft contract for Grimm & Parker for the design of the upgrades and renovations, Smith said, noting that the goal is to have the final draft contract to Grimm & Parker this month.
Grimm & Parker was one of 11 architectural firms to submit a proposal in response to the Request for Proposal for Architectural and Engineering Services for the replacement of the HVAC systems at Blue Ridge Technical Center and the HVAC replacement and renovations to Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School.
The scope of the renovations includes replacement of all HVAC equipment and associated systems, including acoustical suspended ceiling systems and lighting at Blue Ridge Technical Center and the HVAC upgrades and replacements, restroom upgrades to meet federal handicap compliance regulations, new ceilings, lights, paint, flooring, demising partitions between classrooms, and enhanced physical security to include a new secured entrance vestibule at Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School.
Restroom study underway
Smith also provided School Board members with an update on a comprehensive study that’s being done throughout the school division on its restroom facilities. The study is focused on privacy enhancements for all students, as well as to ensure the school division remains in compliance with federal and state laws, he said.
The preliminary assessments of WCPS restroom facilities have been conducted at the secondary level by Smith, along with WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Alan Fox; WCPS Maintenance Director Greg Livesay; and WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, and the principals — who are part of the division’s comprehensive study team.
All available single-user facilities have been identified to enhance privacy for use by any student, said Smith, and signage for those restrooms has been ordered and will be installed soon. “It doesn’t change what we’ve done in the past,” Smith said, “but it provides an opportunity for our single-user restrooms that we may have had specified for just teachers or faculty.”
The study group also plans to further assess additional partitioning to enhance privacy for restrooms. Once preliminary information has been gathered, then the comprehensive study team will be called together for review, elaboration, and recommendations, Smith added.
Additionally, Livesay is looking into partitions for the larger restroom facilities “to increase privacy,” said Smith.
New amphitheater proposed
During the School Board’s September 15 work session, Samuels Public Library Director of Operations Eileen Grady provided members with an informational presentation on a proposed agreement to build an amphitheater that would be located on the hill between Ressie Jeffries Elementary School and Samuels Public Library.
The land lies on Ressie Jeffries property owned by the School Board. The lease agreements require the library to obtain approval from both the Warren County Board of Supervisors and the School Board for any renovations or improvements to the property. Library representatives also gave supervisors a presentation on the amphitheater during their June work session.
From a programming perspective, an outdoor amphitheater would offer many opportunities for not just the library, but also for the schools and the community, Grady explained. “If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we need to be nimble,” she said. “We need to have multiple ways to approach services.”
Melody Hotek, who serves on the Library Board of Trustees and volunteers at the library, said money from the estate of her husband, Jeff Hotek, who passed away in 2018, was left to Samuels Public Library for the amphitheater. She told board members that both the Samuels Library Board of Trustees and the Friends of the Samuels Library Board of Directors support the project. “The vision for this is for library programs, school programs, and community programs,” Melody Hotek said. “I just think it’s going to be a tremendous asset.”
Dan Hotek, a local engineer, and Jeff Hotek’s brother would assist on the project. He provided School Board members with details on the project, including current photographs of the proposed location, possible designs, cost estimates, safety considerations, uses, and fundraising possibilities.
For instance, one design of the amphitheater shows a covered 40-by-24-feet elevated stage area at the hill’s bottom, with five tiers of rock wall seating in the hillside facing the stage. The seating is about 40 feet in length and the rows would be built about six feet apart, Dan Hotek said. There would be seating to accommodate roughly 120 adults or 180 children. Additional grass seating would be permitted around the stage and stone rows.
“If we do it right,” constructing the amphitheater “should have some draw” for tourism, as well as musical groups looking for venues to play, said Dan Hotek. “Ultimately, we need your go-ahead,” he told School Board members.
Superintendent Ballenger said the WCPS attorney will review the proposed agreement and then bring it before the Warren County School Board for action at a future meeting.
Board members already seem on board with the idea. James Wells, for instance, suggested an informal straw vote be taken as he’s ready to say yes to the project.
Front Royal Moose Lodge 829 supports Fire and Rescue initiative
Recently, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services partnered with the Front Royal Moose Lodge 829 to increase the safety and accountability of our local emergency responders operating on structure fire-type incidents.
Over the past several months, Warren County has worked alongside the Winchester City and Frederick County Fire and Rescue Departments to develop a regional workgroup. This workgroup was tasked with focusing on safety, accountability, and standardizing responses to emergencies in a regional concept.
“One of the first initiatives implemented by the workgroup was a regionalized Incident Command and Personal Accountability System Program. This program will focus on standardizing emergency operations of a fire incident, establishing incident command and personal accountability of all individuals on the incident throughout the region” stated Captain Zachary Burrows, who serves as Warren County’s representative on this workgroup. This initiative will require an unfunded mandate to change the style and design of our incident command boards to become compliant with the regionalized concept. As such, our department turned to the local community to seek alternative ways to fund this potentially live-saving program” Burrows continued.
“Upon hearing the need of our local Fire and Rescue Department, Lodge 829 was eager to assist in ensuring the safety and accountability of our firefighters and emergency responders while operating on an emergency scene. We immediately approved the appropriation of $3,500.00 of our Heart of Community Funds to support the Fire and Rescue Department” stated Wayne Sealock, Front Royal Moose Lodge Treasurer who coordinated the efforts on behalf of the lodge.
The safety and accountability of our emergency responders have been a top priority of Fire Chief James Bonzano and his leadership since taking over as Fire Chief of the department in January of this year. “These funds will be utilized to outfit all emergency response apparatus in our response system with regionalized incident command and accountability tracking boards,” stated Fire Chief James Bonzano. “Our career and volunteer responders have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to operate in a safe and accountable manner, these funds will provide the much-needed tools necessary to do just that” stated the Chief.
For more information on the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Service or to learn how to join your community fire station, visit www.warrencountyfire.com
Royal Tint & Detailing opens in Front Royal
Nike Foster Cales of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, along with fellow Chamber members, welcomed Greg Bell of Royal Tint & Detailing to our community. Royal Tint & Detailing is located at 507 N. Royal Avenue (at the Liberty).
Royal Tint & Detailing in protecting customers’ investments such as homes or vehicles by keeping them in good condition. The company’s professional technicians offer auto detailing, window tinting, and residential power-washing services with a guarantee. The trained and dedicated staff gives each car and house the attention it deserves while providing great customer service.
- Auto Detailing: Vehicles of all sizes get a thorough hand wash, cleaning, and waxing to help preserve their value.
- Auto Window Tinting: This service aims to block heat and upholstery-fading UV rays, reduce dangerous glare, and give a sense of privacy.
- Power Washing: Professionals give dirty decks, patios, driveways, and home exteriors a deep cleaning.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for September 20 – 24, 2021
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
*NEW* Mile marker 7 to 8, eastbound and westbound – Alternating lane closures for inspection of bridge over the railway and Shenandoah River, Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Mile marker 7 to 15, eastbound and westbound – Overnight alternating lane closures for paving operations, 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. through September 19.
No lane closures were reported.
Route 55 (Strasburg Road) – Overnight mobile lane closures for line-painting operations between Shenandoah County line and Front Royal town limits, 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. through September 23.
Route 624 (Happy Creek Road) – Flagger traffic control between Front Royal eastern town limits and Route 647 (Dismal Hollow Road) for the safety improvement project, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Estimated project completion December 10.
Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.
Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at www.511Virginia.org.
The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information related to Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at my.vdot.virginia.gov. Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Meteor latest explanation for BOOM and earth shaking in Shenandoah County Friday morning
A meteor strike has been proposed, if not yet confirmed late Friday afternoon, to explain a loud BOOM and consequent reports of earth-shaking in Shenandoah County on Friday morning, September 17. Initial reports, including social media sites, of an explosion or earthquake, were found to be unsubstantiated. No explosion was found to have occurred in the area and the USGS (U.S. Geological Service) reported no earthquake in the region.
So, eyes have turned toward the sky for a possible explanation. It was noted that meteors coming into the earth’s atmosphere often make sonic boom sounds, particularly if they are traveling at supersonic (speed of sound) speeds, which they do many times over.
But then so, one might imagine, do UFO’s or UAP’s (Unidentified Flying Objects or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) popular in, not only science fiction circles, but military funding ones these days as well.
Steve Foreman announces write-in campaign For Warren County Board of Supervisors-Fork District
Area resident Steve Foreman is announcing his write-in candidacy for the Warren County Board of Supervisors, representing the Fork District.
Foreman, who has a background in communication tech and a B.A. in Business Administration from National-Louis University, feels he is well-suited to help the board with ongoing plans to expand broadband in the area. A former project manager for Sprint who supervised multi-state engineering projects, Foreman says that getting broadband expansion right will depend on asking the right questions as providers and county officials move forward.
“Our decisions need to be based on facts, not opinions. I bring a fresh viewpoint into county leadership and can build on the progress started by the last additions to the board.”
Earlier in his career, Foreman was a lineman in Northern Indiana and plans to work with the school board to make sure they have all the resources needed for vocational training to help educate students looking for careers in new technologies like high-speed internet and solar power.
“We have a lot of great teachers and people in our schools, but ask anyone in education, and they’ll tell you they need more. I consider myself a fiscal conservative, but as a father, I know the best investment we can make is in our kids’ education.”
“Coming off the farm in Indiana where I was raised, I was grateful to receive good job training to become a telephone lineman. That work meant a lot to me, even when it was hard because it meant I was earning a good living and doing something useful, keeping my community connected.”
“Today’s technology and jobs are different, but the need for training is just as important, which is why I want to be sure when we approve budgets, they include programs for all kinds of students, the ones with college in their sights, but also the ones who want training to fast-track a more hands-on career.”
Foreman feels that a well-trained job force is a part of what it takes to draw business to the area. “I want Warren County to be the place where our kids can grow up and decide to raise their own kids right here if they want to. Too often, they feel they need to move away or lose time to a long commute to make a living wage, but if we get this right, we’ll have the jobs, education, and infrastructure to make it possible for them to build their futures right here.”
In matters of infrastructure, Foreman says he feels that Warren County is on a good path, but he wants to lend his experience and perspective to move plans forward.
“In the aftermath of the EDA scandal, a large turnover in county management has actually had a positive effect. Once the dust settled, the EDA put a lot of good measures in place to make their work more transparent. A lot of progress has been made with respect to both the town and county in terms of relations and cooperation. Let’s add to that and keep the progress going.”
Area residents who want to learn more about Foreman’s plans or volunteer to help the campaign can visit www.foremanforfork.com/connect or reach out to campaign spokesperson Paul Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.