Matrimont at 131 E Main Street in Front Royal held its ribbon cutting on April 28, 2022. Nike Foster Cales of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce along with Chamber members and Board of Supervisor Walt Mabe welcomed Declan O’Reilly and Joe Sladky to Main Street Front Royal.
Matrimont is a full-service web design and digital marketing agency. Matrimont is proud to serve our community and the larger Shenandoah Valley. Matrimont offers a variety of services, ranging from web design and website maintenance to web hosting and social media management.
Attorney General Jason Miyares renews partnership agreement with Front Royal TRIAD.
On September 29, 2022, Attorney General Jason Miyares renewed the agreement with the local TRIAD organization.
What is TRIAD?
Triad is a cooperative effort of law enforcement agencies (police/fire/sheriffs), senior citizens, and senior organizations focused on reducing crimes against our most vulnerable citizens: our seniors.
Triad aims to reduce the fear of crime and victimization among seniors by increasing awareness of scams and fraud, strengthening communication between law enforcement and senior communities, and educating seniors on local and state resources available in their community. This goal is accomplished through speaking engagements, community collaborations, targeted training for seniors and law enforcement practitioners, providing a support mechanism to current local Triad groups, and marketing the Triad concept to non-participating localities.
Virginia has over 200 cities, counties, and towns with signed Triad agreements. Virginia Triad has also been recognized by the National Association of Triads, Inc. as having the highest number of active local groups nationwide. It is the only state in the nation with a statewide coordinated office at the Executive Level of government.
Currently, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office provides a deputy representative to attend monthly TRIAD meetings and serves as the chairperson of the TRIAD group. This deputy, along with the Sheriff, has been going to the Warren County Senior Center weekly for the past several years to educate them on scams/fraud and promote positive relationships within the community.
- Warren County Dept. of Social Services
- Seniors First
- Phoenix Project
- Blue Ridge Hospice
- Carol Miller
- Valley Health
- Warren County Senior Center
- Royal Examiner
- Warren Coalition
- Front Royal Moose Lodge
- Front Royal Elks Lodge
- Front Royal Police Department
- Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services
Watch the ceremony and remarks from Attorney General Jason Miyares in this exclusive Royal Examiner video.
Ennis Family files $6 million wrongful death lawsuit, citing excessive force by Warren County deputies
The Family of Ralph C. Ennis has filed a $6 million federal lawsuit claiming that excessive force by two Warren County Sheriff’s deputies during a traffic stop led to his death. The suit alleges that the deputies used excessive force against Ralph C. Ennis, 77, who died on April 15, less than two weeks after sustaining a head injury in an April 2 traffic stop by the Warren County Sheriff’s Department.
Ian R. Ennis, the son of the late Ralph C. Ennis and administrator of the estate, filed a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia on August 8. Deputies Tyler Poe and Zachary Fadley are named as defendants.
Warrenton, Va. Attorney Susan Pierce, of the law firm Walker Jones, P.C. is co-counsel for Ennis, along with Richmond attorney Seth Carroll, of the Commonwealth Law Group.
Deputy Fadley is being represented by Fairfax attorney Alexander Francuzenko, a partner of law firm of Cook Craig & Francuzenko, PLLC. Deputy Poe is being represented by Carlene Booth Johnson, with the Perry Law Firm of Dillwyn, Virginia.
In separate responses to the lawsuit, both deputies deny the allegations and request a dismissal of the lawsuit. Poe’s co-counsel Carlene Booth Johnson filed a memorandum in support of dismissal of the suit on September 12, writing that, “While the Complaint conclusorily [SIC] asserts that plaintiff is bringing this action in his capacity as the Administrator of the Estate of Ralph Ennis, the Complaint does not offer a single fact supporting that assertion. The plaintiff has not shown when, where, or how he qualified as the Administrator of the Estate of Ralph Ennis, nor provided any facts or evidence showing that he properly qualified to bring this action.”
Johnson on Friday, September 23, filed a memorandum in the Harrisonburg court to further support Poe’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Ian Ennis had no standing to file the lawsuit.
Ralph Ennis, 77, died on April 15 in the care of Valley Health System’s Blue Ridge Hospice, in Winchester, 13 days after sustaining a head injury during an April 2 traffic stop in Warren County.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas stated in an August 15 email to Royal Examiner that, “The cause of death is complications of Alzheimer disease, cerebral amyloid angiopathy, and hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The manner of death is natural.”
However, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas is considering reopening the case, sources familiar with the case told Royal Examiner earlier this week, though Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) Administrative Deputy Arkuie Williams has not confirmed that information.
Despite the medical examiner’s initial ruling, the plaintiff claims it was the action of Deputies Fadley and Poe that cause his father’s death. The two-count complaint alleges that Poe and Fadley used excessive force in violation of Ralph Ennis’ Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.
The court document states, “The Fourth Amendment is applicable to the Commonwealth of Virginia under the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants unreasonably used excessive force against Mr. Ennis when they effected their arrest by slamming the elderly man face first into his vehicle and then tackling him the ground after he was already restrained, causing a traumatic and ultimately fatal brain injury.
“No objectively reasonable law enforcement officer would have believed that the elderly and visibly confused Mr. Ennis posed any threat or significant risk of harm to himself or any other person. No objectively reasonable law enforcement officer would believe that the level of force used by the Defendants was necessary to subdue an elderly and visibly confused man during a routine traffic stop. As such, the Defendants violated Ralph Ennis’ clearly established constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants actions, Ralph Ennis suffered the injuries described above, resulting in his death.”
The second count accuses Poe and Fadley of battery leading to Ralph Ennis’ wrongful death, in violation of Virginia law.
The complaint states, “Virginia Code § 8.01-50, et seq., establishes liability for the individuals when their wrongful acts result in the death of another person. At all relevant times, both Defendants had a duty to use only the amount of force necessary in subduing Mr. Ennis.
“The extensive injuries suffered by Mr. Ennis demonstrate the excessive force used to subdue a person who was complying with verbal commands, appeared elderly and confused, and posed no immediate threat to others.
“These actions constitute a battery under Virginia law. As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants battery against Ralph Ennis, Mr. Ennis suffered the injuries described above, resulting in his death.”
The complaint notes that Ralph Ennis was traveling southbound on Winchester Road and passed Warren County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Christopher Pontious, who was operating stationary radar, at approximately 1:20 a.m. on April 2.
Pontious reported that Ennis was traveling 63 mph in a 55-mph zone and that Ennis’ vehicle was swaying from side to side in its lane and had a problem with a taillight.
“Deputy Pontious radioed in that he was attempting to stop a vehicle and it had slowed down but was continuing towards Front Royal. After Deputy Pontious reported that Mr. Ennis passed several opportunities to pull over, he activated his vehicle siren. In reaction, Mr. Ennis slowed his vehicle to around 35 mph, but continued southbound towards Front Royal,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit cites events recorded by Pontious’ body camera; Deputy Pontious activated his body camera while following Mr. Ennis’ vehicle.
“Shortly after Deputy Pontius activated his siren, Mr. Ennis turned his vehicle into the parking lot of the Royal Farms gas station, located directly off Winchester Road at 260 Crooked Run Road, Front Royal, Virginia 22630.
“Mr. Ennis’ vehicle drove through the Royal Farms parking lot to an adjoining 7-11 parking lot, located at 251 Crooked Run Plaza, Front Royal, Virginia 22630, and pulled into a parking space.
“Deputy Pontious pulled up behind Mr. Ennis’ vehicle – blocking it in. He turned off his vehicle siren, but left the vehicle blue lights activated. Deputy Pontious exited his vehicle and began commanding for Mr. Ennis to “step out of the car,“ the lawsuit states.
The plaintiff’s filing continues, “Attempting to comply, Mr. Ennis then began to exit. However, he had only slightly opened his driver side door when Canine Officer Sergeant Gregory shouted a conflicting command of “Driver stay in the car! Follow our commands!” and notified Mr. Ennis of the presence of a canine officer, adding that “if you do not follow our commands, you will get bit!” At this point, Mr. Ennis started to close his door.
“Another officer on the scene then commanded for Mr. Ennis to “Get out of the car!” and “Get your hands up!” the complaint attests. At this point Mr. Ennis slowly opened his driver side door. Deputy Pontious then commanded for Mr. Ennis to “step out of the car!”
Mr. Ennis stepped out of his vehicle appearing “visibly confused and disoriented,” the complaint maintains.
“Deputy Pontious ordered Mr. Ennis to “face away from me,” “face 7-11,” and “to turn around!” while pointing behind Mr. Ennis. Mr. Ennis, who appeared to not hear or was generally confused by the multiple and sometimes conflicting commands, began to slowly walk away from his vehicle towards Deputy Pontious while holding his vehicle keys in his right hand,” the complaint states. Mr. Ennis continued to appear confused and disoriented, but complied with Deputy Pontious’ command to turn around and began walking back to the rear of his vehicle.
The complaint continues, “Deputy Pontious then ordered Mr. Ennis to “drop your keys!” and Mr. Ennis responded by turning around to face Deputy Pontious. In the video, Mr. Ennis appears to mouth the word “What?”
“At this time, Defendant Poe quickly rushed Mr. Ennis from behind, and without announcing his presence or giving Mr. Ennis any verbal command, violently grabbed Mr. Ennis and slammed Mr. Ennis’ face and body into the rear of Mr. Ennis’ truck.
“Mr. Ennis screamed out in a panic, “Wait a minute!” as the force of Defendant Poe violently slamming him into the vehicle caused Mr. Ennis’ baseball cap to fly off his head.”
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office official press release regarding this incident stated that: “Mr. Ennis continued failure to comply with the lawful orders to stop, resulted in a WSCO deputy approaching Mr. Ennis from behind, and grabbing his arms in an attempt to control Ennis and place him under arrest. The deputy continued to give him commands to stop resisting, drop the keys and place his hand behind his back as Mr. Ennis was escorted several feet away to the rear of his pickup truck,” the complaint states.
The complaint continues, “However, Deputy Pontious’ body camera footage clearly shows that Mr. Ennis was visibly confused and attempting to comply with all commands when Defendant Poe gave no verbal command or warning and slammed, not “escorted,” Mr. Ennis into the rear of his vehicle, causing significant injuries.”
“As Defendant Poe violently pressed Mr. Ennis against the rear of his vehicle, Defendant Fadley immediately rushed in from the side, and without announcing his presence or giving any verbal command, violently pushed and tackled Mr. Ennis and Defendant Poe to the pavement behind the vehicle,” the complaint says.
“As Mr. Ennis was pushed and tackled towards the pavement, his legs were caught on his vehicle’s protruding tow hitch as he tumbled sideways with Officer Fadley’s entire body weight on top of him. Defendant Fadley issued his first verbal command – “Get on the ground!” –as Mr. Ennis’ head slams into the pavement,” the complaint maintains.
“While Defendants handcuffed Mr. Ennis on the ground, Mr. Ennis can be heard on Deputy Pontious’ body camera footage frantically pleading for help and crying out in extreme pain.”
The complaint included still images from the body camera to show Mr. Ennis on the ground directly after sustaining injuries to his face, head, and extremities, as well as the extent of the bleeding from his injuries. They are too graphic for publication.
The complaint continues, “Front Royal Police Department Corporal R.D. Lowery, who was also dispatched to the scene of the incident, arrived in time to observe the Defendants encounter with Mr. Ennis. In his report, Corporal Lowery (who was farther away from Mr. Ennis than the Defendants) described his initial impression of Mr. Ennis as appearing “elderly and confused.”
The complaint further states, “Corporal Lowery described his observations as follows: “[t]he Deputy (Defendant Poe) slammed the male into the camper top face first. I observed the male spit something out on the pavement just below his body. Another Deputy (Defendant Fadley) came from the side of the male while the Deputy had his hands behind his back. The male was pushed over but his legs caught the hitch on the back of the truck.”
The lawsuit continues, “As Corporal Lowery left the scene of the incident, his body camera footage captured him stating “that was f***king unjust and f***ing un-f***ing called for” and “Jesus Christ, oh that’s going to be …” before the video cuts out. Corporal Lowery’s subjective impression of the situation clearly demonstrates he believed that there was an excessive use of force against Mr. Ennis.”
After the altercation, Mr. Ennis was handcuffed, searched, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) were called to the scene to tend to Mr. Ennis’ injuries. The complaint states that deputies found no weapons on Mr. Ennis.
The complaint continues, “There is no factual basis within the materials to indicate that Mr. Ennis gave any of the officers reason to believe he was armed. Mr. Ennis did not act in a threatening manner in any way. On the contrary, Mr. Ennis at all times presented as an elderly man who appeared confused and disoriented but attempting to comply with various commands in a disconcerting environment. “
Records indicate that Mr. Ennis was “completely sober at the time of the incident and the officer-issued breathalyzer rest returned a result of 0.00.”
Mr. Ennis was transported by an EMS (Emergency Medical Service) unit to Warren Memorial Hospital for treatment at approximately 2:15 a.m. The complaint states that: “Mr. Ennis presented at Warren Memorial Hospital with significant head trauma. Hospital staff reported that Mr. Ennis was “completely confused. He does not know where he is. He is not able to tell me the name of his son. He does not recall the altercation that led to his injury and hospitalization. He is not able to provide any further history.”
Emergency Department physicians diagnosed Ennis with a traumatic brain injury caused by the fall, specifically “a bleed in his brain known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage in the left parietal and occipital lobes” the complaint maintains.
Ennis was then transferred from Warren Memorial Hospital to Winchester Medical Center for the severity of his trauma, arriving at approximately 6:30 a.m. He was then diagnosed with “terminal intracerebral hemorrhage” the lawsuit maintains. His health continued to decline at the Winchester Hospital and his family opted to change his level of care to comfort or palliative care. Mr. Ennis was then transferred to Blue Ridge Hospice on April 14. 2022, for end-of-life care. He died from his injuries on April 15, 2022, the complaint states.
The investigation into the incident was referred to the Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney office by Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell.
Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth wrote in a Tuesday night email to Royal Examiner that: “The investigation into this matter is on-going and therefore we cannot publicly comment on it. The case has been reassigned and is a high priority for this office. I do not have a time frame for when the investigation might be completed.”
The Assistant Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney assigned to investigate the case, Teresa Polinske, recently resigned from Ashworth’s staff, which caused the investigation to lag until it was reassigned.
Deputy Poe continues to work at the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, though Deputy Fadley is no longer employed there. No information was provided regarding the circumstances of Fadley’s departure, other than it was referred to as a “personnel issue.” Both deputies were initially reassigned off the patrol unit, to desk or other non-interactional with the public duties in the wake of the Ennis incident.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Eastern Chipmunk
Wildlife Rehabilitation takes a village!
This young Eastern Chipmunk was found in the middle of a roadway by itself, appearing quiet and sad. While it’s not an infant, this youngster would still be with mom at this age and is too young to take care of itself.
Upon examination, no injuries were found but this patient was obviously dehydrated. Thankfully, after being warmed up and rehydrated, this chipmunk perked right up!
This patient still needs a couple of weeks before its old enough to be on its own. Luckily, we were able to transfer her to Valley Wildlife Care, Inc. of Virginia who are caring for a chipmunk of similar age!
These two will be raised and released together when they are ready, with plenty of time to start preparing for winter.
Socializing is an important part of growing up for many of our young patients. We are fortunate to have a great network of wildlife rehabilitators across Virginia we can reach out to to find patients who are the same age and species.
Wildlife Rehabilitation really does take a village!
The Eastern Chipmunk is the only chipmunk species found in our area and they are an important part of our ecosystem. They disperse seeds from the plants and fungi they feed on and are an important food source for hawks, foxes, bobcats, owls, and more. Their impressive burrows, that they often live in for their entire life, also help to aerate and recycle soil!
Looking for an easy way to help native wildlife? Become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.
Supervisors approve Outdoor Sports Facility over recommendation of County Planning Commission, add to the Short-Term Tourist Rental count
The Warren County Board of Supervisors held a special meeting September 27th, largely to process a list of nine actions that were not able to be covered during the regular meeting on September 20.
The Board quickly approved two leases of county property, one for a property at 229 Stokes Airport Road to Skydive Front Royal, LLC, for $600 per month, and the other for an apartment at 136 Hillidge Street for $725 per month to Raymond K. Freeman. There were no public comments on either lease, and the Supervisors approved both unanimously.
After a lengthy public hearing, on a 3-2 margin, the Supervisors approved a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for Cole and Danielle Haase for an outdoor sports facility on their property at 19959 Fort Valley Road. In July, the County Planning Commission held a public hearing and ultimately recommended denial of the permit, citing traffic and neighborhood concerns. Since that time, the applicants have downsized the proposal and worked to allay the concerns of the neighborhood. They intend that the majority of the activities will be inside and scaled back outdoor activities to daytime only. The Haases are also local business owners. The property was formerly used as a church and multi-activity center by Master’s Touch Ministries.
Public comment was brisk with 24 individuals either speaking in person, or submitting letters, e-mails, or videos. Eighteen were in favor of the permit and six against. Neighbors inveighed against possible traffic increases near an accident-prone intersection at Fort Valley Road and Route 55. Supporters praised the applicants’ commitment to youth sports, as an important factor in developing teamwork, athletic and social skills for young people. Sue Russell, whose property adjoins the site, opposed the permit and is worried about the effect of any groundwork or excavations resulting in flooding on her property.
Some of the supervisors recalled when outdoor concerts and events were held at that facility. Supervisor Vicky Cook appeared to be the leading opponent of the proposed permit, calling into question the applicant’s parking and traffic estimates. At the end of the discussion, Supervisor Oates offered a motion to approve, seconded by Supervisor Mabe, and the motion passed, 3-2. Chairman Cullers, joined by Supervisors Oates and Mabe, Aye, Supervisors Cook and Butler, No.
Michelle Moriarty is requesting a CUP for a short-term tourist rental for the property at 96 Cappy Road that she recently purchased in April of 2022. The applicant will use a local property manager and local professional services for emergencies, maintenance, cleaning, garbage disposal, and guest screening/reservations. There was one speaker who opposed the permit on the grounds that the area is residential, not business. However, the Virginia General Assembly and the courts system have specifically determined that short-term rentals are a residential activity, rather than a business operation. Under questioning by the board, the applicant indicated that she had already spoken with all the nearby property owners and provided contact information should any need arise.
Planning Director Wendling indicated that there had so far been no complaints or calls related to these properties. Supervisor Cook questioned whether the County Sheriff would necessarily know if there was a problem with a short-term rental. County Administrator Edwin Daley suggested that the County could investigate developing a registry list for approved short-term rentals to allow law enforcement in the Public Safety Communications Center to know who to contact if there was a problem. Finally, on a motion by Supervisor Oates, seconded by Supervisor Mabe, the Board unanimously approved the permit.
Kendra Hansen, Kathryn Stuart, Simon Sarver, and Michael Cherubin have applied for a CUP for for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 97 River Overlook Road. The owners plan to use the property themselves throughout the year, but they would also like to be able to make the property available for short-term lodging for visitors of the Warren County area when they are not occupying it. The applicants will manage the property personally. There were no speakers for or against the application, and no discussion from the supervisors. On a motion by Supervisor Mabe, and seconded by Supervisor Cook, the motion passed unanimously.
CAZA Legacy, LLC has requested a CUP for short-term tourist rental for the property located at 241 Wildcat Drive. The applicants, Robert Chevez and Erin Kavanagh, purchased this residentially zoned property as an investment property and currently are renting the property long-term for over 30 days since purchasing it in February 2022. They do intend to also use it for themselves as a get-away from their homes in Northern Virginia. The applicants are requesting a waiver to the setback requirement of 100-feet from dwelling to dwelling. The dwelling to the west is 50 feet and the applicants submitted a letter from their neighbor giving his support of the application. The applicants will be contracting a local property management company to maintain the property and as realtors they will be marketing and managing the rental. The property was the subject of an approved permit for short-term tourist use in 2018, however the use was never established and that permit expired.
Two letters from neighboring property owners were submitted. One was in favor of the permit issuance, and one was opposed. There were no speakers at the public hearing, and on a motion by Supervisor Mabe, seconded by Supervisor Cook, the Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the permit.
Matthew Williams and Jay Gilbert have applied for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental located at 244 Delicious Road, Linden. The applicants plan to manage the property personally with assistance from local professional services for cleaning and landscaping. The closest dwelling unit is 115 feet to the northeast. There were no comments from the supervisors or the public. One letter supportive of the use was submitted. On a motion by Supervisor Oates, seconded by Supervisor Butler, the Board unanimously voted to approve.
Matthew Williams and Jay Gilbert have also applied for a CUP for a short-term tourist rental in an agriculturally-zoned property located at 115 Lonesome Flats Road. The applicants plan to manage the property personally with assistance from local professional services for cleaning and landscaping. The closest dwelling is 313 feet to the north. The planning department provided a letter by a neighbor, John Croft, who opposes the permit. Mr. Croft alleges that the Road is private, on his land, and has not granted permission to use it for guests. After a discussion regarding the legal status of an access easement to the applicant’s property, the supervisors decided to approve the permit, subject to verification that an access easement does exist. Supervisor Cook made a motion to approve, seconded by Supervisor Mabe. The vote to approve was unanimous.
Thomas Pigeon has applied for a CUP for a Short-Term Tourist Rental Located at 540 Lakeside Drive. The applicant will contract a local property management company, Shenandoah Valley Property Maintenance LLC, to manage and maintain the property if the use is approved. The owners plan to manage the rental of the property through Airbnb and will review any renters for a positive online ranking. All the required conditions for permitting are complete. On a motion by Supervisor Butler, Seconded by Supervisor Mabe, the Board voted 4-1 in favor of approval. Chairman Cullers expressed her concern and continued opposition to properties being purchased by owners with no connection to the area for this use.
The Meeting adjourned at 8:50 p.m.
Governor Glenn Youngkin declares State of Emergency in advance of Hurricane Ian
Governor Glenn Youngkin declared a State of Emergency in advance of Hurricane Ian, which is expected to impact portions of Virginia starting on Friday, September 30, 2022.
“Hurricane Ian is a large, powerful storm, and current predictions indicate that it may impact parts of Virginia later this week into early next week,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “We want to ensure that our communities have the resources to respond to and recover from any potential effects from the storm. While we recognize that the storm track is still uncertain, I nevertheless encourage all Virginians and visitors to make a plan, have supplies on hand, and follow official sources for the latest forecast information and guidance. Suzanne and I will pray for those in Florida in the storm’s path.”
This State of Emergency allows the Commonwealth to mobilize resources and equipment for response and recovery efforts. Virginians should be prepared for the potential of severe rainfall, flooding, wind damage, tornadoes, and other storm-related impacts.
The Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST) actively monitors the situation and coordinates resources and information to prepare for this storm. The Virginia Emergency Operations Center (VEOC) will coordinate preparedness, response, and recovery efforts with local, state, and federal officials.
Recommendations for Virginians
Make a plan. Plan in advance a route to a safe place, how you will stay in contact with family and friends, and what you will do in different situations. Additional planning resources are available at https://www.vaemergency.gov/prepare/make-a-plan/.
Prepare an emergency kit. For a list of recommended emergency supplies to sustain your household before, during, and after the storm, visit VAemergency.gov/emergency-kit.
Stay informed. Virginians should follow the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on Twitter and Facebook for preparedness updates and their local National Weather Service office for the latest weather forecast, advisories, watches, or warnings. Download the FEMA app on your smartphone to receive mobile alerts from the National Weather Service. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available to still receive life-saving alerts.
Skyline High students protest pending ‘anti-trans’ legislation forwarded by Governor Youngkin
Thirteen public school students gathered on the Skyline High School campus Tuesday morning to protest Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s initiative in forwarding what they termed an “anti-trans law” in Virginia. The students, aged 14 to 17, were orderly throughout as they moved from the front of the school to the football field authorized for the students’ expression of distress at what they believe would become legalized discrimination against transgender students. One of the student organizers who contacted media about the event scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to noon termed it a “Trans Rights Walkout”.
Asked about the student demonstration, Skyline High Principal Danelle Sperling told Royal Examiner: “When the student-led walkout began, I spoke with two of the organizers and made a plan with them to provide adult supervision to ensure safety, and I made plans to communicate with the involved students’ families about our response. Obviously we want students in class, but our desire was to make sure they remained safe and that their civil liberties were respected. This group of students were peaceful and extremely respectful for the duration of their protest and returned to their school day after about 30 minutes without incident.”
Online research of the recent legislative initiative of apparent 2024 Republican Presidential hopeful Youngkin led us to several reports, including mid-September Washington Post and National Public Radio stories. The Post in particular cited civil rights attorney’s questions about the legal basis for the governor’s mandate regarding bathroom, locker-room and other school facilities uses by transgender children.
But of the legislation itself, NPR notes that, “The Virginia Department of Education released its 2022 Model Policies online Friday (Sept. 16) … The new rules will effected the more than 1 million children enrolled in the state’s public school system.
“The revamped rules explicitly state that students must only use bathrooms and locker rooms associated with the sex assigned to them at birth. If a student wants to participate in a sport or other extracurricular activities, they must, again, only participate in teams that align with the sex assigned at birth.
“Further, the legal name and sex of a student can’t be changed ‘even upon written instruction of a parent or eligible student’ without an official legal document or court order.”
The Post story by Rachel Weiner quotes employment and civil rights attorney Joshua Erlich stating, “Gov. Youngkin is trying to pick a political fight by attacking trans students, but his model policies are in conflict with recent court rulings … Discrimination against transgender individuals is illegal discrimination on the basis of sex.”
The Post story also notes that, “Recent federal court decisions have upheld protections for transgender people, including a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision, written by Trump appointee Neil M. Gorsuch, that determined that civil rights law barring sex discrimination covers transgender people,” and that, “In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that a transgender student could not be barred from using a boys’ bathroom. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that ruling last year.”
The Post also noted conflicting legal messaging and a failure to clarify from the Virginia governor’s office: “The directive, which does not go into effect until after a 30-day public comment period beginning later this month, says schools must comply with federal precedent and the Virginia Human Rights Act, but it does not explain how. A spokeswoman for the governor declined to answer specific questions about the policy, saying in a statement that it ‘requires that schools treat every single student with dignity and respect.’ Some districts have vowed to resist it,” the Post reported.
And so it goes from Richmond to Front Royal and Warren County, as around the Commonwealth, as established legal precedent and human rights butt heads with political ambition and the nation’s widening social divide.