Several residents and staff from Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) addressed whether the school division should install cameras in the classrooms for students in special education during the Warren County School Board’s Wednesday, July 12 meeting.
The School Board, at its June 21 work session, discussed possibly adding cameras in preschool and special needs classrooms and recommended that WCPS staff develop a potential board policy related to cameras in the classrooms. The school division’s legal team has provided a draft policy for review by the School Board, which also considered the proposed item later during its meeting.
“I appreciate the camera discussions that I’ve had and the opportunity to speak with several teachers and several parents over the past multiple weeks since this first came up,” said Board Chair Kristen Pence on Wednesday, noting she has received “lots of varying viewpoints and really good input from everybody.”
“And that’s really what we need because when I first heard about the cameras, I, as a parent, thought that it sounded like a great idea,” Pence said. “But I didn’t see everybody’s aspect of it. And so, of course, we’re still kind of working our way through it and looking forward to some more discussion as we go through this evening and the next couple of board meetings.”
School Board Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi and board members Andrea Lo and Melanie Salins also were present at the meeting. Board member Antoinette Funk was absent on Wednesday.
Maria O’Brien (above), a Warren County resident in the Fork District, said that as a mother of a special needs student who has challenges with communication, she supports the proposed installation and monitoring of cameras in special needs classrooms. O’Brien expressed concerns about students needing more protection from abuse, such as what occurred recently in a WCPS elementary school.
“Children with special needs, especially those whose special needs involve the ability to communicate, cannot be expected to perfectly articulate what has happened in the classroom or their interactions with teachers,” O’Brien told the School Board. “Further, they may not recognize that what has happened to them or another student is wrong, especially if it’s something that’s ongoing. They may think that they are to blame.
“So in order to protect the children, we need to have something that’s more objective than what a child is saying to a parent,” she added. “And with different situations in the home, that communication can break down at home, as well.”
O’Brien added that having cameras in these classrooms could also be helpful for teachers if they’re falsely accused or threatened by older students in the high school setting. “So I don’t think this has to be parents versus teachers,” she said. “It can be something that’s mutually beneficial.”
Sarah Griffith, a special education teacher at Skyline High School, also spoke. She is a parent of four students who have graduated from WCPS and another who is still in school and has a 504 plan, which provides services and modifications to the learning environment so the child may access an education that’s equal to what other students receive.
“I would like to let you know that a growing number of our educators are becoming concerned with the conversation surrounding these policies,” Griffith told board members. “First and foremost, we feel this is a very discriminatory policy.”
Special education students already struggle to find their voice and a place in a general education setting, said Griffith, and putting cameras in their classrooms would further segregate them from their peers.
“Students will know the cameras are there. I work in a high school. They are very bright. Even the ones that do not speak,” she said, adding that some have anxiety and myriad other issues that may hinder them from entering a classroom if they see the cameras.
Griffith also said that using the terminology “special needs classrooms” is inappropriate because these students are not contained in one classroom. “Our students are dispersed throughout the building for much of their day. So unless we’re going to put cameras in every single part of that building, I do not feel that this policy is going to protect them,” she said.
Along those same lines, Joseph Adams, chairman of the Skyline Middle School Special Education Department and the learning center coach for WCPS secondary schools, said that the way the policy is written, his classroom would be considered a self-contained special education classroom.
“Having a camera in my room, it’s fine,” Adams said. “They’re going to see me teach, they’re going to see my kids grow, and they’re going to see the amazing activities we do in my room. But at the end of the policy, it says it’s here to protect the well-being and health of special education students. Where is that protection in their science class, their history class, their electives?”
Adams said he teaches sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade special education students, some with severe cognitive impairments and some with behavioral supports, who are in 15+ different classrooms in his building.
“Where is there protection in those rooms? They’re protected for only two hours with a camera in my room, but there are five other hours in a day,” he said. “If we’re going to do this, and we’re going to adopt this… we need to make sure all the special education students are protected, and that would mean putting cameras in every single classroom… not just those that would be defined as a self-contained classroom.”
Shea Steele-Kuhn, another Warren County resident, has a son in inclusion classes in seventh grade at Skyline Middle School. She agreed with Griffith and Adams. “I want my child, who is in all classrooms, to be protected in every classroom,” she said.
Steele-Kuhn also wants to ensure that if a child in special ed has a bad day in the classroom, that footage of such incidents isn’t randomly released on the internet.
“I understand that through the policy that the principal would be privy to this information, that other parents would be privy to this information,” she said. “I did see that the photos, that their images would be blurred, but it said ‘possibly be blurred.’ It doesn’t say that it would for sure be blurred. I’m worried about my child being in a fishbowl. I don’t want my child to be in the experiment for this, and then something goes completely wrong.”
Teachers also shouldn’t feel the need to leave WCPS because they are under additional scrutiny if cameras are installed in their classrooms, said Steele-Kuhn. “I have been very blessed to have a great team for my kid’s entire life, and I’m very nervous because his pre-k teachers are no longer in the county, and I’m nervous that we’re going to lose even more amazing teachers in this county over one incident.”
Jane Baker (above), the retired principal at Blue Ridge Technical Center (BRTC), said the center has had cameras in classrooms for at least the last 15 years. “And when I say classrooms, they are in our labs, such as our automotive lab, our electricity lab, those types of classrooms, where students are using a lot of different equipment,” Baker told the board.
“What I would say is that footage is never accessed unless there is some type of accident or a reason for it to be accessed,” added Baker. “I would also say that there is more likelihood of a student’s features and whatever we want to say, whatever people are afraid of, actions and activities, being put out into the public by other students with cell phones than there are from cameras that would be in the classroom.”
BRTC serves all students in special needs or regular ed classrooms, she said and has never experienced any issues with cameras in the classrooms.
The Draft Classroom Video Surveillance Policy
Later during the School Board meeting, WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger and WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Administration George “Buck” Smith presented a draft board policy related to cameras in the classrooms known as Policy JOAA, which has been developed by the school division’s legal team.
No action was taken Wednesday on the draft proposal, which may be found here:
“This is just the first version, and since there was not a lot for our attorneys to go off of, they did pull from various areas,” Ballenger told the board. “If you notice, this policy starts out talking about pre-K and special needs classrooms, but then towards the end, it just focuses on special needs. That needs to be cleaned up, depending upon whatever direction the board wants to go. This is the first draft. This is the first shot.”
Ballenger said a survey will be sent out to help the School Board members decide how to proceed.
The School Board did take action on several other agenda items and unanimously approved the following:
- The 2023-2024 Memorandum of Understanding between WCPS and Quiet Mind Psychotherapeutic Services Inc., a private agency that provides outpatient therapy and mental health services to individual students enrolled in WCPS. Fees for services are billed through individual insurances, through self-pay, or through an agreement between the company and WCPS, according to WCPS Interim Director of Special Services Shamika McDonald.
- The WCPS and Skyline CAP Contract, Warren County In-Kind Contributions, Special Education Memorandum of Understanding, and the Memorandum of Understanding between WCPS VPI and Skyline CAP Head Start. McDonald said that the agreements outline work and procedures that include the referral process, disability services, communication, and shared leadership at the local level.
- The amount of $20,668.26 to renew the PowerSchool Unified Talent Software System, which WCPS Personnel Director Jody Lee said offers a paperless solution for the application and hiring of employees and also serves as a storage location for all employee records.
- A $42,280.52 contract with Shenandoah Refrigeration Inc. of Winchester, Va., to install a new walk-in freezer at Skyline Middle School. Smith said it will be used for the school and for emergencies if another school walk-in would have a mechanical failure. “This would cut down on deliveries due to space limitations,” he said, adding that the funding for the project will come from the Food Service accounts.
- A total of $199,981 to purchase technology software and support services from several vendors that include firewall subscriptions, Microsoft licensing, a warranty for network switches, an internet filter, student self-harm monitoring, Chromebook inventory, classroom management, and network security, among other services.
- The mutual release and settlement agreement with Sodexo Operations, LLC regarding the 2022-2023 school year’s custodial services for WCPS. “Due to ambiguous wording in the original RFP and contract, a misunderstanding existed whether it was a fixed cost or a cost plus contract,” Smith explained. “Through negotiations with Sodexo, an agreement was arrived at that allowed both parties to participate equally” to split costs associated with overage services. The 2023-2024 Sodexo renewal specifies that the contract is a fixed cost contract agreed upon by both parties.
- Student fees for some classes at BRTC and at WCPS high schools. Baker said some fees increased and others stayed the same. “Some of the classes that are represented with a higher use of consumables because everything has gone up, so we had to ask for an increase in those fees,” she explained. “What I would say is that we’ve never refused a child entrance into a class when fee payment was not capable of being made by the family. So I just present those fees, which include dual enrollment, as well as the technical and career classes, as well.”
- Contract in the amount of $19,524.78 for the n2y Unique Learning System, which WCPS Special Services Deputy Director of Special Services Dena Lee said is a computer-based program designed specifically to help students with significant learning needs master their Virginia Essentialized Standards of Learning (VESOL). The system provides comprehensive and current instruction, including materials for teaching and learning every core subject, plus life skills.
- A contract renewal with Public Consulting Group Inc. (PCG) totaling $43,656.00 plus an 8 percent cost settlement to be paid at the end of the school year. PCG offers services to WCPS for its IEP generator system, a program provided by the Virginia Department of Education. Lee said the program also contains Virginia IUP, IEP translation, and EdPlan Parent Connect, among other services.
- The WCPS Special Service Restructuring Plan for 2023 is designed to respond to new demands, develop more effective programs, increase accountability, and increase student services provided by the school division, said Lee. As part of the restructuring, reclassifying duties will be assigned to the previous AT/Medicaid coordinator, and stipends will be added for six staff members who will coach staff on implementing programs, Lee said.
- Adding five more days to the 200-day teacher contract at Skyline Middle School for two instructional coach contracts will cost roughly $3,000. As part of Skyline Middle School’s schedule change to a seven-period class day, two teaching positions have been reassigned as instructional coach positions that will work to support teachers with strategies for instruction, classroom management, and student-centered coaching. Instructional coaches in the division work an additional five days beyond the 200-day teacher contract, said WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Heather Bragg.
- A copier lease contract in the amount of $89,964 will be awarded to Document Solutions Inc.
Speed cameras in school zones
Prior to the community participation portion of the School Board’s meeting, Front Royal Police Department Chief Kahle Magalis came to the podium to answer any questions from board members regarding speed camera enforcement.
The topic is being discussed by the Front Royal Town Council, Magalis said, and he wanted to answer any questions the School Board members might have.
“The Town Council is still batting it around, deciding which way they want to go with it,” he said, “but I understand that there are more questions, and I’d be happy to answer any of those.”
In comparison, Chair Pence said that School Board members are a different audience, and they wanted to hear about the potential for speed cameras being erected in several school zones.
“And just so parents and our community members can be aware of which school zones we’re talking about, we’d like a brief synopsis,” she said.
Magalis said the department has decided on locating the cameras at four locations: Skyline Middle School, Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, A.S. Rhodes Elementary School, and on Leach Run for Warren County Middle School.
“We weren’t going to try to do all of them at one time. We figured we’d start with the four where we kind of have the most issues that we typically see. Some of the bigger roads with the higher speed limit more frequently traveled roads,” the chief explained.
He added that a speed study was done in which five days’ worth of data was collected — from four days when school was in session and one day when school was not in session.
“The numbers were fairly, I wouldn’t say shocking, I’m not shocked by it, but I think a lot of people probably would be,” Magalis said. “I get complaints about speed in town every day. And a lot of those speed complaints typically come from people who’ve witnessed this in school zones, and of course, they’re concerned over children. So we looked at it, and this [solution] seemed to make the most sense for us.”
Once a contracted company sets up the cameras, tickets would be generated for speeds in excess of 10 miles per hour. “I don’t think it’s really asking that much to slow down 10 miles per hour for a quarter of a mile,” said Magalis. “At that point, if you were going to be late for something, you were going to be late anyway.”
Magalis said the topic has never been about generating revenue for the police department, and if there is a violation, it’s vetted by a front-row police officer who actually has to go through and look at the camera footage. The speed measurement equipment is calibrated every 35 minutes and is validated twice a year. And it’s the same technology that local police officers use in their cars when they’re writing tickets, he said.
It’s also a civil penalty if a person is caught speeding. They would be fined $100, the violation doesn’t count against a person’s license, and there are no points associated with it, he said. “It’s not even a criminal traffic violation,” he said. “It’s a civil thing.”
There would be no costs for WCPS related to an outside company coming in and setting up and operating the cameras, Magalis added.
Watch the School Board Meeting of July 12th on this exclusive Royal Examiner video.
Randolph-Macon Academy Hosts Inaugural ‘Hoopin on the Hill’ Basketball Tournament
A Weekend of Athletic Prowess and Community Engagement.
In a thrilling display of sportsmanship and talent, Randolph-Macon Academy recently hosted its first-ever ‘Hoopin on the Hill’ Basketball Tournament. The event saw teams from Massanutten Military Academy, The Covenant School, King Abdullah Academy, and host Randolph-Macon Academy competing for the top spot.
The tournament kicked off on December 1st, with an electrifying game where Randolph-Macon Academy showcased their skill against Massanutten Military Academy. The game ended in a decisive victory for R-MA, with a score of 64-14. Standout player Bilal Kebbay led the charge with an impressive 16 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Teammate Tega Esievo also made a significant impact with 10 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists.
The following day, the competition intensified as R-MA faced off against The Covenant School. In a closer game, R-MA emerged victorious with a score of 41-33. Once again, Bilal Kebbay shone brightly, scoring 17 points, securing 4 rebounds, and achieving 3 steals. Chidera George also contributed significantly with 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks.
These games highlighted not only the athletic talent of the students but also the spirit of camaraderie and competition among the participating schools. The tournament was made possible thanks to the support of several local sponsors, including Junkluggers, Mint Mortgage LLC represented by Stephen Marut, The Apple House, Realtor Jennifer Avery with Crum Realty Inc., Moneymar Training, Limitless, and Papa Johns Front Royal. Their involvement underscores the community’s commitment to nurturing young talent and supporting local sports.
The ‘Hoopin on the Hill’ Basketball Tournament at Randolph-Macon Academy is more than just a series of games; it is a celebration of youth sports, community involvement, and the spirit of competition. As the teams prepare for their next game, the excitement and enthusiasm generated by this successful event continue to resonate. This tournament has set the stage for future athletic endeavors and community engagement at R-MA.
Learn more about R-MA: https://rma.edu/
Warren Coalition’s “We See You, Warren County” December 2023 Theme: You Belong Here
Whether you are a lifelong resident of Warren County, or have been here only a few days, Warren Coalitions’ We See You, Warren County theme for December reminds you that “You belong here.”
The purpose of the We See You, Warren County campaign is to make every person feel welcome and provide a sense of belonging for everyone in Warren County. Cultivating this type of atmosphere helps our youth develop a sense of community and safety, which is a protective factor against drug use and alcohol misuse. Greeting others is the foundation of this program, but the monthly themes provide messages that our youth—and indeed, every person—need to hear as well.
“We are all imperfectly perfect,” is a favorite saying of Warren Coalition Executive Director Christa Shifflett. Each and every person in our community has value. Each and every person matters. Though no one is perfect, our imperfections and differences help make us strong, and together, we are the community of Warren County. Embracing our differences and building a community where every person feels a sense of connection, safety, and belonging makes a difference to everyone. It improves mental health overall.
Challenges for this month’s theme include: Learn something about another point of view. Stand with someone who is being treated unfairly. Write “You belong here” on your vehicle. Notice people who are alone at holiday functions and make an effort to speak to them.
There are a total of seven challenges for this month, which can be accessed via the website.
More about the We See You, Warren County Campaign
We See You, Warren County partners have agreed to help create a more connected community by greeting others and taking on at least one challenge each month. A connected community creates a sense of safety and belonging, which is a critical part of preventing drug and alcohol misuse. Members are encouraged to share their experiences on social media using the hashtag #WeCUWC. Organizations and individuals that register receive a window cling to show they are participating. The program now has more than 250 registered partners, and over 1100 Facebook members. Sign-ups are ongoing. Go to weseeyou.warrencoalition.org to learn more, or to officially sign up yourself, your family, or your business or organization. You can also join the Facebook group.
In addition, the Warren Coalition features individuals of the Warren County community on the “We See You” website, and on the Warren Coalition social media accounts. People do not have to be registered members to be featured. Anyone who lives, works, or plays in Warren County can submit a profile on the We See You website (weseeyou.warrencoalition.org)
“Christmas on Main” Festivities Usher in the Holiday Spirit for the Town of Front Royal
“Rhythm trumps all!” declared Annie Guttierrez, owner of the Jig N Jive Dance Studio. “How can you argue with the sound of bells?” she asked the audience gathering for the Town of Front Royal’s official launching of the Christmas season with “Christmas on Main Street” and the Christmas Parade on Saturday afternoon, December 2.
Students from Jig N Jive at 529 East Main Street shared their talent with a crowd of revelers enjoying “Christmas on Main,” a longtime, yearly tradition for Front Royal, featuring many venues, including food, other merchandise, and face painting. It culminates in a parade and caps off with the Christmas tree lighting at the Gazebo in the Village Commons Park area. So, it was a still unlighted tree standing sentinel over the scene, as the young people infected their onlookers with their Christmas cheer as they performed numbers in the style of Irish, swing, and ballroom dance.
Bringing the Christmas spirit to people who may be at a disadvantage this holiday, two charities were represented among the many booths that were situated in the parking lot adjacent to the Gazebo. Close to the Visitor Center, the bell of the Salvation Army could be heard tinkling in the crisp but not uncomfortably cold air. Being present at “Christmas on Main” is a tradition for the Salvation Army; they use it to make the season pleasant for those facing unique challenges that might make it hard for them to observe the holiday. Similarly, Catholic Charities, located at 613 North Royal Avenue, provides food to anyone in the community who needs it and anyone in the state of Virginia who needs it. They are open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and any Virginia resident who needs food can come to the office with an ID and a piece of mail confirming his or her address and get food at no cost. They are always looking for volunteers.
“Kids are going to be kids,” Officer Clingerman explained in relationship to his duties that day. While it is the job of his fellow officer Fogle and himself, as well as the other officers stationed at key points on Main and Chester, to make sure that everyone is safe and having a fun time, he is always concerned at events like these that children do not stray too far into the street, especially as candy is being thrown in the parade. Of course, there is always the possibility that a car will sneak in off a side street, so that eventuality must also be guarded against.
As the parade began around 4 p.m. and the floats moved past onlookers who stood or sat in folding chairs they had brought for the event, this relatively new reporter was moved to take a side: this town rocks! As our next Sheriff Crystal Cline, and then the Town Council went by, there was a sense that whatever its imperfections may be, the community is still celebrating Christmas, as the nation does, and perhaps for a moment, the past can be forgotten, and the possibility of a bright future can be entertained. After the parade, as the mayor and Santa shared a hug at the Gazebo, followed by the lighting of the tree, hope for a fresh beginning did not seem entirely unrealistic.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic Alert for December 4 – 8, 2023
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 0 to 8, eastbound – Right shoulder closures for litter removal, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.
*NEW* Mile Marker 3 to 1, westbound – Right shoulder closures for shoulder repairs, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday.
*NEW* Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Shoulder closures for mowing operations, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through December 18.
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight lane closures and traffic-lane shifts as needed, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through March 2024. Shoulder closures 24/7. Work zone speed limit: 55 miles an hour. Work is related to southbound acceleration ramp extension and bridge widening, with estimated completion in fall 2024.
No lane closures were reported.
No lane closures were reported.
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.
Preserving Heroic Legacies: National Court Reporters Foundation Collaborates with Library of Congress
Capturing the Voices of Valor: A Tribute to Veterans’ Sacrifices.
In a heartwarming initiative, an extraordinary effort is underway to honor the sacrifices and experiences of American veterans. Spearheaded by the National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) in partnership with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP), this project seeks to immortalize the oral histories of combat veterans, ensuring their stories of valor and sacrifice are preserved for future generations.
Jill Parker Landsman from the NCRF and Tom LaCombe, a combat veteran and author, are at the forefront of this noble endeavor. Landsman’s involvement began serendipitously when a friend introduced her to LaCombe, a Vietnam War veteran from Browntown, VA. Landsman recognized the profound value of his experiences and knew his story deserved to be heard and preserved.
The process involves the invaluable assistance of court reporter Margary Rogers. Rogers will transcribe the conversation using her Stenograph, ensuring every detail of LaCombe’s service to the country is captured accurately. This initiative is not just about recording history; it’s about enhancing the legacy of those who served acknowledging their contributions to our nation’s fabric.
The Veterans History Project, a lesser-known but significant program of the Library of Congress, has been diligently working to collect these life stories, especially focusing on World War II veterans. The urgency of this task is underscored by the sobering reality that we lose these veterans daily, making the preservation of their histories all the more critical.
Tom LaCombe’s perspective adds a poignant layer to this project. Reflecting on his return from Vietnam, LaCombe shares the indifference he encountered, driving his desire to ensure the sacrifices and losses of his fellow servicemen are not forgotten. This project offers a platform for voices like LaCombe’s to be heard and appreciated.
The initiative extends beyond recording; it’s about acknowledging and respecting the service of our veterans. It’s a call to understand the profound impacts of military life and the unique experiences each serviceman and woman endures.
The Veterans History Project is a testament to American veterans’ enduring spirit. It’s a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made for our freedoms and a noble effort to ensure these stories of heroism and resilience are never forgotten. As we look forward to more interviews and the continuous growth of this project, it is evident that the legacy of our veterans will be preserved, thanks to the dedication of individuals like Landsman and LaCombe and the team behind this invaluable initiative.
Tom LaCombe is scheduled to visit the Royal Examiner studio next week to share his story and book, Light Ruck: Vietnam 1969.
Front Royal Welcomes the New Chapter of ‘Play Favorites’ Toy Store
A Fresh Start for a Beloved Local Business.
Play Favorites, a cherished local toy store in Front Royal celebrated its grand re-opening under new ownership. The event was marked by a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by community leaders and enthusiastic locals.
Nike Foster Cales, Executive Director of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, opened the ceremony, expressing excitement about the store’s future under the stewardship of Brett and Hannah Bement. Josh Ingram, a Town Council member, emphasized the store’s unique role in the community, highlighting its appeal to kids and adults.
Warren County Supervisor Walt Mabe praised Play Favorites for its blend of educational and fun offerings. The new owners, Brett and Hannah, shared their journey to acquiring the store, driven by a passion for preserving a local toy store in their community.
In an interview with publisher Mike McCool, Brett Bement discussed their unexpected journey into the board game business. Hannah Beeman, a teacher and local craftsman, continues her educational role while contributing to the store’s new look and product offerings.
Play Favorites stands out for its welcoming atmosphere and community engagement. The store offers game nights, collaborates with local game designers, and maintains a focus on educational toys. Under the new management, Play Favorites promises to be more than just a store; it’s a community hub that celebrates the joy of play across all ages.