County Emergency Management Update of September 20
Below is Warren County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall’s “brief” update of Monday, September 20, 2021. It includes continued numbers showing the county lagging behind state-wide COVID-19 vaccination rate by nearly 20% – 40.3% compared to the state-wide rate of 58.8%; and ahead in cases-per-100,000 population that allows comparisons between larger and smaller communities – 545 cases-per here compared to state-wide rate of 292.8 (252 more cases per a 100,000 population than the state-wide average).
- Hazardous Weather (as of 10:11 AM EDT Mon Sept. 20, 2021).
(a) DAY ONE (Today and Tonight). No hazardous weather is expected at this time.
(b) DAYS TWO THROUGH SEVEN (Tuesday through Saturday). Isolated instances of flooding are possible Wednesday night into Thursday. Isolated severe thunderstorms with damaging wind gusts are possible Wednesday night into Thursday.
- COVID-19 Data (Summary).
(a) As of today (data from 9/12-9/18), the County’s rate of new cases per 100,000 persons is 545.0, and is considered “High” (by comparison, the State rate is 292.8, and is also considered “High”). Our percentage of PCR tests that are positive is reported at 15.5% (by comparison, the State rate is 11.1%).
(b) The County’s current hospitalization count is 3.5% and the death count is 1.5% of the case count.
(c) The County’s (COVID-19) fully vaccinated rate is 40.3%; the State rate is 58.8%.
(d) Recommend all County/Town citizens, employees, and employers reinforce basic public health preventative measures, as appropriate.
|COVID-19 Level of Community Transmission – Coronavirus
To determine the level of community transmission, CDC and VDH recommend the use of two measures: total number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 persons in the past 7 days and the percentage of nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) including RT-PCR COVID-19 tests that are positive during the last 7 days.
- Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC)
(a) The next scheduled LEPC meeting is to be determined; anticipate the meeting on November 18, 2021 (3:00 pm to 4:30 pm). Invitations and information to follow.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for June 12 – 16, 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 9 to 8, westbound – Right shoulder closures for sign work, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight single lane closures for equipment moving and bridge removal work, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through night of August 3.
*NEW* Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) – Eastbound and westbound overnight mobile lane closures between Front Royal town limits and Fauquier County line for pavement marking operations, June 8 – 11 nights from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
*NEW* Route 55 (Strasburg Road) – Eastbound and westbound overnight mobile lane closures between Front Royal town limits and Shenandoah County line for pavement marking operations, Sunday and Monday nights (June 11 – 12) from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
*NEW* Route 340 (Stonewall Jackson Highway) – Northbound and southbound overnight mobile lane closures between Page County line and Front Royal town limits for pavement marking operations, Sunday and Monday nights (June 11 – 12) from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Route 522 (Winchester Road/Remount Road) – Northbound and southbound overnight mobile lane closures between Clarke County and Rappahannock County lines for pavement marking operations, 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. through Sunday night (June 11).
Route 638 (Freezeland Road) – Flagger traffic control between FR-283 (Appalachian Lane/Crimson Lane) and Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) for inspection of the I-66 overpass bridge, Thursday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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.
Grand opening & ribbon cutting at Melissa Ichiuji Gallery on Main Street
In the heart of Front Royal, a new creative hub is blossoming. Melissa Ichiuji, an artist who has captivated audiences worldwide with her bold and provocative works, has set up her studio gallery on Main Street, bringing her global artistic vision to the local community.
Nike Foster Cales of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, along with Mayor Lori Cockrell and Board of Supervisor Walt Mabe, welcomed Melissa Ichiuji to the community. The artist’s studio gallery at 223 E. Main Street will be open to the public every Friday and Saturday from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.
In the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, Ichiuji found herself more drawn to nature and her local community. Having exhibited her art globally, this Front Royal-based artist felt the urge to concentrate her energies locally. The opening of her gallery embodies this mission, offering locals a taste of her bold, playful, and powerful sculptures and paintings.
Ichiuji’s work, frequently imbued with metaphors, sexual puns, and explorations of transcendence, psychological tension, and metamorphosis, has been exhibited in prestigious museums and galleries in Paris, Brussels, Munich, Berlin, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Her fearless creativity incorporates diverse materials like welded steel, ceramics, textiles, and found objects, thereby allowing her to express meaning through form, color, and texture.
The gallery serves as a platform for Ichiuji to showcase her works and provides an innovative hub for other creatives to share their passions and talents through exhibits, concerts, lectures, and classes. This new addition to Front Royal aims to foster a thriving community of creators.
With her studio gallery, Melissa Ichiuji invites the public to experience her artwork firsthand, offering private viewings by appointment for a more intimate and personalized experience. This new artistic hub is a welcome addition to Front Royal’s cultural scene, promising to be as captivating as the artwork it houses. For more information, visit the Melissa Ichiuji Studio Gallery website at www.melissaichiuji.com.
NFL Veterans Early, Pierce, Moseley bring gridiron wisdom to Warren County Sheriff’s Football Camp
Football’s enduring appeal and its ability to unite communities took center stage on June 10th, 2023, as the Warren County Sheriff’s Office hosted the third annual football camp. Free for all participants, this event underlined the office’s commitment to bolstering community relations and personal development through sport. The camaraderie was palpable at the DSS Complex football field, the chosen venue for this grand display of unity and athleticism.
As the day began, a sense of shared excitement was felt across Warren County. Sheriff Mark Butler, an ardent advocate for community integration, had teased the event in a Town Talk earlier. The camp aimed to engage local youth, ages 11 to 17, in a day of football-driven fun, skill-building, and mutual support. The spirit of community radiated from the DSS Complex field, flanked by eager participants and their families.
The event boasted an array of accomplished coaches, including Skyline HS Coach Chris Wigington, WCHS Coaches Josh Breeden, and Ben Werner, alongside Austin Butler, Josh Butler, Gage Steele, Michael Early, Kurk Pierce, and Mark Moseley. The seasoned mentors put their knowledge and experience at the disposal of the young participants, shaping the day into an exciting exploration of football skills and teamwork.
Adding to the day’s fervor was the presence of esteemed members from the DC Divas, a top-tier women’s professional football team based in Washington, D.C. Their participation lent a professional touch to the event and inspired the young footballers with their expertise and zeal.
The WCSO Football Camp was not just about perfecting the spiral throw or the 40-yard dash. Sheriff Mark Butler and his team were resolute in using the camp as a vessel to promote community bonds, a core element in ensuring a safe and thriving environment. The spirit of camaraderie echoed across the football field as the participants worked, learned, and celebrated together.
The day also featured a silent auction, a thoughtful initiative to raise funds for local charities. This initiative further underlined the camp’s commitment to the community, a testament to the Sheriff’s office’s dedication to strengthening Warren County beyond the boundaries of law enforcement.
Participants left with more than newly acquired football skills and community bonds. Each received a commemorative t-shirt, symbolizing their participation in this unity-building event, and enjoyed a delectable lunch provided by Will Bryant from So Mote it Beef BBQ.
The WCSO Football Camp is a testament to how law enforcement agencies can engage with their communities beyond their traditional roles. Sheriff Mark Butler and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office demonstrate their commitment to creating a more resilient, safe, and unified community by fostering youth development, promoting community spirit, and supporting local charities.
UPDATE: Parents slam School Board for division’s failure to notify them about alleged child abuse
The Warren County School Board faced several emotional parents seeking answers about alleged child abuse that is under investigation at Hilda J. Barbour (HJB) Elementary School in Front Royal, Va.
“I want you to picture a 27-year-old teacher smacking [my 4-year-old daughter] in the back of the head,” said Tyler Wright during the board’s regular Wednesday, June 7 meeting. “The same teacher who took her out of my arms every day, and I trusted with the safety of her and my son was the same one that was harming them.”
According to Wright, Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) employees Kayla Bennett, an HJB preschool teacher, and Cassandra Carter, her instructional assistant, were suspended from the school division on May 4 and May 5, respectively. After hearing from the public and following a closed meeting last night, the School Board voted to approve their dismissals.
According to Wright, WCPS Supervisor of Special Services Lisa Seal contacted him on May 9 about the alleged incidents involving his child.
“Why did it take until May 9th for Lisa Seal to call me? Why did I hear from other parents about the allegations that were made towards my kids in the classroom before [Seal called me]?” Wright asked School Board members. “No one from the school system made contact with me.”
After speaking with Seal, Wright said he specifically asked his two children if their teachers were harming them.
“My daughter informed me that she had been yanked by the arm to the ground, and my son informed me of the same, along with a couple of names of students he had witnessed being smacked or hit with items in the class,” said Wright. “I was outraged, as any parent would be.”
Wright, some of his family members, and numerous other parents and residents who spoke during the board’s community participation segment questioned why WCPS did not notify them sooner of what was happening at HJB, chastised board members and WCPS employees for withholding information, and urged them to do better.
Jennifer Mulligan of Front Royal, Va., whose son was in the HJB class that is under investigation, explained to board members that multiple students may have been physically assaulted in the classroom, some of who are disabled and non-verbal.
“As parents, our biggest fear is not being able to protect our children, and this situation has only magnified that fear,” Mulligan said. “I firmly believe that we need to do more to protect our children, especially those… who are unable to protect themselves.”
Mulligan suggested a “simple solution” — install cameras in the classrooms, particularly those for preschoolers and students with disabilities.
“If this was in place already, the situation would not have occurred,” Mulligan said. “And if it had, it would’ve been caught a lot sooner, and these children would not have had to go through what they’ve had to go through.”
Another parent, Karla Snell (above), who is an instructional assistant at Warren County High School, said both her son and daughter attended HJB. Her daughter just graduated from fifth grade, while her young son just started preschool during the past year. And while her daughter loved every minute and every person at HJB, her son can’t say the same, Snell told the board members.
“Why is that my 3-year-old son’s first-ever school experience… has been shattered by one individual and people who wouldn’t speak up?” asked Snell, noting that all WCPS employees are mandatory reporters who have an individual duty to report known or suspected abuse or neglect relating to children.
WCPS on May 19 issued a press release addressing the situation that said the administration became aware of a complaint involving staff members at HJB and promptly placed the staff members on leave while a joint investigation with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office and the local Department of Social Services was initiated..
“Parents of children in the affected classroom were contacted and urged to speak to their children and reach out to WCPS personnel if they had any additional questions or information,” according to the release. “Measures were taken to ensure that educational services and support continued uninterrupted in the classroom, with staffing adjustments being made.”
During his report to the School Board on Wednesday, WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger read a statement explaining the process that is undertaken by the school division regarding incidents involving allegations of child abuse.
When WCPS is notified of a complaint, Ballenger said the process is to ensure that there is a clear determination of an alleged complaint.
“All school system employees are mandated reporters if the complaint concerns child abuse or neglect,” he said. “The school system employees are required to contact the Department of Social Services, per School Board policy… at the time of an initial allegation of abuse or neglect.”
Ballenger said that the school system can take many actions related to the allegations, and as a practice, any abuse or neglect complaints are followed with the removal of any staff member alleged in the complaint policy.
“This practice helps to ensure the safety of students, employees, employee’s rights and to ensure that an investigation can be conducted properly,” said Ballenger. “It is not the school division’s responsibility to determine if there is any upholding to abuse or neglect if that has occurred. This will be determined by the local Department of Social Services or the Sheriff’s Office.”
If there is no merit to any of the allegations, as determined by the Department of Social Services or the Sheriff’s Office, then the school system may reinstate an employee to active duty, he added.
But “if it is determined that allegations do have merit, or there is a finding, then WCPS will take additional actions as required by School Board policy with the Code of Virginia,” said Ballenger.
School Board responses
Members of the Warren County School Board took the opportunity during each of their reports to address the residents who spoke about the child abuse allegations.
School Board Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins were present during the board’s Wednesday meeting. School Board Chair Kristen Pence was absent.
“This is very serious, and we need to take it seriously,” said Lo. “It’s very helpful for us to hear from you.”
Funk (above), who explained that there are certain things that board members cannot publicly discuss, empathized with the parents. As a parent of a special needs child who was nonverbal until almost age five and as an educator, Funk said that she doesn’t take their concerns lightly.
“But we have to work through and are bound by policies and procedures, and that is a tough pill to swallow,” she said. “There’s nothing I can say that will make that any easier.”
Salins suggested that every WCPS employee should sign a mandatory reporter document.
“If the policy is the problem, then I want the policies changed,” she said. “I want to know that every single employee has to sign an acknowledgment that they are a mandatory reporter. Nobody should set foot in a classroom if they have not signed something acknowledging that they’re a mandatory reporter.”
Among other suggestions, Salins also called for bringing in an outside investigating firm “to investigate not the crime, because that is the sheriff’s department’s job, but to investigate us [the School Board] and every employee in our district who was involved,” she said.
Several members of the audience applauded that suggestion.
In an email sent to the Royal Examiner tonight, Salins said that earlier in the meeting, she made a motion to remove the personnel report and addendum from the consent agenda in order to allow more discussion, which happened during a closed session after the last action item.
“After reading us out of closed session, we voted on agenda item 6C personnel report and 6D personnel report addendum,” Salins wrote in the email. “I made the motion, with Mrs. Lo seconding, to accept the personnel report as presented for the dismissal of Kayla Bennett and Cassandra Carter, to accept the resignations as presented with the exception of [two other employees], to accept the appointments and transfers as presented, and to accept the personnel addendum as presented. The vote was unanimous.”
To watch the School Board’s June 7 meeting in its entirety, go to:
To watch the School Board meeting in its entirety, go to: https://wcps.new.swagit.com/videos/234392.
To watch a previous interview the Royal Examiner conducted with Tyler Wright regarding this situation, go to: https://royalexaminer.com/town-talk-incident-involving-hilda-j-barbour-elementary-staff-members-sparks-investigation-and-concern/.
A Fond Farewell to Barbara Way: A Pillar of Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center announces the retirement of its cherished Executive Director, Barbara Way. After years of influential service, she’s leaving an indelible mark on the Center and the many lives it has transformed.
Barbara’s passionate and tireless service to the Front Royal Women’s Resource Center has been nothing short of transformative. Her leadership and dedication propelled the Center to new heights, enabling it to reach more local women and positively impact their lives.
One of Barbara’s key accomplishments includes the expansion of the Center’s scholarship endowments. These funds directly facilitate the annual ‘Dare To Dream’ grants, which achieved a record-breaking award of $12,000 this year. This notable increase in financial support for women pursuing their dreams is a testament to Barbara’s commitment and hard work.
Barbara’s departure is undoubtedly significant for the Front Royal Women’s Resource Center. Her relentless pursuit of the Center’s mission has left an enduring legacy that will continue to inspire and guide the organization’s future endeavors.
While Barbara steps down from her official role, her influence remains woven into the fabric of the Front Royal Women’s Resource Center. We express our deepest gratitude for her years of devoted service and wish her all the best in her next chapter.
We invite donations to the Front Royal Women’s Resource Center to honor Barbara’s impactful work. These can be designated ‘In Honor of Barbara Way’ and will contribute to the ongoing support and empowerment of local women.
Library defunding/book removal advocates, Samuels Library defenders clash on D-Day 2023
The Fiscal Year-2023/24 budget public hearing of Tuesday evening, June 6, may have inadvertently, yet appropriately, been scheduled for the 79th anniversary of D-Day, the pivotal Allied invasion of the Nazi Germany-led fascist Axis’s “Fortress Europe” that turned the tide of World War 2 on the western European front.
For what transpired inside and outside the Warren County Government Center as the FY-24 budget public hearing approached and was then launched at 7:30 p.m. led the Warren County Board of Supervisors to view a lengthy “beachhead” battle, albeit verbal, over the future shape the political, governmental, cultural, and societal standards this community may take.
At issue for the bulk of over 70 speakers at both the budget public hearing (our count was 65) and majority of Public Comments (counted 9 total) on non-agenda items was whether continued County funding of Samuels Public Library should occur while a total of 134 books requested for removal by the “CleanUpSamuels” website advocacy group remain on library shelves. The budget public hearing, at which board Chairman Vicky Cook explained the defund/fund issue should be the focus of comments, was convened at 7:30 p.m. in front of a packed to capacity WCGC meeting room. With most speakers going to or near their 3-minute speaking limit, the public hearing adjourned some 65 speakers later at 11:12 p.m. Our count was 34 to defund pending removal of cited books, 26 to fully fund the library and let its own review process control content, with a few who seemed on the fence favoring removal of certain books but not really favoring defunding of the library.
The board took no action, as they must wait a week following the public hearing to vote on approval of the budget. After the meeting went back to a few more Public Comments and other more routine business items, the meeting was adjourned at 11:57 p.m. But prior to that adjournment, County Administrator Ed Daley congratulated the board and staff on their FY-2024 budget preparation, noting that no negative public hearing comment had been directed their way on any other budgetary matter than library funding. County Finance Director Alisa Scott made a PowerPoint summary of budget highlights and proposed expenditures to kick off the public hearing, prior to public feedback.
But on that Samuels Library public feedback D-Day “beach front” it was on. To one side were CleanUpSamuels advocates who see continued use of county tax revenue in support of the library an unacceptable use of public funds while 134 books they seek removal of as “pornographic” remain on library shelves. And to make their point, many pro-defund library speakers read sexually-tinged passages from some books in question.
On the other side, an attempt to institute religious extremist-based censorship was cited by library defenders and opponents of a blanket banning of the books requested for removal by the CleanUpSamuels group and supporters. As noted in a July 5 article in the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, the book removal website received initial social media exposure from a May Facebook post by the “Young Adults of St. John the Baptist (Catholic Church)”. A number of defund the library pending removal of the books in question speakers either cited ties to the church or are known congregation members.
However, one library funding supporter, Tom Howarth, described himself as a lifelong Catholic, but not of the type he had listened to speak prior to his rising to be the 50th public hearing speaker. Noting an abundance of what he termed “zeal” in comments of library critics, of much of that zeal he observed, “This strikes me as an incredibly gross character assassination of the director of the library and her staff. And it’s done, apparently in the name of religious zeal. I can’t believe that my Lord and Savior would have anything to do with destroying a person’s public reputation. And that is what’s happening here tonight,” Howarth said.
After referencing his Catholicism from the “cradle” though work on two parish councils through a decade of work with the poor and homeless, Howarth added, “I’m a Catholic but I don’t want a Catholic library. I don’t want a library that’s run by any religion. Jefferson would be spinning in his grave if he listened to this conversation tonight in Virginia in 2023. Unfortunately, what we have is another orchestrated political attack on a public institution: the press, your electoral system, public schools, and now the public library. Where does it end?” Howarth asked of religious zeal being applied to how a community’s entire population, perhaps a nation’s, must live.
The CleanUpSamuels website front page describes “The Issue” as the presence of “many pornographic books in the children’s section of Samuels Public Library. These books graphically detail sexual activity between minors and are written for young readers. Our tax dollars fund the purchase and circulation of these abhorrent books. We need to let the Board of Supervisors know that these books do not align with our values.” A number of library defunding speakers said they were parents whose families use the library and expressed concern about their children, and others, having access to material tackling LGBTQ and other issues of a sexual nature.
However, one library supporter who spoke later in the meeting noted that children under 12 were not allowed in the library without an accompanying adult or parent, though another person present suggested the library age cap for parental accompaniment was 10. A check with the library the following day revealed that library policies list the accompanied by parent or adult age at 11 and under. A number of County public library funding supporters wondered if parental involvement and oversight shouldn’t be the pivotal controlling factor for what the community’s children are reading, as opposed to political calls for governmental defunding of the community’s public library. For as a “public library” it is open to all of a community’s citizens regardless of religious affiliation or political perspective.
But as noted above, to make their point on the pornographic context of books in question, many defund the library speakers quoted graphic passages at length from several books on the requested removal list. Library funding supporters countered that graphic passages were being taken out of context so that the theme of the books referenced was not conveyed. The pro-funding and self-described anti-censorship contingent argued that rather than pornography, many, if not all, the books in question were written to provide emotional guidance or support to school age youth facing sexual identity crises of their own. Does a book describing teens falling into a life of prostitution do so to encourage such a life, or to warn against it as a tragic mistake, some wondered of one repeatedly referenced book.
A visit to the CleanUpSamuels website the day after the public hearing revealed that the group had advertised prepared comments and book transcripts for supporters to read at the June 6 meeting: “We will provide excerpts from the books and a script, so you don’t need to worry about what to say! Please arrive at 6:30 p.m. for handouts and instructions,” the CleanUpSamuels website front page stated.
The day following the public hearing debate Samuels Library staff verified that 597 requests for reconsideration forms (on library content) from 53 individuals seeking to have 134 books removed from the library had been received to date. That is in a county of some 40,000 people, one library supporter noted.
Stay tuned as the supervisors proceed to their vote on a final FY-2023/24 budget, with Samuels Public Library funding or not, at its special meeting of June 13.
Click here to watch the video of the meeting.
However, we noticed that the first three budget public hearing speakers — following Finance Director Alisa Scott’s PowerPoint presentation on the FY-24 budget (31:00 to 36:11 mark where color bars appear to interrupt the video) — John Lundgren, Dale Carpenter, and Tom Hinnant, appear to be missing prior to Chris Estes taking the podium at the 36:35 video mark. There was some discussion with staff during the meeting concerning some technical problems.
Wind: 5mph SW
UV index: 3