Emotions ran high at the 6:30 p.m. meeting of the Warren County School Board (WCSB) on September 6 at the Warren County Government Center. The evening began on a positive note with an attendance award and quickly took a turn as parents stood up during the Community Participation portion of the meeting to report unaddressed misbehavior in schools and to question whether the school board and administrative staff have truly done everything within its capacity to solve the perceived problems.
Despite Kristen Pence’s efforts as Chair to maintain order, members of the audience often spoke without permission, reflecting the point to which their patience has been pushed by the circumstances surrounding recent alleged acts of violence, bullying, and substance abuse in Warren County Public Schools. The testimonies of parents electrified the room, even drawing tears from Melanie Salins, representative from the North River District.
Although many of the testimonies elicited a visceral reaction from the audience, as well as the Board, the testimony of Virginia Cram, mother of a young man who was brutalized by a fellow student at Skyline Middle School, drew the strongest reaction from the room, subsequent speakers turning to Cram and expressing their sympathy.
Prior to Cram’s message, Amy Flora of the Warren County Education Association thanked the Board for their support, providing a stark contrast to the message that followed. “Every day, I send my children off to be educated, and I expect that my children are safe within the walls of their schools,” Cram began, then indicating her 12-year-old son Aidan had not been. On Thursday, August 24, in gym class, he was assaulted by another student in his grade. Cram received a phone call in which the school representative told her she needed to be at Skyline Middle School within 10 minutes or they would have to call 911 because Aidan was so badly injured. “I panicked,” Cram said, “and the woman whom I was speaking to had still not put eyes on him.”
Still on the phone as she drove to the school, Cram was informed by the principal that Aidan had been shoved twice, and when he shoved back, he was punched. The principal was unable to describe Aidan’s condition. Arriving at the school and bypassing the pick-up line as instructed, Cram was met by the school nurse and the front office administrator, both of whom rushed Aidan out to her. They said they had just been able to stop the bleeding, and the nurse communicated that she believed his jaw was broken. Indeed, it was.
“He was rushed to emergency surgery to fix his broken jaw. He lost at least two adult teeth, and the oral surgeon is doing everything he can to save the third adult tooth. Aidan will be on a liquid diet for at least another month,” his mother told the school board. Looking back, Cram said she was astounded by how little information she received in the moments leading up to her arrival at the school. She said she lamented the bureaucratic language she confronted later when speaking to school representatives, receiving no assurance that her son would be safe if he returned to school.
When Cram told school representatives that Aidan might have to be homebound, she said they seemed relieved. Based on reports from other students, Cram believes that the attacker returned to school the next day. “If that is the case, then the school has violated its own code of conduct, and it has violated the trust of every parent in this community that the school is a safe place for their child.” Cram and her husband have been instructed to direct all their questions to the school system’s legal counsel. She indicated their attorney has been trying to contact the counsel for two weeks without a response.
The incident was caught on camera. Cram, who has seen the video, described her son’s attempt to shove back more as an attempt to remove the attacker’s hands from his body. Quickly becoming concussed, Aidan was in no condition to defend himself after being punched.
Cram asked the board what they knew and what they had done about the incident. She also asked what the Skyline Middle School had done. There were reports of Aidan being bullied prior to the day of the attack, so it would seem this incident did not come out of the blue, his mother believes. Did those reports at all serve as a red flag? Furthermore, she asked, if the nurse believed Aidan’s jaw was broken, why did the school not call 911 immediately? “We are expecting answers to our questions, and we are expecting them last week,” Cram declared in her closing remarks.
Responding to Cram and other outraged parents who spoke on Wednesday evening, several board members expressed their overall concern, Pence saying emphatically that the lack of discipline is “unacceptable.” Melanie Salins played a pivotal role in the remainder of the evening, introducing a vote of no confidence against Division Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, whose leadership she perceives to be severely lacking. However, in that vote, she stood alone. She also made a motion to leave the Virginia School Boards Association, who, in her judgment, have wasted Warren County’s money and provided no real results. Voting on that motion, all members said “aye” except Andrea Lo. Regarding the acquisition of electric buses to replace Warren County’s diesel buses, Salins was equally grim. The cost, in her mind, is prohibitive.
Asked before she went into the Board’s closed session if she at all felt that the Board was under unfair pressure to do something it could not possibly do, Salins’ response was an emphatic “No!” Despite what she agreed may appear to be a Titanic moment, “There is no excuse,” she said, adding, “We should absolutely take control of this ship, or it is going to sink.” One of the potential solutions she mentioned was the Regional Alternative Education Program described on Virginia’s Department of Education website. Some young people may need to pause their lives and enroll in a program where their unique behavioral issues can be addressed. Also, “pulling the parents back in more closely is really key,” Salins said.
Safety First: ACES Drives Initiative to Protect Pedestrians on West Criser Road
Push for High-Visibility Flex-Stakes Aims to Secure Prominent Front Royal Routes.
In Front Royal, the ever-busy West Criser Road plays a pivotal role for pedestrians, cyclists, and students. Recognizing the road’s prominence and inherent dangers, the Advisory Committee for Environmental Sustainability (ACES) is spearheading a crucial fundraising campaign. Their objective? To install high-visibility flex-stakes, enhancing the road’s safety and ensuring a secure passage for all.
West Criser isn’t just any road in Front Royal; it forms an integral connection between Eastham Park and the esteemed Skyline High School, creating a widely frequented loop. Cyclists, joggers, and walkers often use this scenic route to revel in the town’s natural beauty or engage in daily exercises. Moreover, the pathway is indispensable for students traveling to and from Skyline High and Skyline Middle School.
However, the increasing foot and vehicular traffic warrants a closer examination of the road’s safety features. The proposed flex-stakes, with their high-visibility feature, are specifically designed to draw attention to the pedestrian shoulder, offering a clear and safe boundary. This installation is not only expected to shield pedestrians and cyclists but also act as a reminder for drivers to slow down, particularly in this densely populated zone.
ACES’s commitment to environmental sustainability has always been evident in its various initiatives. With this campaign, they extend their dedication towards ensuring that Front Royal’s natural beauty can be enjoyed safely by all its residents. This fundraiser isn’t just about installing stakes; it’s about building a more secure community, one flex-stake at a time.
As ACES pushes forward with its mission, community support becomes paramount. Donations, both big and small, can play a part in safeguarding the residents of Front Royal and enhancing the overall safety of West Criser Road. With collective effort and community backing, these high-visibility flex-stakes will soon become a reality, offering peace of mind to many.
Please consider donating to help make this section of roadway safer for everyone to use.
Adverse Weather Can’t Dampen Spirits at Celebrate Kids Day
As dark clouds loomed and Tropical Storm Ophelia made its presence felt on September 24th, the Warren Coalition’s 10th annual Celebrate Kids Day proceeded with a vigor and energy that the storm couldn’t dampen. A change in venue to the Health & Human Services Complex did little to deter hundreds of families from partaking in this beloved event.<br><br>
The popular inflatable rides found a new home at the 15th Street Gym, thanks to a quick-thinking reorganization plan. Nearby, Diversified Minds from Warren County Public Schools offered their conference room for local agencies to set up shop. The sheer number of attendees highlighted the event’s significance: rooms brimming with activities, face painting sessions in the “band room,” and games galore.
Though the pony ride vendor had to cancel, the rest of the outdoor activities, like the pitch burst and petting zoo, stood their ground. Nearly a thousand visitors, both young and old, made their way through the attractions, enjoying everything from a T-ball challenge to inflatable rock walls.
Inside, organizations like the Salvation Army, St. Luke’s Community Clinic, and the Department of Social Services, to name a few, had tables set up, offering a range of activities and information. As children flitted between buildings, taking in all the fun, some were drawn to the pitch burst. There, brave volunteers sat poised for a splashy surprise, all in good fun and for a charitable cause, raising over $6,000.
Thanks to generous sponsors like Front Royal Dental Care, Fraternal Order of Police, and City National Bank (which covered the entire petting zoo’s expenses), the event’s price remained a mere dollar per child. Local businesses, from Horton’s Nursery and Garden Center to Martin’s, also chipped in, showcasing a heartwarming communal spirit.
Reflecting on the day, Christa Shifflett, Executive Director of the Warren Coalition, remarked, “This is a testament to our community’s resilience and togetherness. Everyone, from sponsors to parents, played their part, ensuring that Celebrate Kids Day was a roaring success, even in the face of unpredictable weather.” The Warren Coalition, a beacon for health care and substance abuse awareness since 1994, remains dedicated to fostering a safe and nurturing environment in Warren County.
Shenandoah Rail Trail: An Ambitious Vision On Track
Stitching Towns and Nature Together with a 50-Mile Thread.
A broad coalition of elected officials, economic development leaders, business owners, nonprofit partners, and state legislators gathered last week in Front Royal to discuss progress on the proposed Shenandoah Rail Trail. This ambitious 50-mile multi-use trail would convert an abandoned railroad corridor into a shared-use path connecting nine towns and three counties along the Shenandoah Valley.
The meeting provided an opportunity to update Senator Tim Kaine on the status of the project and emerging funding opportunities. Kaine has been a longtime supporter of the trail, noting during the discussion that he’s an avid cyclist familiar with the region’s trails. “When I first heard about plans for the Shenandoah Rail Trail, I thought it would work great, and it’s exciting to see the progress made,” he said.
Kaine emphasized the value of demonstrating successful trails to gain local buy-in, saying, “The more model trails are up and running, the more small towns can see the benefits and want to get on board.”
The diverse group highlighted how their coordinated efforts are building momentum for the project. Natasha Skelton of The Conservation Fund, which is negotiating the acquisition of the corridor from Norfolk Southern, said: “We have strong localized support up and down the corridor, with all nine towns and three counties in agreement that this is what they want to do with the vacant rail line.”
The newly formed Friends of the Shenandoah Rail Trail will spearhead private fundraising efforts. The trail partnership is also pursuing federal funding through a $25 million RAISE grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. At the state level, $35 million has been allocated so far from the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Proponents emphasized the potential economic benefits of the trail for tourism and small businesses focused on outdoor recreation. “We see this as an asset that businesses can build off of,” said Joe Petty, Executive Director of the Front Royal/Warren County Economic Development Authority.
Others highlighted community engagement progress, including a series of public meetings that collected input on trail preferences from over 700 residents. Outreach to diverse populations, such as non-English speaking poultry plant workers who could use the trail to commute, is also underway.
The scenic value of trail bridges slated to cross rivers and rail lines was noted as iconic attractions for visitors. Local connections via trails and greenways linking to the main corridor will also help residents access the amenities.
Senator Kaine’s visit gave the partners a high-profile platform to share their vision and progress. With strong local alignments, funding pursuits underway, and engagement efforts to spread awareness, the Shenandoah Rail Trail initiative appears to be building unstoppable momentum.
Behind the Badge: A Day in the Life of a Warren County Sheriff’s Animal Control Officer
Protecting the Animal Kingdom, One Day at a Time.
At first glance, Deputy Greg Long of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office may look like any other law enforcement officer. But, his daily encounters with animals of all kinds, from snakes to stray cats, set him apart.
Deputy Long serves as the county’s primary animal control officer. This role sees him overseeing the annual statistics of received animals, ensuring that the training requirements for the animal control division are up to par, and liaising with the general public about animal-related matters.
Not just limited to domesticated pets, Deputy Long’s responsibilities also extend to inspecting commercial kennels twice a year and managing the dangerous dog registry. These dogs, once identified as ‘dangerous,’ are subjected to yearly checks to guarantee public safety. Even hybrid animals, which surprisingly find their homes in the county, aren’t exempt from these periodic checks.
Despite what some might think, animal control isn’t a one-person job. The department also employs several animal control officers who aid in handling various situations. These situations range from dealing with livestock to answering calls about injured wildlife. Their collaboration with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries ensures that injured wildlife, such as deer or birds of prey, receive the proper care they need.
When asked about the necessity of having deputies handle animal control, Deputy Long explained the intricate legal framework surrounding animal control. Officers go through rigorous training, amassing 120 hours of comprehensive learning. This training educates them on first aid for animals, recognizing different species and breeds, and even discerning potential rabies cases.
One of the many commendable initiatives under the purview of the department is its emergency sheltering plan. Echoing the challenges faced during hurricanes in states like Florida and Louisiana, where animals were left stranded due to inadequate shelter provisions, Warren County’s response involves a fully equipped trailer. This trailer, loaded with essentials like cages and ID tags, aims to ensure that no pet is left behind during natural or man-made disasters.
The vehicle that Deputy Long operates may appear ordinary, but it’s specially adapted for animal transport. Designed with the comfort and safety of the animals in mind, it boasts air-conditioned cages, ensuring animals aren’t exposed to extreme temperatures. From dogs to ducks, this vehicle can transport a variety of animals safely and comfortably.
One challenge that Deputy Long highlighted is the issue of stray cats. While many might think that animal control should handle these felines, the reality is more complex. The shelter’s policies allow them to accept cats only under specific conditions.
At the end of the day, whether it’s assisting a neighbor distressed by a barking dog or untangling a dog that’s gotten itself caught up, Deputy Long and his colleagues are committed to serving both the human and animal residents of Warren County.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic Alert for September 25 – 29, 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.
Mile markers 6 to 9, eastbound and westbound – Overnight single right lane closures for inspection of bridge over Norfolk Southern Railway and Shenandoah River, 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Wednesday night.
*NEW* Mile marker 9 to 7, westbound – Right shoulder closures for sign work, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight lane closures as needed for road and bridge work, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through the night of November 27. 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.
Route 340 (Stonewall Jackson Highway) – Shoulder closures between Route 619 (Rivermont Drive) and Route 607 (Rocky Lane) for tree removal operations, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday.
Route 522 (Remount Road) – Flagger traffic control between Route 665 (Chester Gap Road) and Route 604 (Harmony Hollow Road) for tree removal operations, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday.
Route 702 (Baugh Drive) – Flag traffic control between Baker Plaza and Route 661 (Fairground Road) for paving operations, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through October 6.
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.
A Salute to General Daniel Morgan: Virginia’s Revolutionary War Hero
Honoring a Legend: SAR Dedicates Plaque at the Historic Burwell-Morgan Mill.
Millwood, Clarke County, Virginia – General Daniel Morgan, a stalwart of the American Revolution, was honored with a dedication ceremony hosted by the Colonel James Wood II Chapter of the Virginia Society Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) on 15th September 2023. The picturesque Burwell-Morgan Mill served as the backdrop for the event, with a bronze plaque celebrating the General’s extraordinary life taking center stage in the meadow.
Daniel Morgan’s journey from a young New Jersey lad to a Virginia legend is one for the books. As a youngster who could hardly read or write, he ventured to Virginia, making the Shenandoah Valley his home. From his humble beginnings as a teamster to playing a crucial role in the War for Independence, his life was nothing short of extraordinary. Morgan’s resilience was evident when, after receiving a near-fatal injury from an ambush outside Fort Edward, he carried the scars and stories proudly. His tactical brilliance shone brightest at the Battle of Saratoga and later, Cowpens, setting the stage for Cornwallis’ eventual defeat.
The event was a grand spectacle, with the Virginia SAR State Color Guard presenting colors and dignitaries from various societies paying their respects. Marc Robinson emceed, while Paul McComb undertook chaplain duties. The guest list was illustrious: Mid-Atlantic District Vice President General James Engler, Sr; Virginia Society SAR President Ernie Coggins; representatives from DAR and C.A.R., among others. Dale Corey painted a vivid picture of Morgan’s life after which numerous SAR Societies and DAR Chapters presented wreaths in the General’s honor.
As James Graham, Morgan’s biographer, once wrote, his “strength and spirit, his frank and manly bearing, his intelligence and good humor” made him beloved by many. This sentiment echoed throughout the ceremony as attendees remembered the General’s influence on the colonial victory.
The event reached its crescendo with Anita Bonner and Jocelynn Wilson leading the attendees in a rendition of “God Bless America,” culminating in a musket salute by the Virginia State Color Guard.
In an era where heroes often emerge from the pages of fiction, General Daniel Morgan’s story stands as a testament to the mettle and spirit of real-life warriors. This dedication serves not only to commemorate his incredible life but also to inspire future generations to value sacrifice, strategy, and resilience.