Connect with us

Local News

New School Board leaders elected; Second Step program on hold; WCPS preps for possible switch to virtual learning



The Warren County School Board unanimously elected members Kristen Pence as chair and Ralph Rinaldi as vice-chair during its first meeting of 2022 and acted to temporarily — albeit indefinitely — put on hold the school division’s Second Step curriculum pending review.

Board members also learned that Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) is preparing for a possible switch to virtual learning due to staffing shortages associated with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the school division’s COVID-19 Dashboard data as of Thursday, January 6, there are 21 active staff cases of COVID-19 with 10 staff members quarantined. There are also 34 active student cases of COVID-19 and 105 students are quarantined, according to the dashboard.

“Looking at our case count, we may face a time when we will have to make the decision to possibly close schools due to staffing issues,” WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger told the School Board members during their regular meeting on Wednesday, January 5. “Staffing is becoming an issue everywhere so we will look at that on a daily basis.”

Ballenger said that he is talking daily to principals, who are monitoring their staff numbers. In preparation, he said that principals have discussed a possible switch to virtual learning with their staff.

According to a January 3 letter that Ballenger posted online and sent to parents and guardians, WCPS will continue to operate in phase two of its COVID-19 mitigation plan, which requires masks to be worn indoors at all times unless there is a medical or religious modification on file.

“Schools will start this semester with continued mitigation measures to help ensure that our environment is safe,” according to the letter. “This may include, but not be limited to emphasizing hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, minimizing congregate settings, increasing physical distance where feasible, enhancing cleaning and sanitization throughout the day and overnight, and adjusting meal procedures and schedules as needed.”

With an increase in positive COVID cases within the Warren County community, Ballenger wrote that individual school closures may occur due to staffing issues. Staff at all schools, he said, will be prepared to transition to virtual learning if it becomes necessary to close individual sites.

“WCPS will try to provide advanced notice, but parents should be prepared, and understand, that school closures could happen with little notification,” according to his letter, in which Ballenger noted that WCPS also will adhere to updated guidance issued on December 27, 2021, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

During Wednesday’s School Board meeting, Ballenger said that since the start of the current academic school year, WCPS has and will continue to conduct deep sanitation every night in hallways and in classrooms. This will be enhanced by increased daily cleaning on high-touch areas, he said.

WCPS staff also are conducting all meetings virtually, the superintendent reported.

Surprise action taken

With School Board members Pence, Rinaldi, Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins present during Wednesday’s regular meeting, they unanimously approved an unlisted, additional action item to temporarily put on hold the use of the Second Step Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) program curriculum in WCPS following a motion by Rinaldi that was seconded by Salins.

The Second Step program is a registered trademark of the nonprofit Committee for Children, which is based in Seattle, Wash. WCPS purchases Second Step from the Committee for Children, which says on its website that the Second Step programs are research-based, teacher-informed, and classroom-tested to promote the social-emotional development, safety, and well-being of children from early learning through Grade 8.

Two Front Royal, Va., residents voiced concerns about the Second Step program during the community participation segment of the School Board’s meeting. Both Rinaldi and Salins suggested action during the School Board members’ reports segment of the meeting.

Mike Mayer questions School Board on Second Step SEL curriculum.

Residents Mike Mayer and Amber Morris said that the Second Step SEL curriculum is being implemented in WCPS without the approval or endorsement of the School Board or the public.

“Who is responsible for this? Is it the Board? Mr. Ballenger? I want to know who made the call to use my tax dollars to implement this garbage in our schools without the informed consent of the people,” Mayer said.

Morris and Mayer said they are concerned about the program’s content. Morris called it Marxist while Mayer said it is dangerous.

Amber Morris tells School Board she doesn’t co-parent with the government.

Board members Rinaldi and Salins — who said they received communications from concerned parents this week — also said they also are concerned that WCPS parents cannot easily view the scripted Second Step lesson plans, which are trademarked material, although there are some basic overviews and videos provided online by the Committee for Children, they said.

And while parents may opt-out their children from participating in Second Step, per the WCPS handbook, Rinaldi and Salins think parents should be made more aware of the program’s content.

Rinaldi, for instance, said that as a former Fauquier County, Va., middle school teacher and football coach who taught a similar family life education curriculum there, he looked at a Second Step video and wondered “is there a possibility that some teachers can interweave the critical race theories idea?”

Ralph Rinaldi, the new Vice-Chair of School Board, motions to suspend the Second Step vote.

Salins said that while there is a student opt-out form in the WCPS handbook for the program, that’s “not the same thing as being upfront, open, honest, and transparent” about the content.

“Parents want to know specifically what is being taught,” she said, adding that WCPS must be “hypervigilant” in ensuring that parents and the community have easy access to easily understandable information. “Parents just want to know what kids are learning about and I don’t think they’re asking too much when it comes to that,” said Salins.

Rinaldi’s motion was to temporarily suspend Second Step until parents, school administrators, teachers, the School Board, and community leaders have time to review the program’s content. Following a review, he said, board action can then be introduced to either continue the program, modify it, or cancel it.

“We’re at the point where every once in a while, you have to sit back and review what is being done and reevaluate it,” he said.

Following the Board’s vote to suspend the program in WCPS, there was no plan instituted on how the review will happen or how long it will take, nor how long the program will be halted. Rinaldi said that will remain open-ended until a decision on the program is reached.

“The School Board has always and will continue to make the best decisions possible for all of the children of Warren County,” Ballenger wrote the Royal Examiner in an email today. “The Board has asked for an opportunity to review the program and so as a division, we will provide an opportunity for review.”

The superintendent also added that the Second Step program was purchased at the middle school level in 2015 and has been used at the elementary level since 2011 to address bullying, as well as to help students cope with stress and anger. He also wrote that the program was used to supplement the Life Skills program being offered. The link to the scope and sequence for K-8 is: 

The School Board’s next meeting is its work session, which is scheduled for Wednesday, January 19, at 5 p.m. To watch the January 5 regular meeting in its entirety, click here.

Share the News:

Local News

Top 10 tips to avoid tax season fraud



Each year, taxpayers’ personal information is compromised through phishing scams or by unscrupulous tax preparers. With tax season kicking off on January 24, IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) wants taxpayers to be aware of tax-related fraud.

“As the investigative arm of the IRS, we see the impact that fraudsters have on taxpayers,” said Darrell Waldon, Special Agent in Charge of the Washington D.C. Field Office. “This tax season, we want to remind U.S. taxpayers about ways they can protect their wallets and personal information.”

Tips to avoid tax season fraud include:

  1. Choose a tax preparer wisely. Look for a preparer who is available year-round.
  2. Ask your tax preparer for their IRS Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). All paid preparers are required to have one.
  3. Don’t use a ghost preparer. They won’t sign a tax return they prepare for you.
  4. Don’t fall victim to tax preparers’ promises of large refunds. Taxpayers must pay their fair share of taxes.
  5. Don’t sign a blank tax return. Taxpayers are ultimately responsible for what appears on tax returns filed with the IRS.
  6. Make sure you receive your refund. Your refund should be deposited into your bank account, not your tax preparer.
  7. The IRS will not call you threatening legal action. If you receive a call like this, hang up.
  8. Don’t respond to text messages, emails or social media posts claiming to be the IRS. They may contain malware that could compromise your personal information.
  9. Don’t click links or open attachments in unsolicited emails or text messages about your tax return. These messages are fraudulent.
  10. Protect your personal and financial information. Never provide this information in response to unsolicited text messages, emails, or social media posts claiming to be the IRS.

Recent cases of tax preparer fraud:

  • D.C. tax return preparer sentenced to 14 months in prison for carrying out a tax scheme
    Yohanness Ayechew of Washington, D.C., was sentenced to 14 months in prison last November for filing false tax returns and causing at least $250,000 of loss to the Internal Revenue Service. He and his business partner operated Endalk and Yohannes Associated, L.P. in D.C. since 2011, where he prepared false income tax returns for clients that overstated business expenses and claimed exemptions to give them bigger tax returns than they were entitled to receive.
  • Former Maryland tax preparer sentenced to more than two years in federal prison for a tax fraud conspiracy
    Anita Fortune, of Alexandria, Virginia, was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison last summer, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution for filing false tax returns using a false ID provided by her co-conspirators. She and her co-conspirators also fabricated, inflated, and improperly claimed deductions on their clients’ returns to inflate their refunds.

For more tips on choosing a tax professional or how to file a complaint against one, visit Taxpayers who suspect tax violations by a person or business may report it to the IRS using Form 3949A, Information Referral. Taxpayers can report phishing emails to or IRS impersonation scams to

This year’s tax season began Monday, January 24, and continues through Monday, April 18 for most taxpayers. U.S. taxpayers are subject to tax on worldwide income from all sources and must report all taxable income and pay taxes according to the Internal Revenue Code. Taxpayers found to be committing fraud may be subject to penalties including payment of taxes owed plus interest, fines, and jail time.

IRS-CI is the criminal investigative arm of the IRS, responsible for conducting financial crime investigations, including tax fraud, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, public corruption, healthcare fraud, identity theft, and more. IRS-CI special agents are the only federal law enforcement agents with investigative jurisdiction over violations of the Internal Revenue Code, boasting a nearly 90 percent federal conviction rate. The agency has 20 field offices located across the U.S. and 11 attaché posts abroad.

Share the News:

Continue Reading

Local News

Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Red-tailed Hawk



Sometimes, it takes a village!

This adult Red-tailed Hawk was spotted hanging from its leg in a tree. It’s possible this bird got stuck when it tried to get at a squirrel’s nest that was also found in the tree.

Photos / Blue Ridge Wildlife Center

Thankfully, the finder was able to get assistance from an arborist and the Boyce Volunteer Fire Company to climb up the tree and free the bird.

You can view the video of the rescue on the Boyce Volunteer Fire Company’s Facebook page. The rescue went well, and the hawk was brought to us for evaluation.

Upon admission, we noticed the patient had a degloving injury (top layers of skin and tissue were torn away) on the leg that was stuck, and had weak use of the foot below the injury. The wound was cleaned and bandaged, and the bird was started on pain medications and antibiotics. This patient has already started to eat on its own, but it is not yet using the weak leg fully.

Sometimes, it takes a village to save an animal! We are so thankful to the many people who were involved in this bird’s rescue, and to the photos that the Boyce Volunteer Fire Company shared with us of its rescue.

We’ll be monitoring this bird’s progress closely, and hope to get it back out to the wild soon!

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.

Share the News:

Continue Reading

Local News

Front Royal based substance abuse recovery program receives grant



Harvest Missions Outreach Center’s Exodus program has been awarded the Rappahannock Electric Power of Change grant. Each month Rappahannock Electric members give to The Power of Change. These donations are invested back into Rappahannock Electric communities through grants to organizations that work towards improving REC communities.

Harvest Missions Outreach Center’s Exodus program is a faith-based intensive outpatient substance abuse recovery program. The program utilizes evidence-based curriculum in a faith-based setting to provide a comprehensive recovery program. The grant made it possible to expand their curriculum to include the Matrix Model for Criminal Justice Settings. The Matrix program, which is used by drug court programs across the country, is designed to meet the needs of law-involved clients who struggle with addiction to alcohol and other drugs. The program focuses on overcoming criminal thinking and strategies for successful recovery skills. With the implementation of the Matrix curriculum, the Exodus program will be able to provide services to those who are in the criminal justices system in Warren County.

To assure that finances are not a barrier to treatment, there is no fee for the Exodus program. The program is supported by grants, contributions from local churches and individual donations (Clients are asked to make a contribution of whatever they can afford, even if it is only $1.00).

Harvest Missions Outreach Center is located at the former United Methodist Church in Happy Creek (1652 Happy Creek Rd). To find out more about the program, visit or call (540) 645-6450.

Share the News:

Continue Reading

Local News

Element Risk Management acquires new agency, expands local footprint



Element Risk Management has acquired Stoneburner-Carter Insurance, located in Front Royal, Virginia.

Stoneburner-Carter Insurance

Stoneburner-Carter Insurance was established in 1985 and is a three-generation family firm based in Warren County, Virginia, formerly at 11 Water Street, Front Royal, VA 22630. Stoneburner-Carter has served their clients well by putting them first and delivering first-rate customer service. For over 35 years, they have taken pride in knowing that the insurance they offer is the best for their clients’ families and businesses. Stoneburner-Carter has been committed to working with and protecting their community.

“Stoneburner-Carter has always treated their clients as friends and neighbors. That is a core value of Element Risk Management and we will continue to provide the personalized service that their clients are accustomed to. We look forward to them joining us at Element Risk Management,” said Dave Rivell, Partner at Element Risk.

Element Risk Management is an independent insurance agency based out of West Chester, Pennsylvania. Element provides personal, commercial, and specialty insurance, as well as risk management solutions. For more information, visit

Share the News:

Continue Reading

Local News

Kindness is contagious at LFK Elementary School



On Monday, January 24, 2022, Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School kicked off The Great Kindness Challenge week. LFK joins other schools and millions of students around the world in the Great Kindness Challenge 2022. Students and staff are creating a kinder and more compassionate community by practicing how easy it is to be kind to others during this week-long event.

The GKC initiative, presented by Kids for Peace, is a global campaign that promotes kindness in kindergarten through grade twelve schools. It is a positive, action-based bullying-prevention initiative that creates a school culture of kindness, compassion, unity, and respect.

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind. – Henry James

Share the News:

Continue Reading

Local News

Update: Bentonville teen dies off Chincoteague Bay after boat capsizes, boy, 17, missing



Update January 22, 2022 – The Virginia Marine Police are investigating a boating incident that left one dead and one missing.

At approximately 9:22 am on January 22, 2022, the Virginia Marine Police received a call regarding a capsized vessel in the Chincoteague Bay near Curtis Merritt Harbor. Witnesses reported that a 16-foot John Boat carrying four people was struck by a wave causing the vessel to capsize. All four people went into the water. A Good Samaritan was able to rescue two people who remained with the vessel. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) recovered one deceased adult male, identified as Corey Alles of Bentonville Virginia. A 17-year-old male remains missing.

The Virginia Marine Police will resume the search for a missing 17-year-old male in the morning. The other adult male and a 17-year-old male were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The United States Coast Guard, Virginia Marine Police, Virginia State Police, Maryland State Police, and the Chincoteague Police Department are assisting with the investigation.

The Virginia Marine Police and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission offers its deepest condolences to the families during this time.”

More information to follow as it becomes available.

A Bentonville teen died, and another teen is missing after their Jon boat capsized it Saturday morning in the Chincoteague Bay, according to a media release from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

The incident occurred around 9:20 a.m. near Curtis Merritt Harbor at the southern end of the island. A wave apparently hit the 16-foot boat, according to Marine Police and all four people went into the water.

Cory Alles, in a social media post from August 2021.

Marine police stated that on board were two 17-year-olds, a 19-year-old and 18-year-old Corey Alles of Bentonville, VA.

A good Samaritan rescued two of the passengers near the boat, while the U.S. Coast Guard recovered the body of Alles. Officials say the 19-year-old man and one of the 17-year-olds were taken to the hospital with injuries considered non-life-threatening.

The release said that a 17-year-old male is still missing, and marine police will continue their search for him in the morning.

The U.S. Coast Guard, Virginia Marine Police, Virginia State Police, Maryland State Police, and the Chincoteague Police Department are all jointly

conducting the investigation. The families and the next of kin have been notified.

Officials declined to comment if the missing teen was from the Front Royal/Warren County area. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Share the News:

Continue Reading


Thank You to our Local Business Participants:


Apple Dumpling Learning Center

Apple House

Auto Care Clinic

Blue Ridge Arts Council

Blue Ridge Education

BNI Shenandoah Valley

C&C's Ice Cream Shop

Code Ninjas Front Royal

Cool Techs Heating and Air

Down Home Comfort Bakery

Downtown Market

Dusty's Country Store

Edward Jones-Bret Hrbek

Family Preservation Services

Front Royal Women's Resource Center

Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce

Gourmet Delights Gifts & Framing

Green to Ground Electrical

Groups Recover Together

I Want Candy

I'm Just Me Movement

Jen Avery, REALTOR & Jenspiration, LLC

Main Street Travel

Makeover Marketing Systems

Marlow Automotive Group

Mary Carnahan Graphic Design

Mountain Trails

National Media Services

Ole Timers Antiques

Phoenix Project

Reaching Out Now

Royal Blends Nutrition

Royal Examiner

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Oak Computers

Royal Oak Bookshop

Royal Spice

Salvation Army

SaVida Health

Skyline Insurance

St. Luke Community Clinic

Studio Verde

The Studio-A Place for Learning

The Valley Today - The River 95.3

The Vine and Leaf

Warren Charge (Bennett's Chapel, Limeton, Asbury)

Warren County Department of Social Services

Warrior Psychotherapy Services, PLLC

What Matters & Beth Medved Waller, Inc Real Estate

White Picket Fence

Woodward House on Manor Grade

King Cartoons

Front Royal
7:22am5:28pm EST
Feels like: 19°F
Wind: 0mph WNW
Humidity: 67%
Pressure: 30.45"Hg
UV index: 1

Upcoming Events

12:30 pm Free REVIVE! Opioid Overdose and... @ ONLINE
Free REVIVE! Opioid Overdose and... @ ONLINE
Jan 28 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Free REVIVE! Opioid Overdose and Naloxone Education @ ONLINE
Northwestern Prevention Collaborative, in conjunction with Northwestern Community Services Board, will offer a free, virtual REVIVE! Training on January 28th from 12:30 pm to 1:30 pm. The one-hour online class provides an overview of how[...]
3:00 pm Virtual Financial Services Workshop @ ONLINE
Virtual Financial Services Workshop @ ONLINE
Jan 31 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Virtual Financial Services Workshop @ ONLINE
People Incorporated is cohosting a virtual financial services workshop for small business owners to learn about business loans, technical assistance, training, and other services provided by the agency. The workshop is scheduled for Monday, Jan.[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Feb 2 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
all-day First Friday @ Downtown Main Street
First Friday @ Downtown Main Street
Feb 4 all-day
First Friday @ Downtown Main Street
Come celebrate First Friday! Downtown businesses will be open late, until 8 p.m., on the first Friday and Saturday of each month.
all-day First Friday @ Downtown Main Street
First Friday @ Downtown Main Street
Feb 5 all-day
First Friday @ Downtown Main Street
Come celebrate First Friday! Downtown businesses will be open late, until 8 p.m., on the first Friday and Saturday of each month.
9:00 am Women’s Wellness Workshop @ ONLINE
Women’s Wellness Workshop @ ONLINE
Feb 5 @ 9:00 am – 1:00 pm
Women's Wellness Workshop @ ONLINE
Women’s Wellness Workshop – Virtual via Zoom Webinar – Key Note Speaker Dr. Neema. Registrations will begin January 5:
4:30 pm Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
Feb 5 @ 4:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Astronomy for Everyone @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area: Discover our International Dark-Sky Park! Our evenings begin with a half-hour children’s “Junior Astronomer” program, followed by a discussion about the importance of dark skies and light conservation. Then join NASA Jet Propulsion[...]
6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Feb 9 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
10:00 am Winter Tree Identification Workshop @ Sky Meadows State Park
Winter Tree Identification Workshop @ Sky Meadows State Park
Feb 12 @ 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
Winter Tree Identification Workshop @ Sky Meadows State Park
Winter Tree Identification Workshop: Botany and Bloom Series Historic Area Even after the chilly breezes of autumn have stripped them of their leaves, trees provide clues to their identification by way of their bark, leaf[...]