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.
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.
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?”
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: https://cfccdn.blob.core.windows.net/static/pdf/scope-sequence/second-step-k8-scope-sequence-full.pdf
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.
A view from a bench on Main Street: Sue Laurence, White Picket Fence
On Saturday morning, our publisher Mike McCool joined White Picket Fence proprietor Sue Laurence on a bench in front of White Picket Fence, on the 400 block of Main Street in Front Royal, and discussed all the events going on in Front Royal this fall, from Octoberfest, Festival of Leaves and Zombie Walk to name a few – all happening in Front Royal.
The big news is the 50th Annual Festival of Leaves happening on October 14-15, 2022 in downtown Front Royal. The Festival of Leaves has been reorganized and is now under the direction of the Front Royal Independent Business Alliance (FRIBA).
On October 14, 2022, the Town of Front Royal will kick off the festival with a “block party” at the Town Commons, providing music and fun for all ages. More information is available at FestivalofLeaves.org. There is still room for vendors, and applications are available on the Festival website.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for August 15 – 19, 2022
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 marker 0 to 15, eastbound and westbound – Right shoulder closures for utility work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).
Mile marker 8 to 7, westbound – Right lane closures for utility work, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Right shoulder closures for utility work, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).
Route 55 (Strasburg Road) – Shoulder closures for utility work in the area of Route 664 (Whipporwill Road), 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. through Friday.
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.
The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information related to Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at my.vdot.virginia.gov. Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
West Virginia roadwork may produce Interstate 81 Northbound delays in Virginia
Roadwork on northbound Interstate 81 in West Virginia at the Virginia state line will potentially cause traffic delays in Virginia.
Motorists should be alert for delays on I-81 northbound in Frederick County, VA., during two periods of pavement repair work in West Virginia. The first period is for preparation work, and the second is for pavement work.
The first work period is 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. on Wednesday, August 17. Significant traffic delays are not anticipated during this time.
The second work period begins on August 17 around 6 p.m., extending into Thursday, August 18, possibly into the midday hours. Significant traffic delays may occur throughout this period.
In Virginia, traffic accessing I-81 northbound at Exit 323 off of Route 669 (Rest Church Road) will be stopped at the end of the on-ramp before entering I-81. This will accommodate anticipated slow or stopped traffic on I-81 at this location.
The Virginia Department of Transportation will monitor traffic back-ups. If back-ups become significant and sustained, the following alternate routes will be recommended.
- Interstate 66 or Route 7 to Route 340 northbound through Warren and Clarke counties
- I-81 exit 310 to Route 37 (Winchester bypass) to Route 522 northbound in Frederick County.
Variable message boards along the northbound I-81 and westbound I-66 corridors will alert drivers of traffic delays and alternate routes as needed.
Additional roadwork on northbound I-81 in West Virginia is anticipated to occur in the coming weeks, with potential traffic delays into Virginia.
Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at http://www.511Virginia.org.
The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information related to Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at https://my.vdot.virginia.gov/. Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Staunton District Twitter feed is at @VaDOTStaunton. VDOT can be followed on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube. RSS feeds are also available for statewide information. The VDOT Web page is located at http://www.VirginiaDOT.org.
The VDOT Staunton District serves Frederick, Shenandoah, Clarke, Warren, Page, Rockingham, Augusta, Highland, Rockbridge, Alleghany, and Bath counties.
17th Annual Route 11 Yard Crawl will bring thousands to the area
Bargain hunters can break out the fanny packs Saturday morning as the 17th Annual Route 11 Yard Crawl begins at 7 AM. The event is always held on the second Saturday in August and covers over 43 miles of yard sales and business sales along the Old Valley Pike, U.S. Route 11. According to the event’s website, the official crawl is from New Market (I-81 Exit 264) to Stephens City (I-81 Exit 307).
The Route 11 Yard Crawl has become a huge draw for bargain hunters and a source of revenue for residents, businesses and nonprofit organizations participating in the well-attended event. Localities see revenue added to their coffers through lodging, meals, and sales taxes.
Following a break during the Covid pandemic, the Yard Crawl Scavenger Hunt returns this year, with an app, the Free Traipse App. By visiting 15 of the 43 businesses, participants can get an official Yard Crawl t-shirt and be entered into a drawing for a $100 gas card. Download the free app here.
Sarah Paul, a Middletown resident whose home is along the Rt. 11, has had yard sales in the past, but won’t this year. She said, “We’ve sold things every couple of years, but for me, the best part is rocking on the porch and people-watching!”
Mrs. Paul’s daughter, Elise, could not contain her enthusiasm, saying, “Yard Crawl? Fun! Money!” Elise’s sister, Abigail chimed in, “It’s great because you can get rid of the stuff in your house you need and make a profit!”
Tina Maddox, of Strasburg, says, “My husband and I have been going to the yard crawl every year since it started. We’ve weathered the blazing hot weather to gully washers and everything in between. We’ve come home with truckloads and there was a time we had to come home, unload and go out again.
My favorite story is from several years ago when we stopped at a house where two gentlemen were swinging on their front porch swing. My husband went up and sat down right in between them and asked them how they were doing. After they got over being dumbfounded, they chatted briefly before we left. Every year after that, we would go there and do the same thing. We all looked forward to it each year. Recently my husband met up with one of those men in a job in a surrounding area. Small world!”
Alex Shaw, a Stephens City native who now lives in Durham County, NC relayed, “Last year’s Yard Crawl was my first one back in almost 10 years. It was so much busier and so much more overpriced junk than I remembered from my earlier years going.
I used to love going so much, and found many wonderful treasures in the past, but I most likely won’t make the trip this year.”
A number of local businesses will have special discounts and sales during the event. Those offering “Crawl Specials” will display gold mylar balloons outside their business. Shoppers can expect specials such as half-price or ‘buy one get one” (BOGO) items, sidewalk sales, freebies, event-related items, drawing for prizes, and more.
Teresa Lamb, with Front Royal business Strites Doughnuts, says she will be selling her tasty wares on Rt. 11 at Dixie Glass and Mirror beginning at 7 AM.
The official Yard Crawl t-shirts are collectible, with each year featuring a different color. This year’s 17th Crawl t-shirt is a royal blue heather and costs $15 and $20, depending on size. They can be purchased at these locations:
- Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation in Middletown
- Edinburg Mill Museum in Edinburg
- Main Street Classics in Stephens City
- Route 11 Potato Chips in Mt Jackson
- The Flea Market in Edinburg
- The Strasburg Emporium in Strasburg
- Shenandoah County Chamber of in Woodstock
- Shenandoah Valley Flea Market in New Market
- Travelers Treasures in Woodstock
The Route 11 Yard Crawl is a collaborative effort between Shenandoah County Tourism, the County Chamber, and the Towns of Strasburg, Woodstock, Edinburg, Mount Jackson, New Market, Middletown, and Stephens City.
For more information on the Crawl, inquire about vendor spaces available, or participating businesses, visit www.Route11YardCrawl.org or call 540-459-2542.
Senator Tim Kaine visits George Banks Blvd
On August 11, 2022, Senator Tim Kaine visited George Banks Blvd and met in the front yard of Cornelia Banks, along with her family, and friends.
On Saturday, June 25th, friends, neighbors, and town officials gathered to officially open George Banks Boulevard on the Town of Front Royal’s north side from East 13th to 16th Street near Edgemont and Scranton Avenues.
Belle Grove to host Jerome Bias as an artist-in-residence
Belle Grove Plantation will host North Carolina furniture maker, Jerome Bias, as an artist-in-residence August 27-October 2.
Mr. Bias has been making period furnishings and studying southern decorative arts for more than 20 years. He was a joiner for Old Salem Museums and Gardens in Winston-Salem and has been a presenter at Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, and with the Slave Dwelling Project.
His interest in working at Belle Grove, and at other sites of enslavement like it, is to bring attention to the skilled and talented craftspersons who had significant roles in shaping Southern decorative traditions. These furniture pieces represent the local areas in which they were made, and became a way for the makers, though enslaved, to survive and thrive. Learning and demonstrating these furniture making techniques and skills has been a way for Mr. Bias to connect with his enslaved ancestors, get a glimpse at the pain, trauma, and joys that they experienced, and begin a process of healing. His current project is reproducing pieces of furniture from six areas of the United States in which his family was enslaved, including a buffet from South Carolina, and a china press from Louisville, Kentucky.
While at Belle Grove, Mr. Bias will have both indoor and outdoor workshop spaces where visitors can learn about the pieces he is making, their history, and the history of the craftspersons who inspire him. He will be demonstrating during Belle Grove’s Wine Festival on Saturday, August 27, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Thereafter, he will be doing demonstrations Wednesday-Sundays when Belle Grove is open (10 a.m.-4 p.m. and 1-5 p.m. Sundays). For a specific schedule, please visit bellegrove.org/calendar/artist. Access to these demonstrations will be free of charge.
Another way Mr. Bias has connected with experiences of his ancestors is learning about the foodways of enslaved communities. He will share his experience and talents with hearth cooking during a free program by the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Park Ranger Shannon Moeck, “Kneading in Silence: A Glimpse into the Life of the Enslaved Cook Judah.” It is Sunday, September 4, at 2:30 p.m. in the historic kitchen of the Belle Grove Manor House. Attendees of the program will see first-hand the wide variety of skills, intense labor, and personality characteristics that Judah had to have in order to be the head cook.
Support for Mr. Bias’s residency has been provided through the Interpretation and Education Grants of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“Belle Grove is delighted to host Mr. Bias for this residency, and we are excited to share his craft and insights on African-American history with our guests, ” said Executive Director Kristen Laise.
Belle Grove is actively researching and interpreting the African American history of the site and honoring the lives of those enslaved and free. More information may be found at
bellegrove.org/about/enslaved. Some of the stories of the people enslaved at Belle Grove are featured in a monthly newsletter found at virtual.bellegrove.org.
About Belle Grove—Belle Grove Plantation is located off Route 11 at 336 Belle Grove Road just south of Middletown, Virginia, and is conveniently situated to I-81 (exit 302) and I-66. Belle Grove Plantation is a non-profit historic house museum that is a National Trust for Historic Preservation historic site (www.savingplaces.org). It is also one of the legislated partners in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/cebe).