FRONT ROYAL – Christendom College alumni John Connolly, Class of 2008, has blasted his alma mater, the school president and board of directors regarding past failures and current direction in response to recent revelations about issues surrounding reports by female students of sexual assaults and date rapes by male students at the conservative Catholic college.
Connolly took the opportunity of “Requests and Inquiries of Council Members” during the February 12 meeting of the Front Royal Town Council to express “disappointment in the organization” of Christendom College, located on Front Royal’s east side. That disappointment was directed at, not only the revelation of past administrative inaction surrounding sexual assault and rape reports dating back as far as 1999, but at the intention of then and still Christendom President Timothy O’Donnell to remain in that position; as well as the apparent willingness of the Christendom Board of Directors to allow him to do so.
As first reported in the Northern Virginia Daily and then other local media outlets including Royal Examiner, in early-and-mid January Catholic blogger Simcha Fisher published a two-part account of the stories of two former Christendom female students, one named and one not, about their experiences of sexual assault or rape by male student boyfriends. But most troubling for many, including John Connolly, was the description of what appeared to be an uneven and ineffectual handling of the women’s reports of these crimes to the school administration. See related story here
In an initial response, O’Donnell alleged “misleading information and serious inaccuracies” in the Simcha Fisher blog posts, but then went on to apologize to past victims of such incidents within the Christendom student body. In a subsequent response Christendom Executive Vice-President Kenneth Ferguson promised the school would do better in the future and offered to meet with student victims, past and present. Ferguson even thanked Simcha Fisher and her husband Damien for shedding light on the problem.
“We have failed some of our students,” O’Donnell admitted in the second response.
For John Connolly that was not enough.
“I attended the school from 2004 to 2008 and have been involved in the school in some capacity or another for 14 years. It is the lack of response and support for victims that is a heinous scandal and open sore for years that remains. It is not lightly that I must express my disappointment with the gross lack of responsibility and accountability in the college that has been uncovered through the many heart-rending accounts by victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment and rape at the school,” Connolly said in opening his remarks.
The Christendom Advocacy & Support Coalition formed in support of student victims and survivors of sexual assault and rape by fellow students confirms 18 known cases between 1999 and 2016, but adds it believes there to be more. On Monday night, Connolly agreed with that assessment, saying following the meeting he believed there are more victims coming forward in light of the recent publicity.
Pointing to 1999 as a point at which Christendom’s administration became aware of the early reports of such criminal incidents involving students, Connolly noted that the school did not develop even “a rudimentary policy to handle sexual assault cases until 2013. The lack of institutional response is stunning, especially for an organization that has long prided itself on having a sacred bond between students, their families and the college,” Connolly continued in reading from a prepared statement.
He said as he watched the situation evolve over the past three to four weeks he had “truly hoped the leadership of the college would hold the administration accountable for its failures.” However, Connolly said subsequent comments in the media attributed to the chairman of the school’s board of directors “indicate otherwise” as far asking for Christendom President Timothy O’Donnell’s resignation.
“I firmly believe that this permanently erodes any vestige of trustworthiness for the college and will likely destroy the college’s viability as a place of faithful Catholic higher education in the future,” Connolly said in a scathing appraisal of his alma mater.
“If he truly loves the college, he must step down,” Connolly said of the school president. He added that failing a voluntary resignation, “the Christendom Board of Directors must save the college by making that decision for him.
For the rest of our local community, I invite you to join me and everybody who has been concerned to see this issue in lifting our thoughts and hearts in prayer for the victims and for the college to find the guidance to act with justice,” he concluded of Christendom College’s path forward.
However, one person of influence in the Christendom community does not agree with Connolly’s assessment of the questions raised by the Fishers’ blog “Are Students Safe in Christendom’s bubble?” Anne W. Carroll, widow of Christendom founder Warren H. Carroll, sent a letter of support of O’Donnell’s continued leadership of Christendom to alumni on February 8, four days before Connolly made his public call for O’Donnell’s resignation or ouster by the school’s board of directors.
“Speaking as the person who intimately knew Dr. Carroll’s mind and heart, I know his support for Dr. O’Donnell never wavered and never would waver. It would not waiver now,” Christendom’s founder’s widow wrote. Mrs. Carroll credited O’Donnell with continuing her husband’s vision for the school and urged an outpouring of alumni support for the Christendom president.
“Dr. O’Donnell’s profound Catholic faith, his sincere love for his students, his commitment to Christendom’s goal of restoring all things in Christ, and his brilliant leadership has made Christendom what it is today. I can only hope and pray that he is able to lead Christendom for many, many more years because that is exactly what Dr. Carroll would want … Christendom College is a premier educational institution. But far more than that, it is a living Christendom – a place where Christ is King, it would not be so without Dr. O’Donnell. Therefore Timothy O’Donnell deserves the undying gratitude of all of us who love the college,” Mrs. Carroll concluded.
We now know that at least one alumni not directly impacted by sexual assault in the Christendom community, along with many who were, do not agree with Mrs. Carroll’s assessment.
As the debate continues, one is left to wonder whether in Mrs. Carroll’s opinion as her husband’s vision for Christendom College was expanded into the 21st Century, would Christ have directed more time and effort into protecting those most vulnerable and victimized among his flock than some believe Timothy O’Donnell did over the past 19 years?
Lord Fairfax Health District warns residents of rabies risk in bats
On several occasions starting on November 24, 2019, residents of a rural property in Warren County encountered bats inside their house. Since that time, three of these bats were captured and two of them tested positive for the rabies virus.
“Any physical encounter with a bat—a bite, scratch, or lick, a collision with a flying bat, or even finding a bat in a room with a sleeping person—should be considered a rabies exposure,” stated Lord Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Colin Greene, “and anyone so exposed should seek medical attention immediately.”
Rabies is a virus that causes a fatal brain infection in mammals, including humans. Once symptoms begin, death follows in nearly all cases, but a series of shots given soon after a person is exposed can prevent the disease from occurring. Rabies virus is spread through the saliva of an animal that is actively sick with the disease, transmitted through a bite or scratch, or a lick on broken skin or mucous membranes. Unlike other common sources of rabies—raccoons, foxes, skunks, feral cats and the occasional ground hog—bats have a much higher level of mobility through flight, and their very small mouths make it possible for a sleeping person to be unaware of having been bitten. Bats also present a rabies risk over a wide area, in every state except Hawaii.
Bats are a part of the natural environment and offer many benefits, including insect control. Only a very small percentage of bats carry rabies at any one time, but it is not possible to tell by looking whether a bat has rabies, and bats in unusual places, such as inside a dwelling or outside in the daytime, are more likely to be affected. Once again, any physical contact between a human and a wild bat, or a bat present in a room with a sleeping person, is a potential rabies exposure. Affected persons should be seen by a healthcare provider right away.
The health department further advises:
- Never approach or touch wild animals, especially any raccoon, fox, skunk or bat, especially if it is behaving oddly or if it is seen in the daylight.
- If you find a bat in a room where a human has been sleeping, that person must be seen by a medical professional immediately.
- If you have bats in your attic or other area where you may physically encounter them, strongly consider having them removed by a professional.
- Avoid stray cats and dogs. Feral or unknown cats and dogs may also carry rabies. Report bites or scratches from these animals to your physician or the health department.
- Vaccinate all cats, dogs and ferrets against rabies (even if they don’t go outdoors) and keep their shots up to date. Vaccinate working barn cats as well, for their protection and yours.
- Do not feed wild animals or stray cats or dogs. Eliminate outdoor food sources around the home.
- Keep pets confined to your property or walk them on a leash.
- If one of your domestic animals is bitten or otherwise interacts with a wild mammal, notify the local health department and animal control officer at once, and have the animal seen by a veterinarian.
If you are bitten, scratched, or licked by any of these animals, seek medical attention immediately. Rabies is fatal to both animals and humans once symptoms begin, but it can be prevented in humans if they receive vaccine and medication soon after exposure.
Finally, if in doubt, or if you have a question, call your local health department, or the Frederick/Winchester office at 540-722-3480.
Additional information on rabies is available from the Virginia Department of Health at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-epidemiology/rabies-control/.
The Lord Fairfax Health District serves residents in the city of Winchester and Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties. For more information, visit www.vdh.virginia.gov/lord-fairfax/.
Retiring superintendent, school board members receive formal send-off
FRONT ROYAL — Two outgoing members of the Warren County School Board and retiring Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Greg Drescher on Wednesday night received a formal goodbye from their School Board colleagues.
The School Board held a reception for the retiring public servants prior to their regular December 4 meeting at the government center and then during the meeting presented them with gifts and official resolutions recognizing the time they’ve worked for Warren County.
The last day for Drescher and the expiring terms for School Board members Donna McEathron and C. Douglas Rosen all fall on December 31.
Drescher, who has been the WCPS superintendent for five years following a 37-year career in education, on September 6 announced his retirement in a press release in which he cited his wife’s “serious health issues” as being a primary factor in his decision to leave WCPS early.
Shortly thereafter, the School Board during its regular October 2 meeting unanimously voted to put Drescher on paid administrative leave until his retirement after he was indicted along with more than a dozen other local individuals in the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) financial scandal. Those charges were all later dismissed when the presiding judge ruled there was no legal precedent making unintentional negligence a criminal offense in Virginia.
Drescher simultaneously was superintendent of schools and a member of the EDA Board of Directors. He served 12 years on the EDA board and was board chairman in 2017-2018 during the height of what has been shown to be when the financial scandal started to unravel. He resigned completely from the EDA board in March.
Meanwhile, both School Board terms for McEathron and Rosen are up at the end of the year and neither of them sought reelection during the November special elections.
The EDA financial scandal also has tragically touched the life of retiring Warren County School Board member Donna McEathron, who has served on the board since January 1, 2016.
Her husband, former Warren County Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron, is believed to have committed suicide earlier this year at their home property after announcing his retirement amid accusations he also was involved in the EDA financial scandal.
Daniel McEathron had formed a limited liability company, or LLC, in August 2016 with former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and the two reportedly spent nearly $3 million on real estate deals, sometimes paying as much as $1 million in cash for choice land in desirable locations.
McDonald faces multiple federal felony counts for her alleged role in the ongoing EDA fraud investigation. Daniel McEathron was laid to rest in June.
No mention of the EDA was made during the School Board’s December 4 meeting and Drescher had no comment on the EDA situation when asked for one by the Royal Examiner during the reception.
The School Board noted during the presentations portion of its Wednesday meeting that since it was the final regular meeting for Drescher, Donna McEathron and Rosen, the board members wished to recognize their service to the citizens and students of Warren County.
A resolution in recognition and appreciation of their service was prepared for each of them and then adopted by the School Board. Chairwoman Bower read out loud each resolution to those in attendance at the meeting. Drescher received a standing ovation from the crowd following presentation of his resolution and gift.
FRWRC receives $5,355 at Rotary Club of Warren County Gala Beneficiary 2019
The Rotary Club of Warren County presented the Front Royal Women’s Resource Center with a check for $5,355 at their weekly meeting. The FRWRC was designated as one of the beneficiaries receiving half of the proceeds from the Rotary Club of Warren County’s 2019 Gala fundraiser. Watch this short video as the women from the resource center accept the award and speak briefly about the Dare to Dream Grant they offer to local women to help them achieve their dreams. Learn more at: www.frwrc.org (applications are now being accepted for 2020 grants).
Every year in July, Rotary members are asked to submit applications from nonprofits in Warren County/Front Royal to be considered for Gala Beneficiary. It has to be a local organization and go to a local project. The Service Committee reviews all applications at the August Service Committee meeting, makes their selection and then submits it to the BOD for approval. Learn more about Rotary Club of Warren County: www.warrencountyrotary.org.
Warren County Educational Endowment awards $44,411.74 in grants to Warren County Public Schools
The Warren County Educational Endowment awarded 10 grants this week, totaling $44,411.74, to the Warren County Public School System. Grants were awarded for the following projects:
- Breath of Life – Jane Baker/WCHS, SHS, and BRTC – $3,040.00 – The grant will be used to purchase adult manikins with CPR rate monitors for Sports Medicine and Nurse Assistant classes. CPR training and certification testing is now required for Sports Medicine and Nurse Assistant students. Neither high school has the proper equipment, and the adult manikins at the Tech Center no longer meet required specifications. The ability for the schools to provide their own CPR Trainers with equipment will cut costs of outside parties providing these services.
- Guitar Methods Course – Beth Whitney/Warren County High School – $4,933.79 – The goal of this project is to establish a guitar program at Warren County High School. Skyline High School already has a guitar program, so this would extend the opportunity to all high school students in the county. It would also expand on the ukulele and guitar programs at some of the county elementary schools. A guitar program would give students a new opportunity to expand their higher-level creative-thinking skills.
- Interact Streamer: Removing Communication and Learning Barriers– Amiira Lanterman/WCPS Special Services – $3,900.00 – The project will provide real-time access and improved academic success for students with barriers to communication and classroom instruction. Interact-Streamer is a streaming speech to text captioning system; as the teacher speaks, there is an instant “transcript” available for the student to follow along with the lecture in real time. Interact-Streamer provides a voice to students who need it; as the student types, there is an instant text-to-voice “dictation” for the rest of the class to hear. Interact-Streamer is a translator that directly translates conversations to and from a variety of foreign languages. Interact-Streamer requires a website, teacher microphone and USB receiver (all included in annual subscription). The WCPS Chromebooks are compatible with this system.
- Keeping Fit with Chromebooks – Sarah Putnam and Betsey Walker/ Warren County High School – $1,299.95 – This grant will fund a resource for students and faculty to encourage physical well-being while also enriching their minds through reading a book and/or completing work for class on their Chromebooks. This resource will also provide an opportunity for those students who might not participate in extracurricular physical activities to maintain physical well-being.
- Plickers – Jessica Ryan/Ressie Jeffries Elementary School – $1,688.00 – The funding will provide 4th grade teachers the opportunity to implement Plickers effectively in the classroom to enhance learning opportunities and engagement for all. Plickers is an interactive tool that is used within the classroom to collect real time data on formative assessments. The program was created by a teacher and provides students with an interactive approach to assessment. Students use Plicker cards to respond to teacher prepared questions. Plickers is an effective tool in the classroom and provides students with the opportunity to respond in an engaging way.
- The SELf Project (Social Emotional Learning to help the SELF) – JoAnna Martin/Social Services – $4,900.00 – The goal of The SELf Project is to foster a supportive foundation which promotes social and emotional competencies for adults and students. Social emotional skills are essential for students to thrive in school and in the world. The SELf Project provides an innovative approach to promote the five competencies of Social Emotional Learning (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making). Support for delivering SEL content will be provided in two ways. On a larger level, elementary schools will be given Mindfulness Bins which will contain lessons and resources on mindfulness for teachers to easily implement mindfulness-related activities into their classrooms. In addition, there will be a focus on one classroom to pilot a more intensive option. The SELf Project combines an evidence-based curriculum and restorative practices as well as teacher self-care support systems to ensure that teachers are confident and able to successfully deliver a level of high quality SEL instruction. Supporting the teacher and providing encouragement for self-care is the most critical aspect of this project.
- I.G. (Boys Into Gentlemen) H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Pursue Excellence) – Shane Goodwin/ E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School – $5,650.00 – The project will instill leadership and service qualities in fourth and fifth grade students that will positively contribute to the local community and beyond. The goal for the project is to provide at-risk fourth and fifth grade boys and girls with a road map for a successful future in our community and beyond. The program for girls is called Helping Others Pursue Excellence (HOPE) and our boys program is called Boys Into Gentlemen (BIG). The project aim is to introduce students to opportunities that provide leadership development, emotional support systems, career exploration, networking opportunities, and community service opportunities.
- Customized Project Line in a School Store – Richard Gardner/Warren County High School – $6,000 – This project will have students participate in a Work-Based Learning experience through applications in a school-based enterprise (school store). By purchasing a Roland Direct to Garment Printer, the WCHS DECA’s school-based enterprise will be able to custom print school club and team apparel and cloth accessories. This will enable marketing students to explore and learn marketing concepts, such as product development, promotion, distribution, product acquisition, financing, and pricing, through a “hands-on” approach. Further CTE and Workplace Readiness Skills such as: demonstrating creativity and innovation; demonstrating critical thinking and problem solving; demonstrating customer service skills; collaborating with team members; and experiencing aspects of planning, management, financial responsibility, and technical and production skills required of workers within an industry/organization.
- Reducing the Ecological Footprint of Warren County – Kara Lewallen/Skyline High School Green Team– $3,000 – This project will provide every Warren County Kindergarten student with an organic, fair-trade, reusable grocery bag and a true story book about an animal that has suffered due to human plastic waste in our waterways. By providing the organic, fair-trade, reusable bags, we hope to encourage students and their families to make the shift to a more environmentally sustainable way of shopping. Plastics in the ocean and our bloodstreams are problems we can try to help solve by effective communication about the issues and collaboration among our students, school system, and local businesses.
- Patient Care Technician – Jane Baker/BRTC – $10,000 – This project will provide Nurse Assistant students additional training to become Certified Patient Care Technicians, Certified Phlebotomy Technicians, and Certified EKG Technicians. Patient Care Technician will be offered as an occupational course after the completion of Nurse Aide at the 12th-grade level. It emphasizes the study of nursing occupations as related to the healthcare system. Students will study normal growth and development, simple body structure and function, and medical terminology and will be introduced to microbes and disease. Upon completion of the course, students will master skills performing EKGs, basic medical, lab and exam procedures, drawing blood, and providing basic patient care. Students will be eligible to take the National Certification exams to become a Certified Phlebotomy Technician, Certified EKG Technician, and Certified Patient Care Technician.
The Endowment is a catalyst for improving the education and learning environment in Warren County Public Schools. Sometimes it takes private support of public efforts to incubate an idea or a new approach that helps students compete in a global marketplace, instills passion for life-long learning, and sparks a vision to strive for success. Programs funded by the Endowment are sponsored by our school system and are consistent with its mission and direction. They are intended to initiate sustained improvement in the fundamental capability of the school system and enhance the attractiveness of the community through the promotion of educational excellence.
Endowment President Doug Stanley stated, “The Warren County Educational Endowment maintains its commitment to its mission of helping the local school system support high level and creative programs for our children. The Board was again extremely excited to see the cooperation shown by the teachers in developing the grant proposals, many with cross collaboration of disciplines. With these ten grant awards, we feel that we have been able to provide additional tools to our dedicated teachers to continue to push innovation for our students in their Trek-to-Excellence.”
According to Interim School Superintendent Melody Sheppard, “The Warren County Educational Endowment continues to be a great partner of Warren County Public Schools. The funding provided by the Endowment enables our school system to create exciting learning opportunities for our students that otherwise may not have been possible. This year the Endowment is funding projects related to health sciences, performing arts, entrepreneurship, social-emotional learning, environmental stewardship, and accessibility. The Endowment continues to create a positive impact on our school system. We are thankful for their support.”
To date the Endowment has awarded 156 grants totaling $545,290.41. Persons interested in supporting the Endowment can contact the Endowment or make a donation at wceducationalendowment.org.
Seven lives lost on Virginia highways during 2019 Thanksgiving weekend
Of the seven people killed in Virginia traffic crashes during the 2019 Thanksgiving weekend, two were teenagers and three were not wearing seat-belts. Though this past holiday statistical counting period saw fewer fatal crashes than in previous years, even one fatality is one too many.
During the five-day period which began at 12:01 a.m. Nov. 27, 2019, and concluded at midnight Dec. 1, 2019, seven men and women lost their lives in seven traffic crashes on Virginia highways. The fatal crashes occurred in the City of Virginia Beach and the counties of Bedford, Henrico, Mecklenburg, Nottoway, Rockbridge and Stafford. Six of those killed were drivers and alcohol was a factor in at least two of the fatal crashes. A 19-year-old female was killed in the Bedford County crash and an 18-year-old male lost his life in the Stafford County crash.
There were 12 traffic fatalities during the 2018 five-day Thanksgiving statistical counting period and 14 traffic fatalities during the same period in 2017. *
In an effort to prevent traffic deaths and injuries during the Thanksgiving holiday, the Virginia State Police participated in Operation C.A.R.E., an acronym for the Crash Awareness and Reduction Effort. Operation CARE is an annual, state-sponsored, national program during which state police increases its visibility and traffic enforcement efforts during the five-day statistical counting period.
The 2019 Thanksgiving Holiday C.A.R.E. initiative resulted in troopers citing 5,221 speeders and 1,798 reckless drivers statewide. Virginia troopers charged 83 drivers for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and cited 490 drivers for failing to buckle up themselves and/or juvenile passengers.
State police responded to 1,312 traffic crashes across the Commonwealth, with 178 of those resulting in injuries and seven in fatalities. State police also assisted 2,294 disabled/stranded motorists during the Thanksgiving weekend.
“With only 27 days left in 2019, the Virginia State Police reminds all drivers to do their part to keep the winter holiday season as safe as possible on our highways,” said Colonel Gary T. Settle, Virginia State Police Superintendent. “Let’s end this decade by working together to save lives on our roadways, instead of putting them at risk by engaging in reckless driving behaviors. Make the right choice by always wearing a seat-belt, safely sharing the road with all vehicles and pedestrians, and by not driving intoxicated or ‘intexticated.’”
*Source: Virginia Highway Safety Office, Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles
Warren County Sheriff’s Office seeking information after discovering a deceased male
On December 2, 2019, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office was called to the area of Digs Landing in the Rivermont area of Warren County for the discovery of a deceased individual. The remains are that of an unknown male with the following clothing description: green baseball style shirt with blue sleeves and a blue pocket and black denim shorts.
The deceased has not been identified at this time. Identification is pending findings from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Further details in the matter are not being released at this time due to the ongoing investigation. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office was assisted at the scene by the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office and Warren County Fire and Rescue. The manner of death is considered suspicious and the investigation is ongoing. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office wants the citizens to know that this appears to be an isolated incident and there is no immediate threat to public safety.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Investigator Emily Young of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office at 540-635-4128 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Citizens can also utilize the Warren County Sheriff’s Office website to submit a tip by going to www.warrencountysheriff.org. Anyone with information can remain anonymous.