The Norfolk Southern Railroad (NSR) notified the Warren County Sheriff’s Office the morning of 09/07/2021 that the railroad was closing the crossing at Rockland Road for track repair and maintenance. A representative from the NFR stated that they are optimistic that the project will be completed within the next several days, with Thursday being the earliest expected completion date.
The Warren County Emergency Communications Center notified area residents of the closure today using Facebook and also the county RAVE Alert system, which sends an automated message to registered emails, cellphones, and landline phone numbers. Motorists are being asked to use alternate routes such as Fairground Road, Ashby Station Road, or Morgan Ford Road.
Sheriff Mark Butler has been in contact with the NSR to express his concern regarding the unannounced closure and wishes the public to know that he has also been contacting our State elected officials about the excessive impeding of public and private roads in the county by the railway when trains are stopped on the tracks for unacceptable periods of time.
Governor Glenn Youngkin declares State of Emergency in advance of Hurricane Ian
Governor Glenn Youngkin declared a State of Emergency in advance of Hurricane Ian, which is expected to impact portions of Virginia starting on Friday, September 30, 2022.
“Hurricane Ian is a large, powerful storm, and current predictions indicate that it may impact parts of Virginia later this week into early next week,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin. “We want to ensure that our communities have the resources to respond to and recover from any potential effects from the storm. While we recognize that the storm track is still uncertain, I nevertheless encourage all Virginians and visitors to make a plan, have supplies on hand, and follow official sources for the latest forecast information and guidance. Suzanne and I will pray for those in Florida in the storm’s path.”
This State of Emergency allows the Commonwealth to mobilize resources and equipment for response and recovery efforts. Virginians should be prepared for the potential of severe rainfall, flooding, wind damage, tornadoes, and other storm-related impacts.
The Virginia Emergency Support Team (VEST) actively monitors the situation and coordinates resources and information to prepare for this storm. The Virginia Emergency Operations Center (VEOC) will coordinate preparedness, response, and recovery efforts with local, state, and federal officials.
Recommendations for Virginians
Make a plan. Plan in advance a route to a safe place, how you will stay in contact with family and friends, and what you will do in different situations. Additional planning resources are available at https://www.vaemergency.gov/prepare/make-a-plan/.
Prepare an emergency kit. For a list of recommended emergency supplies to sustain your household before, during, and after the storm, visit VAemergency.gov/emergency-kit.
Stay informed. Virginians should follow the Virginia Department of Emergency Management on Twitter and Facebook for preparedness updates and their local National Weather Service office for the latest weather forecast, advisories, watches, or warnings. Download the FEMA app on your smartphone to receive mobile alerts from the National Weather Service. Power outages are always a concern during weather events—make sure you have a battery-operated radio available to still receive life-saving alerts.
Skyline High students protest pending ‘anti-trans’ legislation forwarded by Governor Youngkin
Thirteen public school students gathered on the Skyline High School campus Tuesday morning to protest Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s initiative in forwarding what they termed an “anti-trans law” in Virginia. The students, aged 14 to 17, were orderly throughout as they moved from the front of the school to the football field authorized for the students’ expression of distress at what they believe would become legalized discrimination against transgender students. One of the student organizers who contacted media about the event scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to noon termed it a “Trans Rights Walkout”.
Asked about the student demonstration, Skyline High Principal Danelle Sperling told Royal Examiner: “When the student-led walkout began, I spoke with two of the organizers and made a plan with them to provide adult supervision to ensure safety, and I made plans to communicate with the involved students’ families about our response. Obviously we want students in class, but our desire was to make sure they remained safe and that their civil liberties were respected. This group of students were peaceful and extremely respectful for the duration of their protest and returned to their school day after about 30 minutes without incident.”
Online research of the recent legislative initiative of apparent 2024 Republican Presidential hopeful Youngkin led us to several reports, including mid-September Washington Post and National Public Radio stories. The Post in particular cited civil rights attorney’s questions about the legal basis for the governor’s mandate regarding bathroom, locker-room and other school facilities uses by transgender children.
But of the legislation itself, NPR notes that, “The Virginia Department of Education released its 2022 Model Policies online Friday (Sept. 16) … The new rules will effected the more than 1 million children enrolled in the state’s public school system.
“The revamped rules explicitly state that students must only use bathrooms and locker rooms associated with the sex assigned to them at birth. If a student wants to participate in a sport or other extracurricular activities, they must, again, only participate in teams that align with the sex assigned at birth.
“Further, the legal name and sex of a student can’t be changed ‘even upon written instruction of a parent or eligible student’ without an official legal document or court order.”
The Post story by Rachel Weiner quotes employment and civil rights attorney Joshua Erlich stating, “Gov. Youngkin is trying to pick a political fight by attacking trans students, but his model policies are in conflict with recent court rulings … Discrimination against transgender individuals is illegal discrimination on the basis of sex.”
The Post story also notes that, “Recent federal court decisions have upheld protections for transgender people, including a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision, written by Trump appointee Neil M. Gorsuch, that determined that civil rights law barring sex discrimination covers transgender people,” and that, “In 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that a transgender student could not be barred from using a boys’ bathroom. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that ruling last year.”
The Post also noted conflicting legal messaging and a failure to clarify from the Virginia governor’s office: “The directive, which does not go into effect until after a 30-day public comment period beginning later this month, says schools must comply with federal precedent and the Virginia Human Rights Act, but it does not explain how. A spokeswoman for the governor declined to answer specific questions about the policy, saying in a statement that it ‘requires that schools treat every single student with dignity and respect.’ Some districts have vowed to resist it,” the Post reported.
And so it goes from Richmond to Front Royal and Warren County, as around the Commonwealth, as established legal precedent and human rights butt heads with political ambition and the nation’s widening social divide.
Winchester to conduct an emergency exercise on October 1st
WINCHESTER, VA – The City of Winchester public safety departments, various supporting agencies, and Winchester Public Schools will hold a full-scale emergency exercise on Saturday, October 1, 2022. The training exercise will be held in and around John Handley High School from approximately 8 am-12 pm.
This simulated scenario will focus on an emergency response to an active threat inside the school. The goal is to assess the readiness of first responders and school staff to facilitate a coordinated and timely response in the event of a future threat.
Please be aware of these potential public disruptions:
1. Increase in traffic around John Handley High School, Garland R. Quarles Elementary School, and John Kerr Elementary School
2. Road closures (access will be allowed for residents in the affected areas): Jefferson Street (Valley Avenue to Tennyson Avenue), Handley Boulevard (Stewart Street to Handley Avenue), Handley Avenue (Miller Street to Jefferson Street), Handley Avenue (Handley Blvd to Briarmont Drive)
The exercise is closed to the public.
Warren Heritage Society host tour of Bel Air Mansion
On September 24, 2022, the Warren Heritage Society hosted a tour of the Bel Air Mansion in Front Royal, Virginia. In this exclusive Royal Examiner video, you will hear Maral Kalbian, Architectural Historian, provide some historical remarks on Bel Air and how it has changed over the years. Also, excepts from Luck Buck’s Diary and letters, read by Hallie Groves, President of the WHS Board of Directors. WHS Archivist Tony Carter welcomed the guest and introduced the speakers.
Richard Hoover, a WHS Board member, gives the history of the Warren Heritage Society along with welcoming remarks from Jeff LeHew, the current owner of Bel Air. The Warren Heritage Society wants to thank Lorraine Hulquist, Suzanne Silek, Tom Lockhart, and Hallie Groves for their generosity in helping sponsor this event.
Bel Air Mansion, built in 1795, was home to 19-year-old Lucy Buck, whose detailed diary entries during the war have been invaluable for historians. General Robert E. Lee and his staff stopped here for refreshments on July 22, 1863, as his army retreated from Gettysburg.
School Board again delays action on VSBA items; approves lease for Elements Program
A new lease to house the Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Elements Program received unanimous approval from the Warren County School Board during its Wednesday, September 21 meeting, and the board received updates on several WCPS items during its coinciding work session.
At the same time, members present to vote during the meeting — School Board Chair Kristen Pence, Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi, and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins — again delayed action on three items related to the board’s potential 2022-2023 membership in the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA).
The VSBA-related items were removed from the agenda prior to the meeting “in order to receive additional information and will be added to the October 5 meeting,” according to the School Board’s revised agenda.
Removal of the three VSBA items — to approve renewal of the board’s VSBA membership; to renew the VSBA Policy Services Agreement; and to select a delegate and alternate delegate to attend the 2022 VSBA Annual Convention — again delays board action initially requested months ago and which continues to lag mainly due to concerns expressed largely by Salins, who objects to the School Board’s membership in the association.
The board members voted 5-0 to approve each of the three other action items on the agenda — including improvements for handicapped accessibility at Skyline High School and a one-year contract for the Schoology learning management system.
Following a motion by Funk and a second by Salins, the School Board first approved a WCPS lease agreement for the Raymond Santmyers Youth Center for the WCPS Elements Program, which WCPS Special Services Director Michael Hirsch (above) said is a transition program to bridge the gap between high school and adulthood for qualified students with disabilities.
Specifically, Elements is a community-based program for students ages 18 to 22 that focuses on pre-employment, supported employment, and employment strategies, said Hirsch.
“Some students with disabilities don’t have the option to go to college, particularly those with significant cognitive impairments,” Hirsch explained, “so we decided to work with Lord Fairfax Community College and create our own program named Elements.”
Lord Fairfax Community College is now known as Laurel Ridge Community College. Hirsch said the Elements Program was located at the college for years until March 2020 when WCPS had to stop holding its class there. Hirsch said the plan now is to go back to the college with an expanded program that will allow WCPS to serve more students than the nine it currently serves this school year.
“We want to give students who don’t graduate with a standard or advanced diploma the option to stay [in WCPS] until their 22nd birthday,” Hirsch said. “We don’t like to see students sitting in Warren County High School or Skyline High School for eight years in a restrictive setting, so we’re creating options in the community and at the college.”
Until WCPS can hold its Elements class at the college again, Hirsch said the division wanted the community-based program for students with disabilities to continue operations. Warren County stepped up and offered free space at the Santmayer Youth Center to home base the Elements Program. This year’s nine students in the program will go into the community to work in positions with the Town of Front Royal and for all types of local business partners as they “learn how to work competitively,” said Hirsch.
WCPS plans to have two program bases when the college reopens its doors in the spring, Hirsch said. From the college site, students will be able to work a variety of positions, such as in the mail room, in food service, or in the student union, he said, while from the youth center they will be able to work in Front Royal-located positions.
“We love it and we’re very thankful to the County for stepping up and providing this resource to us,” said Hirsch.
With the School Board’s approval of the action item, WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger is now authorized to execute either a lease or a memorandum of agreement with Warren County for the occupancy of a portion of the youth center, which is on East 8th Street in Front Royal.
In other action, the board approved WCPS purchasing the 2022-2023 Schoology learning management system totaling $16,147.17 for use this school year in the elementary schools. WCPS has used the system for the last two years during the pandemic and upon completion of a survey this year decided to continue using it, according to WCPS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Heather Bragg. The system is used by teachers to communicate with students and parents, among other tasks.
The last action item approved by the School Board regarded a request to install additional curb cuts at the bus loop/parking lot entrance at Skyline High School where a painted pedestrian crosswalk currently exists to increase student and staff safety and to improve handicapped accessibility.
The board approved a contract totaling $19,235.83 that will be awarded to the Gordian Group, which will install the handicapped-accessible curb cuts that will be compliant with federal laws.
Among several items discussed during the work session portion of the School Board’s meeting, WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith outlined information related to the planned renovations at Leslie Fox Keyser (LFK) Elementary School.
The Warren County School Board Building Committee — which also met on Wednesday prior to the School Board’s meeting — worked through value engineering items and looked at identifying additional funding sources for the LFK project.
For example, roughly $245,800 would be available for the LFK project from the WCPS cafeteria fund to use for new appliances and their installation, said Smith, who added that tens of thousands of dollars in project savings also could be derived from modified renovations that would cost less and not detract from the overall project’s scope.
Smith told School Board members that the building committee will have a contract that has been reviewed by the division attorney ready, as well as a presentation for the School Board so that it can possibly take action on it during the board’s October 5 meeting.
Watch the exclusive Royal Examiner video of the entire Warren County School Board Building Committee meeting below.
In another work session item, Superintendent Ballenger reported that there are 5,042 students currently attending WCPS, not including the roughly 173 to 175 students in pre-kindergarten.
Ballenger also pointed out that class sizes are growing at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, which is expected to need five teachers per grade level within the next two years. E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School also may need additional teaching supports, he said.
After discussing some options for providing such additional support — which is needed now to come back from pandemic-related deficits in reading and math in Ressie classrooms — Ballenger said he will present an item for board action on how to do so at its next meeting.
“We are pushing the limits of the number of students per class,” Ballenger told board members, “and we still are having to do a lot of remediation. We want to make sure we’re giving students the best services possible.”
Another work session item that will come up later for School Board action included removing the gender specifications from both the Warren County Educational Foundation Scholarship and the Thompson Scholarship, which are awarded at each WCPS high school to the male and female student with the highest academic GPA who also meet the criteria for the scholarships. The scholarships are usually in the amount of $3,000 each but may be adjusted depending on the amount of money available for distribution.
WCPS would like the School Board to consider making that change to the scholarships’ criteria in order to recognize the two students at each high school with the highest academic GPA, regardless of their gender, said Bragg.
Also, due to increased demands on the WCPS Finance Department, Ballenger said there is a need to add a new position to the department. This work session item also will come up at a future board meeting for consideration.
Warren County School Board Building Committee meeting of September 21, 2022
Warren County School Board Meeting/Work Session of September 21, 2022
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for September 26 – 30, 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.
*NEW* Exit 1, westbound – Shoulder closures along off-ramp to I-81 for sign work, Tuesday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
*NEW* Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Right shoulder closures for sign work, Tuesday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
*NEW* Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) – Flagger traffic control between Front Royal town limits and Route 79 (Apple Mountain Road) for tree removal operations, September 26 – October 7 from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Route 55 (Strasburg Road) – Mobile work zone between Route 616 (Messick Road/Richardson Road) and Route 664 (Whipporwill Road) for utility work, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday.
*NEW* Route 604 (Harmony Hollow Road) – Road closed near Route 600 (Hickerson Hollow Road) for pipe installation, Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. No detour due to dead-end road.
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 about 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.