Residents outraged over potential book banning in Warren County Public Schools
Local proponents for and against potential book banning in Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) voiced their concerns during the community participation segment of the Warren County School Board’s Wednesday, April 6 meeting.
While no books have been banned in the school division at this time, according to WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, residents expressed opinions to School Board members in reaction to a local newspaper article about a related parent complaint, as well as public Facebook comments posted by board member Melanie Salins.
For instance, according to Erin Kennedy, a Happy Creek District resident, and parent of a WCPS student, “In the [Facebook] post Miss Salins asserts that the secondary libraries host graphic erotic adult fiction, suggesting the materials are smut. Though I am not one of the district’s excellent school librarians, I still find this assertion to be defamatory and offensive.”
WCPS secondary librarians ensure that the library shelves are filled with age-appropriate literature and other materials for the division’s oldest students, who are soon getting ready to enter adulthood, Kennedy told the School Board.
“Isolated passages that you deem explicit or graphic, I suggest are not central to the works as a whole and are used by the authors to illustrate the sometimes ugly and very real-world in which they have lived or observed,” said Kennedy. “Further, our students’ social media channels allow them unfettered access to much more objectionable material than we would find on the shelves at either Warren County high school.”
Kennedy questioned from where Salins’ concern originated. “Did a group of parents contact you with sincere worry over the books in our schools’ libraries or are you assuming a problem exists in our schools based on a list of concerning books pushed by a national political action network?” she asked.
“If a large number — say a majority of parents — is coalescing around the notion of removing certain books in our libraries, that would be one thing,” Kennedy continued. “However, I would be dismayed to learn that a school board member manufactured a problem within our community based on political agendas that do not directly impact our students.”
As an American, Kennedy said she celebrates free speech and independent thinking, and she considers their potential removal to be unpatriotic.
“In short, I view trying to remove age-appropriate books from school shelves as censorship,” said Kennedy, who added that she believes parents have the right to choose what’s right for their own children, “but not for mine.”
Janet Brome, a Warren County resident for over 40 years and a former WCPS teacher, said she’s “seen the efforts to ban books before.”
“Education is designed to expand our horizons and broaden our perspective. Its purpose is not to limit our studies only to those ideals we personally agree with,” said Brome. “If parents wish to limit their child’s access to certain points of view, then let them do that in their roles as parents without limiting access to what my grandchildren can read in their schools.”
Brome added that banning books about gender and race from public institutions denies people the right to examine the full scope of human existence. “If what you believe yourself personally has merit, then it will stand up to examination without having to eliminate access to what others would like to better understand,” said Brome, who urged the board to “support openness” in WCPS as opposed to censorship.
Melissa Nicholson, who lives in the South River District and has a child in WCPS, claimed that Superintendent Ballenger “lied to a School Board member about sexually explicit books being available to children in the school’s libraries,” and pointed to the book Dime being on the library shelves at WCPS secondary schools.
“I am calling on the Board to stop overlooking the lies,” said Nicholson, who said that opt-outs might prevent a child from checking out the book, but not from going into the library, getting the book, and sitting down to read it.
Dime is about the realities of teen prostitution, and its author, E.R. Frank, is also a clinical social worker and psychotherapist who works with adults and adolescents and specializes in trauma.
Eric Bartock, a North River District resident, said he had initially planned to read an excerpt from E.R. Frank’s award-winning book, Life is Funny, but thought decorum prevented it.
“It’s flat-out pornography,” Bartock said of the book, which is about 11 teenagers who live in Brooklyn, N.Y. “You would think it was written by Larry Flint,” known for publishing pornographic material like Hustler magazine.
“This isn’t about the First Amendment,” he said. “It’s about protecting children from things they do not need to be exposed to.”
Resident Wendy Kurtz did read an excerpt from Life is Funny and asked what the School Board members thought about it and whether the book was the type of diversity they wanted children in the 6th grade reading about.
“I don’t have kids in the school system right now but I’m gonna be a grandma someday soon and it bothers me so badly that these books are not being reviewed,” Kurtz said. “Pay attention! These are little kids.”
“They want to censor reading material comes from the earnest and heartfelt urge to protect children,” acknowledged Genevieve Roesch of Front Royal, who nonetheless said that children’s rights to access literature that’s vital to developing their skills beyond the classroom must be protected.
“Adults’ discomfort should never take precedence over quality education,” Roesch said, pausing to stare at Salins. “Children who read broadly about topics that open the world to them are not more likely to engage in more dangerous behaviors and do not suffer from mental health issues as a result of that reading material.”
In fact, she said, if children and teens are supported by an adult guide, research shows that when they read such material, they are more apt to be empathetic, more capable of dealing with diversity, and more likely to participate in civic activities.
WCPS Director of Finance and Clerk of the School Board Robert Ballentine read two letters on the topic to the School Board.
“Proponents of book banning want their audiences gullible and scandalized. Their greatest enemy is critical thought and independence,” wrote Kris Nelson. “They are self-righteous, outraged addicts looking for their next bit of grandstanding. Those in this movement are simply following the herd wherever it may lead.”
The other letter from Angela Robinson, a North River District resident, called any potential book banning “the latest political stunt,” and said it was important to acknowledge during April is School Library Month what WCPS librarians “do day in and day out” for students and she encouraged board members to visit their school libraries to thank them.
Amber Morris, who has three kids in WCPS, said books like Life is Funny, which include topics such as pedophilia, gay-sex, trans sex, and rape, “desensitize children and rips them of their innocence.” She called them a “disgusting type of literature.”
Morris also pointed out that reading about topics like rape could trigger trauma in children who have been raped, for example, and agreed with other book banners that the situation “is about parental rights.”
School Board Chair Kristen Pence addressed a local newspaper article published earlier this week (by the Northern Virginia Daily) that she said stemmed from an email the School Board received from a parent on March 24 regarding books that the parent found controversial in WCPS secondary school libraries.
“Dr. Ballenger, school administrators, and librarians from our middle and high schools met to start reviewing the library process when spring break ended on March 28,” Pence said. “They have communicated with the board during the last 10 days and pulled together information for us to review.
“While the newspaper article does include input from Warren County High School Principal Kenneth Knesh, unfortunately, it was rushed to print and relied heavily on comments made by a member of the [Warren County] Board of Supervisors and failed to include information provided by WCPS Superintendent Dr. Ballenger,” she said. “We have since learned that the newspaper was having issues receiving emails so to ensure an effort that the facts are clear for the public, I’d like to ask Dr. Ballenger to share the response he sent to the reporter on April 5.”
Ballenger then summarized the book review process, per WCPS policy: If there are questions concerning a library book or any materials, then the concerned individual can make an appointment to review all books and materials in question. The books or materials then would be pulled for the day for review by the complainant, who would have to return them to the library after the review. The books and materials, though, would remain in circulation during the person’s review.
In WCPS policy, the Process for Reconsideration of School Library and Instructional Material outlines a procedure to be followed, said Ballenger. If it is determined through this process that the book should be removed from circulation, then that action would be taken by the school, he said.
Within policies under instruction, there is form IIA-E that must be filled out to lodge a complaint and speak with a principal, he said. The complainant has the responsibility to arrange a conference with a principal, who will file his/her objections in writing.
The principal then will request a review of the challenged material by an ad hoc school review committee, which will conduct an extensive review and provide details of its findings to the principal for final consideration/action.
The superintendent also would be brought into the loop on the process, Ballenger said, and if a complainant isn’t in agreement with the principal’s determination, then he/she can pursue further formal consideration by the superintendent and the School Board.
“Until these processes take place, the books can stay in circulation,” he said.
In addressing what she called “the accusation” that she wants to ban books, Salins said no one has a constitutional right to show another person’s child pornography.
“If you know me, I’m a constitutionalist. I am not a book banner,” said Salins. “You want to put all the porn and filth in public libraries, you be my guest. If you want to show it to your kids, be my guest. But you’re not going to use our limited taxpayer dollars for our school budget to show it to other people’s children.”
She read a definition of pornography to her colleagues, WCPS staff, and the public and said the Life is Funny excerpt that was read to the board “is pornography and it’s in Warren County Public Schools,” she said.
Regarding posts she made on Facebook, Salins said she’s “allowed to voice” her opinion.
“Once it was brought to our attention, about these books being in our schools, I did talk about it because that’s where consent starts is with the knowledge that it even exists,” she said, adding that parents can’t opt their children out of reading books that they don’t even know are in WCPS libraries.
“Why are we not making our parents opt-in instead?” asked Salins, who encouraged parents to follow the complaint process outlined by Ballenger if they have concerns.
“Parents, it’s in your court,” she said. “If you want your children reading pornography in schools, by all means, you go right on ahead and be my guest. But if you have objections to it, fill out the form and start the ball rolling.”
Click here to view the Warren County School Board’s April 6 meeting in its entirety.
Former FRPD Chief Richard Furr remembered fondly
A Celebration of Life and Memorial Service for former Front Royal Police Chief Richard Furr was held Sunday afternoon, March 19th on the eve of the Spring Equinox, at Riverton United Methodist Church. Friends and colleagues – often both – and family bid a fond farewell to a friend and servant to his community and his family. Furr passed away February 27 at the age of 66.
Scheduled speakers in order of appearance included Chaplain Jackie Thurston of the Virginia State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, Chaplain Roger Vorous of the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Captain, retired, Clint Keller formerly of the Front Royal Police Department, Sgt., retired, Jim Nicholson formerly of the Page County Sheriff’s Office, and U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Richard “Ricky” Furr Jr., son of the departed. A free, catered meal at the church, provided by employees of Samuels Public Library, awaited attendees following the ceremony.
As noted in his Obituary, the Page County born-and-raised Furr: “reached the pinnacle of his (law enforcement) career in 2009 when he was appointed Chief of Police (in Front Royal where he had served since 1982). Although Richard retired from duty in 2012, he remained active in law enforcement by continuing to serve in the Fraternal Order of Police at local and state levels. Richard is survived by his wife, Ruth; children, Richard “Ricky” Jr. (Amy) and Danielle; mother-in-love, Willie; sister-in-love, Robin (Gary); and half-siblings, Brenda (Larry), Christine (Jack), and David (Lori).”
The family has created a website for those who knew Richard to share stories and memories. It can be accessed at richardfurr.wixsite.com/memories.
Rest In Peace, Richard Harvey Furr Sr.
Warren County Public Schools Kindergarten registration information for the 2023-2024 school year
This is a reminder to parents with children that will be 5 years old on or before September 30, 2023.
- Children who will be 5 years old on or before September 30, 2023
*Register at the school in which you are zoned to attend
WHERE AND WHEN:
Starting March 27, 2023 – Register online @ www.wcpsva.org
- March 28, 2023
4:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Individual Elementary Schools – *Register at the school in which your child is zoned to attend
WHAT TO BRING:
- Certified Copy of Birth Certificate
- Parent/Guardian Photo ID
- Physical Form (physical must be within the last 12 months prior to the first day of school)
- Proof of Residence (utility bill, lease, mortgage statement)
- A notarized residency affidavit is required if living in another household
PLEASE REGISTER YOUR CHILD EVEN IF ALL OF THE ABOVE INFORMATION HAS NOT BEEN OBTAINED.
If you have any questions, please call your child’s school:
A.S. Rhodes Elementary School 540-635-4556
E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School 540-635-4188
Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School 540-622-8090
Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School 540-635-3125
Ressie Jeffries Elementary School 540-636-6824
Amy Himes (540) 635-2171, extension 46125
Kendall Poe (540) 635-2171, extension 34230
Belle Grove Plantation opens for the 2023 season
On Saturday, March 18, Belle Grove Plantation will reopen daily to the public. Guided tours of the Manor House are offered Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sunday, 1-5 p.m. at 15 minutes past each hour. The Belle Grove grounds and the Beverley B. Shoemaker Welcome Center (including the Museum Shop and exhibits) are also open during these hours.
Manor House tours include touring the permanent exhibit, Unearthing Enslaved Lives at Belle Grove, which features the archaeology conducted at the Enslaved Quarter Site from 2015 to 2019. The 60,000 excavated artifacts and supporting archival research reveal details about the more than 270 men, women, and children the Hite family enslaved.
Also, on Saturday, March 18, Belle Grove will open a .75-mile walking trail that connects to existing trails on Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation’s property. Visitors may start the trail either at Belle Grove or the 128th New York Monument (on Route 11 near the intersection with Water Plant Road). The path is largely wooded and follows trenches dug by the US 19th Corps as they prepared for a possible attack. This ultimately happened in the initial stages of the Battle of Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. Hikers on the Belle Grove property should follow the yellow blazes along the trail. A map is posted at the trailhead and will be available in the Museum Shop.
In addition to offering daily tours, Belle Grove hosts school and group tours, event rentals, and special events. Belle Grove has a full schedule of events for 2023, including the “Of Ale and History” Beer Festival on May 13. Now in its 28th year, this festival is Virginia’s longest-running Beer Festival, and tickets will go on sale in April. For more information about Belle Grove events, visit www.bellegrove.org/calendar
As a partner in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park, Belle Grove is the site of free, 30-minute programs led by National Park Rangers. Cedar Creek & Belle Grove in a Box gives an overview of the Park at 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays, March 18 and April 8, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays, March 26 and April 2. Kneading in Silence: A Glimpse into the Life of the Enslaved Cook Judah, which discusses the life of Judah, the enslaved cook of Belle Grove, will be presented on Sunday, March 19, and Saturday, March 25, at 2:30 p.m. More information about the Park is at www.nps.gov/cebe.
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, a National Trust for Historic Preservation historic site (www.savingplaces.org). It is also one of the partners in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (www.nps.gov/cebe).
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for March 20 – 24, 2023
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
Mile markers 6 to 13, eastbound and westbound – Single lane closures for maintenance to various bridges, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Friday.
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight single lane closures for equipment moving and bridge removal work, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through the night of April 27.
*NEW* Route 340/522 (Winchester Road) – Northbound and southbound overnight shoulder closures for vegetation management between Route 661 (Fairground Road) and Clarke County line, Tuesday and Wednesday nights from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
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 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.
New leader approved for Blue Ridge Tech Center; new school choice position adopted
The Warren County School Board, during its Wednesday, March 15 work session, unanimously voted to approve the appointment of a new director/principal for the Blue Ridge Technical Center (BRTC) and likewise adopted legislative positions that the board wants the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) to institute.
School Board Chair Kristen Pence and board members Antoinette Funk, Andrea Lo, and Melanie Salins were present for the votes, while Vice Chair Ralph Rinaldi was absent from the meeting.
Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Christopher Ballenger recommended Vince Gregg be appointed as the BRTC director/principal starting on July 1 to replace the current leader, Jane Baker, who retires on June 30.
Gregg has been employed by WCPS since 2008, when he was hired as a social studies teacher at Skyline High School, where he then became dean of students in 2011, serving in that capacity until joining Warren County High School as an assistant principal two years ago, according to Ballenger.
“Mr. Gregg has shown outstanding leadership qualities within our division,” Ballenger said, noting that there will be an overlap in duties during July, with Gregg coming in and Baker finishing out her duties.
Following the board’s approval of Ballenger’s recommendation, Gregg thanked the members for their support.
“I feel like the luckiest guy in the school system,” Gregg said. “I’ve admired the good work done by the staff of the Blue Ridge Tech Center and all of our CTE teachers for the last 15 years.
“I think we all go into this line of work in order to help kids and help set them on the right path in life, to show them a viable route to honest employment and the happiness that follows hard work and a plan for the future,” he added. “I don’t think there’s a group of people who do this better than our [CTE] teachers, and I am humbled and beyond excited to join their team.”
The School Board also unanimously voted to approve WCPS legislative positions related to the VSBA’s Support for Private Education, Vouchers, and Tax Credits; the State School Health Advisory Committee; and Disorderly Conduct for School-Based Offenses.
Specifically, the School Board would like to see their adopted legislative positions likewise adopted by the VSBA in its legislative policies.
For instance, the VSBA currently opposes federal or state efforts to mandate school choice, including efforts to divert or condition funding from existing federal and state programs.
The School Board’s position now states that “VSBA will remain neutral on federal or state efforts to allow school choice.”
Also, in this section on Support for Private Education, Vouchers, and Tax Credits, the School Board would like to see this deleted from the VSBA legislative policy: “Private and home schools have no direct accountability to taxpayers for their use of tax revenues because they are explicitly excluded from public accountability under both state and federal law. With vouchers and tuition tax credits, private and home schools would have an advantage in competition with public schools because they can be selective in admissions and can refuse to provide services that public schools, by law, must provide. Vouchers and tuition tax credits for private and home schools could result in fewer existing state and federal funds appropriated to support public school programs. The VSBA opposes any federal or state voucher and tuition tax credit legislation and any legislation that would provide vouchers or tuition tax credits for elementary and secondary private and homeschooled school students. The VSBA also opposes measures requiring the transfer of local taxpayer funds to other jurisdictions or to private providers should a student choose to enroll in a virtual program outside of their home school division.”
On its agenda, the School Board listed its reasoning for the changes in this section: “The generalized belief and reason we have public education is because, as a society, we recognize that education is important to our future, and we are willing to work together to make sure all children receive a quality education. As we progress, we have learned to appreciate and respect the wide array of learning styles and needs. We are past the point of one size fits all education and need to continue to expand the methods and opportunities available. As voters elect representatives and call on them to expand school choice opportunities through newly proposed legislation, it is counterproductive for the VSBA to lobby to kill such bills. Expanding opportunities for others does not mean lesser opportunities for local school districts.”
Prior to the board’s vote to adopt the WCPS legislative positions, Warren County resident Bertha Jenkins (above) told members it was “disappointing and concerning” that the School Board was voting to amend and remove the legislative positions adopted by the VSBA.
“The same School Board took an oath of office to the Virginia Constitution,” said Jenkins, “and nowhere in the Virginia Constitution does it say free parental school choice for private education or homeschooling while disenfranchising your fellow taxpayer that has no child and infringing on your First Amendment right to petition government for redress of grievances.”
Jenkins said she “never imagined” she would have to address a public education school board to remind members of their constitutional duty to the public education system.
“School choice should never have a seat at the table in public education,” she said. “School choice is a private education choice by parents funded by taxpayers at the expense of the public education system. Parents already have the right to choose what education best suits their child.”
Jenkins also said that she has observed “the systematic tearing down” and dismantling of the public education system in Warren County by local officials, political candidates, politicians, parents, religious groups, special interest groups, “and now our School Board.”
“Vote to continue to support VSBA and their legislative positions that were originally presented to this court, not the amended or omitted [proposals] that are on this action agenda,” she urged board members. “Remember your oath and be a champion for public education.”
Nevertheless, the board unanimously voted to adopt the WCPS legislative positions.
Prior to their vote, board member Salins said there was “a misunderstanding” about what VSBA is and then provided what she called “a quick reminder” that VSBA is a lobbying group that is funded by tax dollars.
According to the VSBA — which is a nonpartisan, voluntary organization of Virginia school boards — the organization has as one of its goals “to advocate effectively for Virginia’s public schools and children before all levels of government and the public.”
Additionally, the VSBA also provides a variety of services, such as governance training, policy services, legal services, superintendent search assistance, collective bargaining services, and strategic planning services, among others. The organization also consists of several task forces, such as the VSBA Task Force on Students and Schools in Challenging Environments, that make recommendations to the Virginia Board of Education and the state Department of Education on a variety of topics.
Salins said VSBA’s legislative positions are not legally binding laws and that the Warren County School Board is “not amending laws, changing laws, or doing anything else. We are simply requesting that they stop lobbying against the actual state representation, who are the elected officials to speak on behalf of the taxpayers.”
“None of this in any way, shape, or form is a means by which to undermine the public school system,” she said. “It’s actually to provide for the sustainability of it and make sure the parental rights are intact.”
In another action, the School Board approved the Architect and Engineering (A&E) design cost of $20,850 to replace the Blue Ridge Technical Center roof. The project will be funded by federal government grants.
The board also unanimously approved the Interagency Agreement between WCPS and RSW Regional Jail. The agreement establishes the guidelines and areas of responsibility between WCPS and RSW Regional Jail for the provision of special education and related services to eligible inmates.
Click here to view the work session in its entirety on this exclusive Royal Examiner video.
Rappahannock resident arrested after investigation by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force
The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force has concluded a two-month long investigation with the arrest of a Rappahannock County, Virginia resident. Keith D. Robinson II, 20, was arrested by the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force following a search warrant executed at a residence in Culpeper. Through the course of the investigation, Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force officers learned that Robinson was involved with distribution of illegal narcotics in the counties of Rappahannock and Culpeper.
On Thursday (March 9), members of the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force obtained a search warrant for a residence located along Nancy B Williams Drive in Culpeper County. During a search of the residence, approximately 27 grams of powder cocaine, 13 grams of methamphetamine, 13 grams of crack cocaine, 13 grams of fentanyl, prescription pills, $3,163 in currency, and a vehicle were seized. The drugs seized have an approximate street value of $7,900.
Robinson was charged with five felony counts of distribution of a schedule I/II drug. Robinson was transported to the Culpeper County Jail where he is being held without bond.
The Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force is composed of law enforcement personnel from the Rappahannock, Culpeper, Fauquier, Orange, Madison Sheriff’s Offices; Culpeper, Warrenton, Orange Police Departments; and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office.
Wind: 1mph SSW
UV index: 1