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.”
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Striped Skunk
This infant Striped Skunk was spotted all alone and wandering outside of his den. If mom dies or does not return to the den, babies who are typically too small to leave the den will venture out to find her.
After monitoring the situation for a few days, it became apparent that mom was not returning and the baby came in for care.
Although thin and dehydrated upon admission, this kit was eager to eat on his own once rehydrated. We expect him to do well and be releasable later this year!
If you have unwanted skunks denning near your home, please do not intervene until AFTER baby season is over in the early fall to prevent creating orphans.
Generally, skunks are not aggressive animals and actually make good neighbors! They are most active at night and eat insects, rodents, and carrion (dead animals)—making the environment healthier for everyone.
If a skunk is behaving oddly or appears ill, or if you believe there are babies in need of help, do not try to handle them yourself. Skunks are considered a high-risk rabies vector species and handling or feeding them can result in life-threatening consequences for you and them. Call your local permitted rehabilitator as soon as you believe there is an issue.
Did you know?
Skunks do not have an infinite amount of liquid in their scent glands to spray, so they only use it when they think their lives are in danger.
Skunks will typically stomp their front paws to warn potential predators and they will even raise their tail as a threat at those who ignore this first warning. Finally, if the threat continues, they will spray. This spray causes eye irritation and has an extremely potent smell meant to distract and discourage predators from continuing their threatening advances.
Once they use their full amount, it can take days for skunks to “recharge,” leaving them potentially vulnerable to predators looking to test their luck.
Stay away and don’t get sprayed! Give skunks ample room to move away from you and try not to make quick movements. Sudden movements can make animals nervous and send them into defense mode. Keep pets on a leash when outside in an un-fenced area to help prevent them from being sprayed!
Looking for an easy way to help native wildlife? Become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.
Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center Annual Fireworks Show
The Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center is pleased to again host the 2022 Independence Day Celebration. This year’s event will be on Friday, July 1st, at the 4-H Center; 600 4H Center Drive, Front Royal.
Parking will open at 5:00pm and festivities will begin at 7:30 p.m. and will continue throughout the evening, including live patriotic music performed by the American Legion Community Band. Also, food trucks will be set up so guests can enjoy some dinner while listening to the band until the capstone event of a professional fireworks display – which is sure to produce many “oohs and ahhs!”. Food trucks include: Fearless Eats (burgers and hot dogs), Rutz BBQ, Mike’s Concessions (pizza, funnel cakes, and cotton candy), Sugar Creek Snowy & Sweet, and Lemon Squeezers.
Parking will be available and Warren County Sheriff Department will be present for security and egress traffic support. A voluntary donation (recommended $5 per vehicle) will be requested at the gate to help offset the cost of the event.
New 4-H Center Director Katie Tennant says “We heard such great feedback about last year’s show that we contracted with the same vendor to provide another spectacular event! I am excited to help host this annual celebration for the community and meet more of the residents and businesses who support us throughout the year. This event would not be possible without the generous sponsorships we receive.”
The Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization with a mission to facilitate experiential learning programs for youth, families, and adults. Since 1981, the 4-H Center has offered year-round, research-based programming to the youth and families of Northern Virginia. In addition to nine weeks of summer 4-H camp, the Center offers a full range of day and overnight camps, environmental education and team-building programs, and conference and meeting facilities and services. The 4-H Center provides meals and lodging for campers and adult guests, as well as access to the Appalachian trail, a challenge course, outdoor pool, pond fishing, sports fields, and horse stables.
Bethel Assembly of God hosts memorable flag presentation service
Bethel Assembly of God (111 Totten Lane, Front Royal, VA 22630) was honored to host Sergeant Major (US Army Retired) James McGruder on Sunday, June 26th, 2022, for a very memorable flag presentation service. The service was arranged by Tim Wolfe, a church member and Warren County resident, and was planned to coincide with the church’s annual Independence Day celebrations.
SGM McGruder entered the U.S. Army in February 1983 and attended Basic and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He was awarded the MOS 13B Field Artillery. After basic training, he was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas as part of the 1st 92nd Field Artillery, 8 Inch Battalion (BN).
SGM McGruder deployed to Iraq with Alpha Battery 5-18 Field Artillery as part of Desert Shield/Storm in November 1990. While in Iraq, he risked his life to extinguish a fire in a M548 ammunition carrier in order to save the M110 Howitzer’s combat ammunition load; he took this action selflessly, without hesitation and without formal recognition of his heroism.
SGM McGruder is passionate about mentorship and ensuring the future success of the NCO Corps. In 2003, as the Senior Professional Development NCO for the Field Artillery Branch in the Human Resources Command (HRC), SGM McGruder managed over 24,000 Soldiers and expertly advised the Branch Chief and Sergeant Major on military education requirements, career progression and Military Occupational Specialty structure. While assigned to HRC, SGM McGruder was selected over more than 26 NCOs to serve as the President of the Human Resources Command, Sergeant Audie Murphy Club.
SGM McGruder has also been instrumental in developing young Officers. In July of 2009, SGM McGruder was selected by the Cadet Command CSM to serve as the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3, United States Army Cadet Command, Fort Monroe, Virginia. His selfless service and devotion to mission accomplishment made lasting impacts in training operations and opportunities throughout the command.
SGM McGruder on August 7, 2014 had the distinct privilege of introducing former president Barrack Obama prior to him signing The Veterans Affairs Overhaul Bill. This bill signed into law a 16.3 billion dollar measure to help overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency that in recent months had faced intense criticism for long wait time for health care and manipulation of records. This was the first time in American history that an active duty Sergeant Major had ever introduced a sitting president.
SGM McGruder’s last assignment was at Fort Belvoir Garrison operations, where he served as an Enlisted Advisor to the Garrison Commander. After more than 32 years of military service, SGM McGruder retired on February 28, 2015. SGM McGruder is married to the former Tammy Buerl and they have been married for 34 years. They have two children, daughter Jamecia and son James.
The Flag Presentation Service honored Pastor Steven A. Schetrom II for his dedication to the community. Bethel Assembly of God is a growing and community-minded church working to positively impact the Front Royal-Warren County community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As an example of its dedication to the community, the church is currently working to distribute gift bags to community agency employees and volunteers to show their appreciation and support for the hard work those individuals do in the community.
Weekly services are held at Bethel Assembly of God each Sunday at 10:30am. The church also hosts or sponsors several small groups each week. The church’s mission is “to be a vital community of loving disciples committed to building one another up so that each reaches their full potential.” More information about the church can be found online at www.bethellife.org or by emailing email@example.com.
Financial advisor Bret Hrbek receives Edward Jones Spirit of Caring Award
Bret Hrbek, an Edward Jones financial advisor in Front Royal recently received the firm’s exclusive Spirit of Caring Award designed to recognize those financial advisors who exemplify the values, culture and spirit of giving back.
Hrbek has demonstrated unyielding dedication to giving back, which has positively impacted his clients, colleagues and community.
The award is given to only one financial advisor in each of the firm’s 316 regions and is determined by a vote of his peers.
“Edward Jones is a partnership. That structure is not just financial, it’s a philosophy,” Hrbek said. “We work together, help each other and all share in the rewards of working with long-term individual investors. That brings out the best in everyone. I am humbled to be this year’s recipient of the Spirit of Caring Award.”
The Edward Jones branch-office business model, with more than 15,000 branches throughout North America, allows the firm’s nearly 19,000 financial advisors to identify what matters most to each individual client and create personalized strategies, with the goal of developing long-lasting relationships to help keep them on track toward their goals.
Hrbek’s office is located at 986 John Marshall Highway, Front Royal, Virginia.
Edward Jones, a FORTUNE 500 firm, provides financial services in the U.S. and through its affiliate in Canada. The firm’s nearly 19,000 financial advisors serve more than 8 million clients with a total of $1.7 trillion in client assets under care. Edward Jones’ purpose is to partner for a positive impact to improve the lives of its clients and colleagues, and together, better our communities and society. Through the dedication of the firm’s 50,000 associates and our branch presence in 68 percent of U.S. counties, the firm is committed to helping more people achieve financially what is most important to them. The Edward Jones website is edwardjones.com and its recruiting website is careers.edwardjones.com. Member SIPC.
Rotary Club of Warren County names Rotarian of the Year, Jennifer Avery
Every year the Rotary Club of Warren County awards one dedicated outstanding club member as Rotarian of the Year. This year the award goes to Jennifer Avery!
One of the biggest contributions Jen makes to the Rotary Club of Warren County is social media, photos, videos, community engagement, and public relations in general.
A few highlights of the year Avery shared included registering the club with We See You, Warren County through the Warren Coalition, representing Rotary at the Humane Society’s Polar Plunge, creating the club’s LinkedIn profile, and expanding social media reach.
Avery reflects on the year, “Helping the homeless has grown into my biggest passion. It comes easy and is so rewarding to see how the community has responded so enthusiastically and graciously! My Rotary family has been incredibly supportive through grants, event participation, and donations. I feel so grateful and so do the men we have helped at the House of Hope.”
In addition to 2021-2022 Rotarian of the Year, Avery was recognized earlier this month by Reaching Out Now with the Service Above Self award at the “Eye to See” Leadership Gala, April 2022 the Outstanding Community Service Award by the Front Royal Presbyterian Church, and 2020 BRAR Community Service Award by the Blue Ridge Association of Realtors.
Avery has served on several boards over the past few years including Front Royal Women’s Resource Center, House of Hope, and Humane Society of Warren County. She is a member of the Rotary Club of Warren County serving as the past PR Chair. However, top of the priority list of important roles Jen plays is MOM to Shiloh (15), Jordan (13), and Easton (12).
Mayoral and council candidates file paperwork ahead of deadline
The list of Front Royal Town Council and Mayor candidates has been finalized after the June 21, 2022, 7 p.m. deadline to appear on the ballot in the November 8 general election.
Warren County Registrar Carol Tobin said in a Friday email that a lone candidate has filed in the mayoral race. Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell is stumping for that seat after current council member Joseph McFadden nixed his announced plan to run for mayor.
Back in February, both McFadden and current council member Gary Gillispie announced their intentions to seek the Republican nod for the mayoral seat, but Gillispie did not submit the documents needed to qualify as a candidate, nor did he file to appear on the November 8 ballot. His term expires on December 31, 2022.
Per the Town Charter the election is supposed to be nonpartisan, but since the Warren County Republican Committee began endorsing candidates over a decade ago most conservative candidates have almost always sought out the committee’s nod.
Four candidates will vie for three seats, each for 4-year terms, on the Town Council in the general election: Joshua L. Ingram, Councilman Zachary W. Jackson, Councilwoman Amber Faith Morris, and H. Bruce Rappaport.
Ingram, who ran in a previous council election, serves on the Front Royal Planning Commission. The council appointed Jackson earlier this year to fill the vacancy created when E. Scott Lloyd resigned. Morris won a special election last November to fill Jacob Meza’s unexpired term that ends December 31, 2022. Rappaport has run for council twice before, including losing to Morris in the special election following Meza’s resignation.
Letasha T. Thompson did not file campaign documents; her term expires on December 31, 2022.
Lloyd’s resignation this year necessitates a special election to fill his unexpired term that ends December 31, 2024. Potential candidates have until 5 p.m. August 19 to file documents, according to Ms. Tobin.
She stated in the email that “there is one candidate that has filed documents at the present time for that seat and that is Thomas Hall Sayre.”
Sayre was elected as a Front Royal Town Council member on May 2, 2006, and re-elected on May 5, 2010. He was elected to the Warren County Board of Supervisors on November 3, 2015, and served one term before losing the Shenandoah District seat to current Supervisor Walt Mabe.
Tobin said there is still a process of qualifying and certifying these candidates with the Department of Elections before placing them on the ballot.