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.”
VDOT: Warren County Traffic Alert for December 4 – 8, 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.
*NEW* Mile Marker 0 to 8, eastbound – Right shoulder closures for litter removal, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday.
*NEW* Mile Marker 3 to 1, westbound – Right shoulder closures for shoulder repairs, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday.
*NEW* Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Shoulder closures for mowing operations, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. through December 18.
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Overnight lane closures and traffic-lane shifts as needed, 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. through March 2024. Shoulder closures 24/7. Work zone speed limit: 55 miles an hour. Work is related to southbound acceleration ramp extension and bridge widening, with estimated completion in fall 2024.
No lane closures were reported.
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.
Preserving Heroic Legacies: National Court Reporters Foundation Collaborates with Library of Congress
Capturing the Voices of Valor: A Tribute to Veterans’ Sacrifices.
In a heartwarming initiative, an extraordinary effort is underway to honor the sacrifices and experiences of American veterans. Spearheaded by the National Court Reporters Foundation (NCRF) in partnership with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project (VHP), this project seeks to immortalize the oral histories of combat veterans, ensuring their stories of valor and sacrifice are preserved for future generations.
Jill Parker Landsman from the NCRF and Tom LaCombe, a combat veteran and author, are at the forefront of this noble endeavor. Landsman’s involvement began serendipitously when a friend introduced her to LaCombe, a Vietnam War veteran from Browntown, VA. Landsman recognized the profound value of his experiences and knew his story deserved to be heard and preserved.
The process involves the invaluable assistance of court reporter Margary Rogers. Rogers will transcribe the conversation using her Stenograph, ensuring every detail of LaCombe’s service to the country is captured accurately. This initiative is not just about recording history; it’s about enhancing the legacy of those who served acknowledging their contributions to our nation’s fabric.
The Veterans History Project, a lesser-known but significant program of the Library of Congress, has been diligently working to collect these life stories, especially focusing on World War II veterans. The urgency of this task is underscored by the sobering reality that we lose these veterans daily, making the preservation of their histories all the more critical.
Tom LaCombe’s perspective adds a poignant layer to this project. Reflecting on his return from Vietnam, LaCombe shares the indifference he encountered, driving his desire to ensure the sacrifices and losses of his fellow servicemen are not forgotten. This project offers a platform for voices like LaCombe’s to be heard and appreciated.
The initiative extends beyond recording; it’s about acknowledging and respecting the service of our veterans. It’s a call to understand the profound impacts of military life and the unique experiences each serviceman and woman endures.
The Veterans History Project is a testament to American veterans’ enduring spirit. It’s a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made for our freedoms and a noble effort to ensure these stories of heroism and resilience are never forgotten. As we look forward to more interviews and the continuous growth of this project, it is evident that the legacy of our veterans will be preserved, thanks to the dedication of individuals like Landsman and LaCombe and the team behind this invaluable initiative.
Tom LaCombe is scheduled to visit the Royal Examiner studio next week to share his story and book, Light Ruck: Vietnam 1969.
Front Royal Welcomes the New Chapter of ‘Play Favorites’ Toy Store
A Fresh Start for a Beloved Local Business.
Play Favorites, a cherished local toy store in Front Royal celebrated its grand re-opening under new ownership. The event was marked by a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by community leaders and enthusiastic locals.
Nike Foster Cales, Executive Director of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, opened the ceremony, expressing excitement about the store’s future under the stewardship of Brett and Hannah Bement. Josh Ingram, a Town Council member, emphasized the store’s unique role in the community, highlighting its appeal to kids and adults.
Warren County Supervisor Walt Mabe praised Play Favorites for its blend of educational and fun offerings. The new owners, Brett and Hannah, shared their journey to acquiring the store, driven by a passion for preserving a local toy store in their community.
In an interview with publisher Mike McCool, Brett Bement discussed their unexpected journey into the board game business. Hannah Beeman, a teacher and local craftsman, continues her educational role while contributing to the store’s new look and product offerings.
Play Favorites stands out for its welcoming atmosphere and community engagement. The store offers game nights, collaborates with local game designers, and maintains a focus on educational toys. Under the new management, Play Favorites promises to be more than just a store; it’s a community hub that celebrates the joy of play across all ages.
Warren County High School Buzzing with Holiday Activities and Achievements
From Parades to Pancakes: A Community Engaged in Celebration and Success.
The festive spirit is in full swing at Warren County High School, as highlighted in a recent discussion with Mike McCool at the Royal Examiner’s studio. The school, under the leadership of Ken Kneash, the principal, and the energetic efforts of secretary Nora McMackin, is bustling with a series of events and accomplishments that showcase the vibrant school community and its commitment to student involvement and success.
A Parade of Pride and Pancakes
The excitement kicks off on December 2nd with the much-anticipated Kiwanis Club Pancake Breakfast hosted at the high school from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m., a beloved event that brings together community members and students in a festive setting. This will be followed by the participation of both Warren County and Skyline High School bands in the local Christmas Parade at 4 p.m., a sign of the school’s revitalized involvement in community activities.
Third Annual Holiday Bazaar: A Community Hub
On December 9th, the school will host its third annual Holiday Bazaar from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This event, expected to be bigger than ever, will feature over 30 local vendors, making it an ideal spot for holiday shopping. The inclusion of unique offerings and the visit from Santa Claus adds a special touch to the event. DECA students, showcasing their entrepreneurial skills, will manage food services, offering breakfast and lunch and supporting the Toys for Tots campaign.
Student Achievements in the Spotlight
Beyond the festivities, the school is also celebrating significant student achievements. The band, having won second place in a recent competition, exhibits high talent and dedication among the students. Similarly, the theater group’s victory at the Region 3B Super Regional competition, earning them a spot at the state level, is a testament to their hard work and creativity.
Building a Strong School Community
These events and achievements are part of a broader effort to build a strong sense of community within the school. Initiatives like the Teachers for Tomorrow program address the national issue of teacher shortages by encouraging students to pursue careers in education. The program’s success is evident in its growth and the positive response it has received from the community.
Warren County High School is a hive of activity and achievement as it heads into the holiday season. From engaging in community events like the Christmas Parade and Pancake Breakfast to celebrating student successes in music and theater, the school exemplifies a strong, inclusive, and vibrant educational community. These efforts enrich the student’s learning experience and strengthen the bonds between the school and the wider community.
Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied, but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea, topic, or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com
The Blue Ridge Arts Council launches its ‘Deck the Halls’ Christmas Tree and Festive Decorations sale Thursday and Friday
Blue Ridge Arts Council’s annual “Deck the Halls” — now in place in downtown Front Royal for almost two decades — opens today, Thursday, November 30, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and extends tomorrow, Friday Dec. 1, from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. at the BRAC headquarters, 305 East Main Street, several doors west up East Main from the Gazebo.
A variety of decorated Christmas trees, holiday wreaths, and other seasonal items will be on sale throughout the month. Proceeds support ongoing programs of the arts council. For the first two days, refreshments will be offered.
This year the “Deck the Halls” display features an in-place art exhibit of the work of former Warren Sentinel Editor Kevin Seabrooke, “Browntown and Beyond”, that opened at the BRAC center October 14, running through January 12, 2024.
St. Michael Dojo Young Karate Stars Shine at National Tournament
Impressive Medal Wins for Local Dojo at Prestigious Karate Championship.
In a remarkable display of skill and discipline, fifteen members of the St. Michael Dojo, including a spirited group of fourteen youth, made their mark at the 43rd International Shotokan Karate Federation / US National Karate Championship Tournament. Held in Columbus, Ohio, from November 10-12, 2023, this event drew 180 karate enthusiasts from across the nation, spotlighting the rising talent of the local dojo.
The tournament kicked off with an impressive start for St. Michael Dojo, particularly through the performances of William and Warren Dooley, ages eight and eleven, respectively. These young brothers set a high bar, each securing gold medals in both Kata (form) and Kumite (sparring) events, showcasing the effective training and dedication nurtured at St. Michael Dojo.
While competing in intermediate categories, Fiona Riccio and Joseph Spiering continued this winning streak. Riccio’s grace in Kata and Spiering’s prowess in Kumite earned them gold, further cementing the dojo’s reputation for excellence.
Overall, the young participants from St. Michael Dojo bagged an impressive total of twenty medals, a tally that included six golds, eight silvers, and six bronzes across individual and team events. This demonstrates the breadth of talent at the dojo and the effectiveness of their training regimen.
Notably, silver medals were claimed by Samuel Fidero, Fiona Riccio, Joseph Spiering, and Agnes Cammack in various age and belt divisions. Additionally, bronze medals were earned by Dominic and Jonny Fidero, Isabella Fidero, Joseph Spiering, and Jacob Carlson, showcasing depth in both skill and competitive spirit.
The youth kata team, representing the East Coast Region and led by black belts Agnes Cammack, Gianna Parente, and Margaret Carlson, with Jacob Carlson as an alternate, battled against numerous teams from around the country, ultimately securing a well-deserved silver medal.
Behind these remarkable achievements is the guiding hand of Majal Colon-Cammack Sensei, who operates St. Michael Shotokan Karate with dojo locations in Front Royal and Fort Valley. Their affiliation with the International Shotokan Karate Federation, under the leadership of Shihan Hiroyoshi Okazaki, has been instrumental since 2007 in nurturing these young talents.
The national tournament’s success is a testament to the individual skills of these young karatekas and the community and support system built around them. St. Michael Dojo’s philosophy of fostering discipline, skill, and a competitive spirit shines through in these remarkable achievements. As these young athletes continue to train and compete, they raise the bar for themselves and set an inspiring example for their peers and the wider community.