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.”
Skyline High School announces band teacher Daniel Holland 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year
Skyline High School is proud to announce that our fabulous band teacher, Mr. Daniel Holland is our 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year!
Danny has taught at Skyline High School for the last 5 1/2 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in Instrumental Music PreK-12 from James Madison University and his master’s degree from Bowling Green State University.
At SHS, Danny teaches guitar I and II, concert band, dual enrolled music artistry, and marching band. Marching and concert band require extensive time commitments both in school and after hours. Additionally, Danny teaches a jazz band group that rehearses before the official school day begins.
Through his expert instruction, he provides students with opportunities to connect through music, enhance positive school culture, and engage our greater community in school spirit and camaraderie.
The Skyline Marching Hawks perform shows each year at our football games, parades, and various competitions, where they have earned many accolades! Danny not only produces marching shows with excellent sound and great visual appeal, but they also convey important messages to the students and the spectators.
The 2022 competition show was entitled: “Try, Try Again,” and according to Danny, focused on the “idea and philosophy that success in anything, whether it be band, sports, academics, and so many other skills, can only truly manifest from learning to cope and grow from the mistakes and missteps we inevitably make.” This show was a gift to our school and our greater community.
Outside of school, Danny is an active member of the Virginia Music Educators Association, most recently presenting at their 2022 annual VMEA conference in November 2022. Additionally, Danny performs as a professional musician as the acting principal oboist of the Waynesboro Symphony.
Danny was nominated for this honor by his peers, colleagues, and students. Here are some of their beautiful words:
- “The immense amount of time and effort Danny puts into making the SHS band program the best it can go above and beyond. The support and safe space he provides to students are invaluable.”
- “I’m amazed by Danny’s dedication. He was not only present for interviews for my position but was present before the start of school working with the band. The marching band is present for so many events/games, and it seems like he rarely does not stay past normal hours. He is also helping with the cross-county musical. He has been very kind and helpful with my many questions. His students seem to find his room safe, and he has created a great work ethic with his students.”
- “Mr. Holland is an amazing teacher who wants the best for his students. He makes playing music fun and very enjoyable. I wouldn’t have been able to become the musician I am today without Mr. Holland.”
- “He is the best teacher I have ever had. He’s very supportive of his students and other faculty. He is the reason our marching band is great.”
- “Mr. Holland is so supportive and loves what he does. He will do anything to make sure you succeed in anything you do, and when he sets his mind to something, he will do everything he can to make it happen.
- “Mr. Holland is an amazing teacher in general, and he is very helpful and kind. I have struggled to pick up new skills, and he broke it down for me, so I got it quickly.”
The accolades of his colleagues and students are absolutely true!
Danny’s impact on his students, fellow WCPS fine arts teachers, and SHS colleagues is felt in so many ways! Danny models grit and perseverance through difficult situations daily, creating genuine and supportive relationships with his students through his love of music.
For these and many other reasons, Danny Holland is the Skyline High School 2022-2023 Teacher of the Year!
Town Talk: A conversation with Shane Goodwin, Danelle Sperling, Robert Hupman – Reaching Out Now, Christmas Meal at Skyline HS
In this Town Talk, our publisher Mike McCool speaks with Shane Goodwin, Danelle Sperling, and Robert Hupman about the Linda Kroll Community Meal Program.
On December 15, 2022, at 4:30 pm, Reaching Out Now and its partners will host a Christmas meal for families with children in our local school system at Skyline High School School.
This event will feature a traditional Christmas menu with turkey, ham, shepherd’s pie, vegetable medley, rolls, and dessert, all prepared by Chef Devin and the Blue Ridge Technical Center’s Culinary Arts program students.
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. Let us know if you have an idea or topic or want to hear from someone in our community. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com.
Thanksgiving officially second busiest Thanksgiving travel period in the history of the Transurban Express Lanes
Transurban, the operator of the 495, 395, and 95 Express Lanes, announced that the 72-hour travel window from the Tuesday before Thanksgiving Day itself was the second busiest Thanksgiving travel period in the history of the express lanes.
More than 155,000 customers took the Express Lanes, with nearly 1 in 4 traveling for free at least once with an E-ZPass Flex set to HOV mode.
Today’s announcement comes on the heels of the 10th Anniversary of the Express Lanes opening in November. In commemoration, Transurban released the annual ‘state of the lanes’ polling research that provides insights on how customers continue to value the expanded travel choices of the Lanes as well as a report detailing the significant impact the 495, 95, and 395 Express Lanes have had in transforming the region.
The primary research from a sample of 1,490 Washington D.C. area drivers found:
- 76% overall customer satisfaction
- 3 in 4 GWA drivers have used the Express Lanes, up from 62% in 2021
- Nearly 7 in 10 drivers (69%) see a regional benefit from the Express Lanes
- Drivers are more likely to say they have carpooled for free vs. paid a toll to travel the Express Lanes at least once a month in the last 6 months – 54% vs. 47%
Over the last decade, the 495, 95, and 395 Express Lanes have saved nearly 10 million Greater Washington Area (GWA) customers more than 33 million hours of time in one of the fastest-growing regions in the U.S. The Lanes have saved time for those living nearby and supported growth in the local community. The Lanes have bolstered the local economy by creating an estimated 53,000 jobs and $8 billion in economic activity, including the growth of existing businesses and the attraction of some of the world’s largest employers, including Amazon, Boeing, Raytheon, and Capitol One.
“More than 10 years ago, we started a journey alongside Virginia leaders to introduce a new way to travel, putting technology to work to unlock congestion and tangibly improve the quality of life of travelers in this region,” said Pierce Coffee, President Transurban North America. “Now we celebrate this partnership that gives more people more time back in their day through choice and convenience.”
About Transurban North America
Transurban is one of the world’s largest toll-road operators and developers, working to get people where they want to go as quickly and safely as possible. By embracing collaboration with the government, our public-private partnerships deliver transformative infrastructure solutions across five markets. In the fiscal year 2020, our global customers saved 376,000 hours on average each workday across 2.0 million trips on our roads with faster, more predictable travel options. With a leading market share of transportation P3 investment in North America, we are pioneering travel solutions like dynamically tolled Express Lanes and are partnering with the government to think about the policies, technology, and infrastructure that will get you home today and ten years from now. Learn more about Transurban North America at: Transurban.com | Expresslanes.com | A25.com
School Board approves virtual instruction contract, other housekeeping items
The Warren County School Board, at its Wednesday, Dec. 7 meeting, approved the expenditure of $72,600 for the spring semester of online instruction provided by Virtual Virginia.
Virtual Virginia is the online instructional service provider for Warren County students enrolled in the virtual education option.
Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Heather Bragg told school board members that a total of 65 students—10 at the elementary level—have enrolled for the spring semester, and the provider must be paid in advance of the January 2023 spring semester’s start.
Ms. Bragg told the board that the elementary school fee was a set price for each pupil for the core curriculum, while secondary school pupil fees are calculated at $300 per credit, which allows the students to get their core classes as well as electives.
Board member Ralph Rinaldi asked Bragg to elaborate on why students might enroll in the virtual learning program rather than attend school in person. The Covid pandemic introduced students to virtual learning, and some continue out of anxiety about returning to the traditional classroom setting, she said. Bragg added that some students just do better in the virtual learning environment.
Students enrolled in the virtual learning option are provided computer access, as well as a school counselor and a local mentor who supervises the students.
Antoinette D. Funk motioned to pay for the spring semester, which was seconded by Melanie C. Salins, followed by a unanimous vote.
Other action items from the meeting include:
- A vote to increase the hourly rate for selective positions, beginning Jan. 1, 2023. Employees currently making less than $12 per hour will begin earning the federal minimum wage of $12 next month.
- Purchase approval for network battery backup equipment for Skyline Middle School at $51,270.
- Second reading of the proposed 2023-2024 school year calendar. The board will approve a final calendar at the first January 2023 school board meeting. The calendar would have students return to school on Aug. 9, 2023, and end the school year on May 23, 2024. It includes banked hours that would cover inclement weather cancellations and 13 professional days for teachers.
- Voted to approve the policy on sexually explicit material, which brings Warren County Public Schools into compliance with a Virginia law passed this year that requires districts to notify parents. (This will be covered in a separate Royal Examiner story.)
- Voted to accept the 2023 General Assembly legislative priorities.
- Voted to award a contract in the amount of $47,880 to Document Solution, Inc. For the lease of copiers at Hilda J. Barbour Elementary School.
- Set the 2023 organizational meeting of the Warren County School Board for Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, at 6:30 p.m. in the Board Room of the Warren County Government Center.
National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day – Flags to be flown half-staff
This December 7, we remember the world-changing event known as Pearl Harbor Day, or as President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in his December 8, 1941 speech declaring war on Japan, “a date which will live in infamy.”
Early on Wednesday morning, December 7, 2022, many will gather at Pearl Harbor National Memorial for the 81st Commemoration. The early start marks the moment to the minute 81 years ago when Japanese warplanes descended on Oahu, killing 2,403 service members and civilians, injuring thousands more, and dealing a near-fatal blow to the Navy’s fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Most young Americans who died that day, along with those who served in uniform during World War II or on the home front war effort, are collectively known as the Greatest Generation. Their sacrifices reflect the theme of this year’s Commemoration: Everlasting Legacy.
The focus is the importance of remembering Pearl Harbor and how the Greatest Generation saved us from tyranny and brought us peace through reconciliation.
Governor’s Order for the Commonwealth of Virginia
In accordance with the authority vested in me as Governor, I hereby order that the flags of the United States of America and the Commonwealth of Virginia to be flown at half-staff at all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds in the Commonwealth in solemn respect and memory for the nearly 4,000 American service men and women killed or wounded in the early morning of December 7, 1941, at the United States Navy Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
I hereby order that the flag shall be lowered at sunrise on Wednesday, December 7, 2022, and remain at half-staff until sunset.
Ordered on this, the 6th day of December 2022.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: American Goldfinch
These two American Goldfinches hit the same window at the same time and ended up here at the Center for care.
Though both are currently having breathing difficulty, and the male has significant head trauma with bleeding from the left ear, neither sustained any fractures. They are recovering together while they receive supplemental oxygen and pain medications.
Do you know what to do if a bird hits your window?
Though it was once standard to contain a window strike bird and let it rest for a few hours before attempting release, research has now shown that this is inadequate. Many of the issues we see with window strikes manifest 24+ hours after the strike, long after the bird can fly off.
If you see a bird hit a window, contain it right away and call the closest permitted rehabilitator. Do not release it! In the meantime, take steps to break up the reflections on your windows with tape, paint, or decals spaced no more than 2” apart. Prevention is better than treatment!
A new record!
Yesterday we surpassed last year’s intake number with this window strike pair. We are hopeful that they will soon be released together to enjoy the rest of their wild lives!
If you are 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.