Mike Mayer of Front Royal, Va., wearing a head band but no mask, referred to the audience attending the Warren County School Board’s Wednesday, May 5 regular meeting as “fellow lowly commoners,” setting the tone for his subsequent contribution during the community participation portion of the meeting.
Mayer’s prepared statement, which he read aloud to the board members, took a meandering path to make a point, using language laced with insults that seemingly were meant to chastise local responses by Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) and the School Board, among others, to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — although Mayer never mentioned the words ‘COVID-19’ or ‘pandemic.’
The Pebble Lane resident started off by saying that while he should have participated earlier in a School Board meeting, it has gotten to the point “where sitting on the sidelines and complaining about it is no longer a viable option.”
Mayer continued: “For the last year, our children have been held hostage by teachers’ unions and elected officials at every level — most of whom have shown blatant disregard for the best interests of our children at every opportunity.
“This school year has been a joke, a sham, an embarrassment, and a slap in the face all rolled into one neat package,” he read. “The damage done to our children both in terms of their education and social growth will not be fully realized for years, but hopefully it is not too late to crawl out of our hole that we’ve dug ourselves into.”
Mayer acknowledged that area schools appear to be getting ready to start the next school year with a pre-pandemic schedule, “hopefully… minus the nonsensical plexiglass paneling, the dehumanizing and misery-inducing face coverings, weird markings on floors telling you where to be, social distancing, and everything else this year has introduced that has reduced our vibrant and enthusiastic children into something more closely resembling the sheep who have implemented these theatrics into our classrooms.”
Calling the required precautions taken to reduce the spread of the pandemic “symbols of compliance, conformity and submission,” Mayer said they’ve “done nothing quantifiable to improve the lives of our children.”
And he said people are getting fed up with it.
In fact, another community member sent in correspondence that was read aloud into the record during the meeting by Robert Ballentine, WCPS finance director and clerk of the School Board.
Specifically, Billy Robinson of Front Royal, who was unable to attend the meeting, wrote the letter to express his objections to WCPS continuing to make students wear masks outside during recess.
“I think I speak for many parents when I say that it is ridiculous for our children to wear masks while having to recess outside, especially now that the temperatures go past 80 degrees on a regular basis,” Robinson wrote. “Not only is this wrong, but I think it is child abuse.”
Robinson asked School Board members to let parents have the choice to decide whether their children wear a mask. “I ask that you please exercise some commonsense and get rid of the mask mandate for our children while having recess outside,” he wrote. “Please stop this madness.”
Mayer concluded by urging board members “to consider the path forward very carefully and with laser-focused clarity.”
“If you are not willing to take the best interests of our children as your top priority and only true focus,” he said, “we will remove you from your positions and vote in people who are willing to do so.
Appreciations also noted
Kim Oakland, a music teacher at Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, also spoke during the community participation portion of the School Board’s meeting. In recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week, she expressed appreciation for teachers and other County employees, including the Warren County Board of Supervisors, which funds WCPS, and School Board members, whose tireless efforts helped hold together a school division that, like thousands of others across the nation, has been impacted by the ongoing pandemic.
“Regardless of what is on Facebook or other social media, you do put our children first,” Oakland told the board. “You can only do what the law and guidelines allow you to do.”
Oakland also reminded those in attendance that WCPS elementary students have been in school since the beginning of the pandemic, attending four days per week. “We all do the best that we can do,” she said. “It’s not just Teacher Appreciation Week. We teachers also appreciate all of you.”
WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger also acknowledged Teacher Appreciation Week during his report to the School Board and said that everyone has been through a lot during the current school year.
“I appreciate every single teacher that has been out there on the frontlines this year and making sure that our students are getting the best that they can under the circumstances that we are in,” said Ballenger, noting that teachers have “grown leaps and bounds this year,” with many having to try new ways to educate.
Ballenger also provided School Board members with an update on COVID-19 numbers in WCPS. He said that there are currently 19 active student cases, and 59 students are quarantined. There are also two active staff cases, and two staff members are quarantined.
On Wednesday, WCPS also offered a voluntary vaccination clinic at Skyline High School for students 16-years-old and up and their family members. More than 280 people signed up for the clinic, Ballenger said, adding that another clinic may be planned once new vaccines are approved and available for students ages 12 and up.
Kwon’s Champion School in Front Royal announces second-degree black belt achievements
On Saturday, August 13, 2022, two Front Royal, Virginia natives achieved their second-degree black belts in mixed martial arts self-defense worldwide.
Pearl W. Nickens Jr., age 69, and Aries W. Nickens Bolanos, age 13, attend Kwon’s Champion School in Front Royal. They study mixed martial arts under World Grandmaster H.Y. Kwon. Pearl and Aries have been studying mixed martial arts for over six years and have exceeded many expectations.
Grandmaster Kwon states that both students had almost perfect scores for passing. Pearl strives to accomplish every task set before him. He’s very open-minded, physically fit, and knows that martial arts are not just for fighting but for helping others in many different ways. Grandmaster Kwon then asked Pearl’s wife, Donna Nickens, and daughter, Dominique Nickens, “How much has Pearl changed?” They both stated that he’s become more passionate about working with others and more willing to listen to the situation before passing judgment. “Overall, he’s grown more than we ever thought he would.”
Grandmaster Kwon then talked with Aries, who asked his family about his schoolwork and listening. Aries spoke to his mother, Dominique Nickens, asking, “How often do I listen to you, Mam?” She then responded, “100% of the time.” “How is my schoolwork, Mam?” “School work is excellent. He’s got straight A’s and is in all advanced classes.” Grandmaster Kwon asked Aries’s grandparents, Pearl and Donna Nickens, “How much has Aries changed since he began?” They responded, “Aries is more respectful and open to trying new things. He stands up for all the little guys. He doesn’t like bullies and doesn’t let bullies pick on anyone when he’s around. He knows everyone deserves a chance in life, sometimes more than one.”
Grandmaster H.Y. Kwon’s Champion School teaches you many skills and techniques, such as self-defense, confidence, respect, and an all-around healthy way to express stress and manage weight. All goals are achievable if you take them one step at a time.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Barred Owl
This is the difference a bath (or three) can make!
One of Loudoun County’s amazing Humane Law Enforcement Officers truly went above and beyond to rescue this Barred Owl after it was found down in a wastewater management facility.
The owl was found covered in thick, slimy waste material. With soaked feathers, flight and thermoregulation (maintaining body temperature) was difficult to impossible for this bird. It is shocking that it was able to get out of the tank and onto land!
Upon arrival to BRWC, the owl was given fluids and warmed so that we could safely sedate for the first bath. Once bathed, we could see the burns on many areas of the skin from the waste material.
After three baths and lots of care, the patient was moved to an outdoor enclosure. The team still monitored the owl closely as its burns healed and it worked to recondition its feathers.
After five days in care, we are happy to report that this patient had a successful recovery and has been released!
We are lucky to have so many amazing animal control officers in our area who help rescue wildlife everyday – special thanks to Officer Bremy of Loudoun County Animal Services for this amazing rescue!
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.
Medical Examiner: Ralph Ennis died of ‘natural causes’
On Monday, August 15, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Manassas released the cause and manner of death for Ralph Ennis, 77, who died on April 15, 13 days after a traffic stop by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office during which he was injured and then hospitalized.
In an email response, Arkuie Williams, Northern District Administrator of Virginia’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner told Royal Examiner that: “The cause of death is complications of Alzheimer disease, cerebral amyloid angiopathy, and hypternsive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The manner of death is natural.”
Royal Examiner responded with the following questions to Williams:
“Does that rule out that his head trauma injuries suffered 13 days earlier had no impact on the below stated causes, most particularly cerebral amyloid angiopathy, and hypternsive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease?
“Is there any possible debate that the brain bleed and shock-trauma of April 2, could have aggravated his pre-existing conditions and these combined natural causes of death? – Thank you for any clarification.”
Williams responded, stating, “Our office is unable to provide any additional information to the public. We are restricted to only providing the cause and manner of death for our death investigations.”
Several weeks prior to the traffic stop, Ennis had been the subject of a Silver Alert on March 11, 2022, following an endangered, missing person report issued by Pennsylvania State Police on behalf of Ennis’ wife, Linda. Deputies located Ennis in downtown Front Royal at his longtime friends Ralph and Sue Waller’s East Main Street pawn shop. The Wallers offered to let Ennis stay there until his son Ian could travel to Front Royal from his Staunton home and take his father home.
Mr. Ennis died on April 15 under the care of Blue Ridge Hospice in Winchester, where he had been transferred several days earlier by the affiliated Winchester Medical Center.
“All we know is he was in good health and he never got out of the hospital after that happened – and that’s a FACT,” Ralph Waller said of the Medical Examiner’s finding Ennis died of natural causes less than two weeks after his injuries incurred during the traffic stop.
Contacted, Ennis’ son Ian said he had received the medical examiner’s report but declined further comment at this time. Ralph Ennis’ wife Linda also stated that she had received the report today but had no further comment.
On April 2, 2022, Ennis was stopped by the Warren County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) for traveling eight miles over the speed limit and driving erratically on Winchester Road southbound toward Front Royal, the Sheriff’s Office stated in a previous media release.
The pursuit continued for about 3.75 miles, with Ennis eventually pulling into the 7-11 convenience store at 251 Crooked Run Plaza, where he parked his truck. By this time, the Sheriff’s Office release stated, “additional WCSO deputies and a Front Royal Police Officer were on scene, or just arriving as the high-risk traffic stop was underway.”
Video footage from the bodycam of a Front Royal Police Officer, who was called to assist with the traffic stop, shows the 77-year-old Ennis moving slowly toward deputies with his keys held out. A first deputy grabs Ennis and roughly pulls his hands behind his back cuffing him and slamming his head into his truck cab. A second Warren County Sheriff’s Office deputy then charges the scene, tackling both Ennis and the first deputy, taking both to the ground with the elderly Ennis on the bottom, apparently striking his head hard on the paved parking lot.
WCSO Major Jeffrey Driskill previously stated that Ennis was taken to Warren Memorial Hospital where Emergency Department physicians suspected “signs of an internal head hemorrhage” after which Ennis was transported to Winchester Medical Center. Driskill previously stated that Mr. Ennis was “exhibiting signs of cognitive issues consistent with dementia or Alzheimer’s.”
Former Northern District Administrator Jennifer Smith, of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, first told Royal Examiner in a May email, “This case is pending. Currently, cases are taking roughly 12 -16 weeks to complete, as with all cases the OCME goal is to complete them within 90-days.” Each subsequent inquiry regarding the status of the autopsy and lab tests yielded the same information.
The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has been tight-lipped regarding an internal investigation into the traffic stop. Sheriff Mark Butler previously told Royal Examiner that a “board of inquiry” comprised of WCSO senior officers and a member of an outside law enforcement agency had been formed, but no information has been released about who is on that panel.
After the traffic stop, one of the two involved deputies was reassigned to administrative duties; another was placed on administrative leave with pay. When asked if one or both of the deputies had left the employ of the WCSO, Butler declined to comment.
Contacted Monday by Royal Examiner, following the Medical Examiner’s release of information in the Ennis case, Sheriff Mark Butler stated, “My heart and prayers go out to all families involved in a trying time for all. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office will continue to work and hold itself in a professional matter at all times. “
When asked about the employment status of the deputies involved in the traffic stop, Butler stated that he could not discuss personnel matters.
Virginia State Police Investigator Adam Galton was assigned to investigate the circumstances related to the incident and subsequent death of Ennis. Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell referred the case to a special prosecutor; consequently the Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office is overseeing the VSP investigation and will decide whether to charge the deputies once the investigation is complete.
Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office Chief of Staff Anthony Kostelecky previously told Royal Examiner that he had no comment regarding the investigation or when it might conclude.
Tree Stewards announce a welcoming addition to the Royal Shenandoah Greenway
If you drove along South Street in Front Royal last Friday or Saturday, you may have noticed a lot of activity along the section of the Royal Shenandoah Greenway that crosses Royal Plaza. On Friday, the crew from the Department of Public Works was busy digging holes in preparation for a major tree planting. On Saturday, August 13th, members of the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee, the Front Royal Warren County Tree Stewards, the Front Royal Warren County Anti-Litter Council, and citizen volunteers came together to plant 18 Crepe Myrtles (Natchez variety) and 4 native SweetSpire shrubs along the greenway.
This idea to create a “boulevard” of trees sprang from a meeting in March, with groups sharing their missions and hopes for planting more ‘greenery’ along the Greenway. For this project, an allée of Crepe Myrtles was anticipated to be a win-win, creating a better experience for greenway users as well as beautifying both the Plaza and South Street that are so well-traveled by locals and visitors.
The project was made possible through funding from the Beautification of Front Royal Committee and with kind permission from the management of Royal Plaza. Jim Osborn, the Town’s Arborist, guided the project from tree selection to planting day, and the Public Works crew will follow up with watering needs to assure these new trees get off to a good start. The Department of Public Works also added an additional street light for safety along the path prior to planting. Our thanks to the DPW crew; Eric Ebling, Bill Simmons, John McDonald, Allen Pack and J’son McConnell.
Plans are underway for more collaborative projects of this type around Front Royal. We invite you to drive by South Street and take a look at this welcoming addition to our lovely town!
A view from a bench on Main Street: Sue Laurence, White Picket Fence
On Saturday morning, our publisher Mike McCool joined White Picket Fence proprietor Sue Laurence on a bench in front of White Picket Fence, on the 400 block of Main Street in Front Royal, and discussed all the events going on in Front Royal this fall, from Octoberfest, Festival of Leaves and Zombie Walk to name a few – all happening in Front Royal.
The big news is the 50th Annual Festival of Leaves happening on October 14-15, 2022 in downtown Front Royal. The Festival of Leaves has been reorganized and is now under the direction of the Front Royal Independent Business Alliance (FRIBA).
On October 14, 2022, the Town of Front Royal will kick off the festival with a “block party” at the Town Commons, providing music and fun for all ages. More information is available at FestivalofLeaves.org. There is still room for vendors, and applications are available on the Festival website.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for August 15 – 19, 2022
The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.
*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.
Mile marker 0 to 15, eastbound and westbound – Right shoulder closures for utility work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).
Mile marker 8 to 7, westbound – Right lane closures for utility work, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).
Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Right shoulder closures for utility work, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).
Route 55 (Strasburg Road) – Shoulder closures for utility work in the area of Route 664 (Whipporwill Road), 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. through Friday.
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 related to 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.