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Saturday night fireworks accident causes significant injuries

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On Saturday, May 16, 2020, at approximately 9:00 pm, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services were dispatched to the 300 block of Briar Lane in the Shenandoah Farms Community of Warren County for a report fireworks accident.

Emergency Medical Service units arrived on the scene to find a 57 year old male who sustained a significant traumatic injury to his hands as a result of a firework exploding in the proximity of his person. Crews treated the victim on the scene and transported the patient to an awaiting medivac helicopter where the patient was flown to Reston Hospital Center.

The incident was investigated by the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office which determined the incident to be a result of the use and discharge of illegal fireworks. According to Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico, it is illegal to possesses, ignite or discharge any firework that travels into the air or explodes. Fireworks should be handled and used in strict accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and all warning labels. “The safest way to enjoy fireworks is to watch them at a community event where professionals handle them,” says Fire Chief Richard E. Mabie. Failure to comply with the Commonwealths Fireworks laws can be punishable by a Class 1 Misdemeanor. Class 1 misdemeanors are the most serious misdemeanors in Virginia. A Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.

As a result of the investigation, the owner of the involved fireworks in this incident voluntarily surrendered 91 illegal fireworks devices for destruction. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office assisted with the incident investigation.

This unfortunate incident should serve as a reminder that fireworks can be dangerous, causing serious burns and injuries. You can help us prevent fireworks-related injuries and deaths by safely utilizing lawful fireworks devices. For more information on fireworks safety, visit www.warrencountyfire.com or call 540-636-3830.

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52 years selling Christmas Trees – Boy Scout Troop 52

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Our publisher Mike McCool stopped by the Christmas Tree lot at the Royal Plaza where Troop 52 is selling Christmas Trees once again. He spoke to the Troop “helpers” – the Scouts were out getting ready for the Christmas Parade.

Boy Scout Troop 52, sponsored by the Front Royal United Methodist Church, would like to invite the community to visit their annual Christmas tree sales fundraiser being held at the Royal Plaza Shopping Center. Your generosity each year helps make it possible for these local youth to learn important life skills, attend summer camp, and grow as leaders. The Troop will be offering a variety of trees while supplies last through December 19, so stop by today. Hours are 4-8 weekdays, 8-8 on Saturdays, and 12-8 on Sundays. Youth and parents interested in the Scouting Program are also welcomed.

Boy Scout Troop 52 celebrates 52 years of selling Christmas Trees

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EDA in Focus

Could Town-EDA disagreement over dynamics of Afton Inn sale kill redevelopment plan?

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During the Asset Committee report at Friday’s Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority meeting, the Town of Front Royal, specifically through its legal department, was accused of “obstructing” the closing process on the sale that would allow redevelopment of the historic Afton Inn site to proceed at the head of the town’s Historic Downtown Business District.

“2 East Main, the contract purchasers of the Afton Inn, continues to work toward a settlement by the end of December. The Town of Front Royal, via their legal department, has begun obstructing this process by not cooperating with requests made by both 2 East Main and the EDA,” Asset Committee Chairman Greg Harold stated in his December 4th meeting agenda written report.

Greg Harold during the Dec. 4 EDA Board virtual meeting. His Asset Committee report highlighted a recent email exchange between potential Afton Inn developer 2 E. Main St. LLC and Town Attorney Doug Napier expressing the opinion the EDA cannot finalize the sale without written Town approval, which apparently has not been given. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

Harold’s Asset Committee report on the status of the Afton Inn sale that would facilitate redevelopment observed, “The EDA’s sole ambition in this sale is to remove it from our asset book by selling it to a private developer that is qualified and capable of rebuilding this historic structure to the benefit of the entire community, including the Town Administrative Offices that sits adjacent to this currently dilapidated building.”

Royal Examiner called Harold following the 10:40 a.m. adjournment of Friday’s EDA Board of Directors meeting to seek more information on the impasse between the Town and EDA over the sale and redevelopment of the Afton Inn property. Harold referred us to Board Chairman Jeff Browne as point man on the EDA’s effort to solicit cooperation from the Town of Front Royal governmental apparatus to facilitate the long-pending sale to redeveloper 2 East Main Street LLC.

Contacted by phone, Browne explained that the 2 East Main Street development partnership and its title company had sought legal assurance from the Town that it agreed to the pending sale. The Town Attorney’s November 30th email reply to 2 East Main and the involved title company – the EDA was not copied in Napier’s response, Browne noted – disputed the EDA’s ability to sell the property to the development group without the Town’s written consent, consent apparently not yet given. Napier referenced a 2014 Land Exchange Agreement (LEA) and Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in making the assertion, Browne said. That was a condition of the referenced 2014 MOA, he explained.

With Town Hall’s proximity to the derelict Afton Inn, one is left to wonder why the town council would not have already endorsed the EDA sale for redevelopment.

In response to this assertion the EDA Board of Directors is preparing a response to town officials, including the mayor, council, and town manager, seeking a meeting of all involved parties as soon as possible to resolve the impasse to everyone’s mutual benefit, Browne told Royal Examiner. The EDA and 2 East Main Street LLC hope to have the sale closed by the end of the calendar year.

Town perspective

In an email response to our inquiry on the matter, Town Attorney Doug Napier explained his and apparently the town council and its governmental apparatus’s stance.

That stance is that the EDA has simply been a real estate broker for the Town in dealing with the Afton Inn property. “The EDA itself never had any skin in the game. The Town was never about to ‘give’ the EDA a million-dollar piece of property in the form of Old Town Hall for nothing, that would be insane,” Napier wrote, perhaps highballing the 2014 assessment a bit in referencing the eventual EDA-enabled 2014 swap of the old Town Hall building the town government had outgrown, for the Afton Inn in order to facilitate its marketing and redevelopment.

The town attorney and interim town manager at a recent council meeting. Questions may have risen through EDA Board discussion as to whether there are sufficient communications between staff and council and the mayor on the status of the EDA’s attempt to sell the Afton Inn for redevelopment.

Perhaps coincidentally, that swap was bitterly opposed by then citizen Matt Tederick who repeatedly appeared before the town council to berate the swap idea. That idea was hatched to get the Afton property out of the hands of its owner, Northern Virginia developer Frank Barros. Barros let the property languish for several years, refusing to take calls from the Town about the property after the town council had alienated him, in part by suing its own Board of Zoning Appeals to overturn its code exception granted to allow Barros’s elaborate Afton Inn redevelopment plan to increase the height of the building to about 10-feet above the height of the County Courthouse across the street. Building above the height of the courthouse was and remains against Town Code.

“For many years the Town had been trying to get the owner of the Afton Inn to fix up that building, but could get nowhere with the owner,” Napier wrote in his December 4th reply to our inquiry on the current sale impasse, adding, “Town Council had an idea to exchange Old Town Hall for the Afton Inn, but it is difficult for local governments to do real estate investment deals on its own under the Code of Virginia, a big reason EDAs exist in the first place … The title company doing the real estate closing agrees with me. It’s the law, as well as the facts of the case. There is no real controversy here at all.”

No real controversy here?

However, the EDA Board of Directors and its legal counsel do not agree.

The 2014 Land Exchange Agreement and Memorandum of Agreement referenced above by EDA Chairman Browne were attached by Napier to his reply to us to bolster his contention the EDA does not own outright and cannot sell the Afton property without the Town’s written authority.

However, Harold pointed us to a December 1st email from EDA attorney Sharon Pandak in response to Napier’s November 30 reply to 2 East Main Street LLC and its title company seeking the Town’s signing off on its purchase contract with the EDA. In the letter, Pandak counters Napier’s conclusion and the developer’s title company’s concurrence with it. – The short version:

1 – the 2014 MOA, which came after the LEA, was never signed by an EDA representative; and

2 – the Town was not a party to the Lease Exchange Agreement in which Barros’s Afton Inn LLC conveyed the Afton property directly to the EDA.

The complete explanation of the EDA stance penned by the EDA attorney elaborates:
“As I indicated to you … previously, we do not believe that 2 East Main LLC’s current title company’s (Chicago/Champion Title Company) position is meritorious. The EDA can convey “good and marketable fee simple and unencumbered title” to the Afton Inn for the following key reasons:

1 – The conveyance to East Main is not for a required “future purpose” under the Memorandum of Agreement between the Town and the EDA, dated June 23, 2014 (MOA). The MOA, if operative, relates to future use of the Afton Inn, and is not a limitation on the EDA’s ability to convey the property. Therefore, the MOA, if operative, simply does not apply.

2 – The MOA was signed by the Town after the conveyance of the property by the Town to the EDA (June 11, 2014). The agreement is not signed by the EDA.

3 – The Land Exchange Agreement (LEA) between the EDA and Afton Inn, LLC conveyed the Afton Inn to the EDA. The Town was not a party to LEA, and the land never passed through Town ownership to get to EDA ownership. There are no restrictions on the EDA’s use or future conveyance in the LEA. The LEA precedes the incomplete MOA,” Pandak wrote. But she wasn’t finished countering the Town stance.

Two perspectives of March 2019 Town-permitted work on the Afton Inn related to the 2 E. Main St. LLC redevelopment plan. If the Front Royal Town Council finally authorizes the EDA sale to the developer, within a year or so the site might be worth a second look from the town trolley.

“There are other reasons for believing that the Town Attorney’s recently expressed opinion is not well-taken which include: The Town has already issued permits to 2 East Main for some work on the Afton Inn and the Town has implicitly approved 2 East Main’s proposed redevelopment by including it in its VDHR (Virginia Department of Historic Resources) grant application (resulting in the Town’s Community Development Block Grant – CDBG award from the State). These actions indicate a Town approval of the ‘future purpose’ by 2 East Main for the Afton Inn, if the MOA is operative. Mr. Napier also does not acknowledge that the EDA gave the Town notice of its Purchase Contract with 2 East Main on June 16, 2020, directly and through him.

“The Title Company’s requirement to have the Town of Front Royal provide consent to the transaction is not well-grounded for the reasons set forth above,” Pandak concludes.

Delaying sale to what end?

Asked what investment the EDA has made in marketing and moving the Afton Inn property toward redevelopment since acquiring it in 2014, Brown and Harold both pointed to $478,000 in various legal, closing, and developmental costs, including masonry work to shore up the crumbling building as its sale and redevelopment have stalled. The sale price if made this month will be $345,000. Had it been made by September it would have been $325,000. So, the EDA is not looking to even recoup its total investment in the property, which means the Town would not be eligible to collect any proceeds from the sale according to the disputed MOA were it ruled to be enforceable without an EDA signature on it.

Bullet point 5D of the MOA states the “EDA shall be entitled to retain from the sales proceeds an amount equal to any sum it has paid without reimbursement from the Town during its ownership, management, maintenance, repairs and marketing for sale or lease of the Afton Inn property.”

So, one might wonder why the Town is stalling on endorsing the EDA’s sale to 2 East Main Street LLC after past permitting of work related to the 2 East Main Street development plan and referencing that plan in its CDBG application.

“Their stonewalling this sale only hurts them and the community,” a perplexed Harold told Royal Examiner. Following conversations with 2 East Main principals Alan Omar and Jim Burton, the EDA Asset Committee chairman said, “I am fully confident 2 East Main Street wants to move forward and are willing to develop the property to the betterment of the community in a way that will make it a cornerstone of historic downtown Front Royal. We are willing to broker communications and we’ve both tried to work with the Town to realize this project since September.

“If this sale can’t occur because of obstruction by the Town we are going to execute any leverage we can to covey the property if this falls thru,” Harold said of the EDA, including acquiring a demolition permit “to keep all available options at our disposal”.

Harold’s written report to his board Friday morning added a call for public action to add another dimension to EDA Board Chairman Browne’s effort to bring all involved parties to the table for a mutually beneficial resolution before the year’s end.

“The community should start lobbying Town Council to allow this sale to commence without further delay or disruption. This is critical both from a safety standpoint as stated by Town Attorney Doug Napier and from an aesthetic standpoint being the corner of historic downtown Front Royal. Delaying the sale and settlement places additional unnecessary risk to public money in the maintenance and public security of this building which has been previously stated by the Town Attorney as the responsibility of the Town taxpayer.”

The EDA Board of Directors hopes a new face and perspective on the scene, new Town Manager Steven Hicks who begins work Monday, Dec. 7, might mean a new day in the EDA-Town relationship. Hicks was lauded by the council for his work in Selma, N.C. on a redevelopment project.

During subsequent open meeting discussion Friday morning, board member Tom Pattison suggested “reaching out” to new Town Manager Steven Hicks, who begins the transition from Interim Town Manager Matt Tederick on Monday, December 7, in an attempt to re-establish a meaningful relationship with the town government. That relationship has deteriorated into expensive hostile civil litigation and an absence of communications under Tederick and the current town council majority over the past year-plus. While a spot for a “Town Manager’s Report” has remained on the monthly EDA Board meeting agenda, as has been the case for much of 2020, no town manager or designee was present virtually to deliver that report Friday morning despite the Town’s continued legal partnership with Warren County in the operational oversight of the half-century-old joint County-Town EDA.

EDA Board Chairman Jeff Brown and the five-member quorum present virtually concurred with Doctor Pattison’s notion of attempting to restore a meaningful relationship with the town government with the coming personnel change at the head of the Front Royal Administrative network.

While we didn’t get a call back from Mayor Tewalt, we did reach Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock about the EDA board discussion of “Town obstructionism” in finalizing the Afton sale to 2 East Main Street. Sealock said his last recollection of council discussion of the proposed sale to 2 East Main Street LLC group was when the September option date was missed.

The vice mayor also expressed disappointment council and the mayor wasn’t included in the EDA communications with town staff over the project. “I’m very upset – we’re the ones who would decide these things,” Sealock said of Town approval or endorsement of the sale.

Above, in the wake of his proactive work bringing council and the Save Happy Creek Coalition together could Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock find himself at the point of helping correct another possible communication breakdown in Town affairs? EDA Board Chair Jeff Browne, below at Friday’s virtual EDA meeting, hopes to aid in bridging any communications gaps between the council, the EDA, and the Afton Inn redevelopment group.

“I’d be happy to do that,” EDA Board Chairman Browne said when told of Sealock’s observation, adding that he had personally been involved in several “reach outs” to council and the interim town manager in past efforts to resolve issues surrounding finalization of the Afton sale. And as reported above, he is planning to have a letter to all involved parties, including council and the mayor out by early in the coming week.

And he noted that the recent email exchange with the town attorney came from 2 East Main LLC and its title company’s direct effort to seek assurance the Town would endorse the EDA sale of the property, not from an EDA inquiry.

So, it seems the EDA, the Front Royal Town Council, and mayor, and 2 East Main Street LLC principals and staff will have an opportunity in coming weeks to sit down and get on the same page philosophically and legally to the joint benefit of the entire community. Will they be able to pull it off?

Stay tuned as the Afton Inn redevelopment project perhaps reaches a point of no return if a sale is not finalized within the next three weeks.

Can council reach a quick consensus that an EDA sale of the Afton Inn property to 2 E. Main LLC for redevelopment is a good thing for the community? One might wonder why that consensus hasn’t already been reached.

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VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for December 7 – 11, 2020

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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 entry or a revised entry since last week’s report.

INTERSTATE 66
No lane closures reported.

INTERSTATE 81
No lane closures reported.

PRIMARY ROADS
*NEW* Route 340/522 (Winchester Road) – Shoulder closures for sign work between Route 658 (Rockland Road) and Route 720 (Toray Drive), December 7-18 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

SECONDARY ROADS
Various roads – Flagger traffic control for utility tree trimming, Monday to Friday (except holidays) during daylight hours.

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.

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Lord Fairfax Soil & Water Conservation District seeking full-time Administrative Specialist

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The Lord Fairfax Soil & Water Conservation District headquartered in Strasburg, Shenandoah County, VA, is seeking a full-time Administrative Specialist. Applicants should have, at a minimum, a high school degree and prior experience in a secretarial or clerical position.

Responsibilities include working in an office environment, providing clerical, bookkeeping,  and administrative support to other District staff and to District Board of Directors; maintaining official files; serving as timekeeper for District staff; preparing correspondence and routine reports; providing budget support and reports using QuickBooks software; serving as backup support for website maintenance and updates; taking minutes at monthly Board meetings; compiling and issuing Board packets in advance of monthly Board meetings; responding to telephone inquiries or office visitors and directing them to appropriate assistance; receiving FOIA requests and working with FOIA coordinator to provide timely responses in accordance with legal requirements; purchasing supplies, receiving or issuing invoices and processing payments; issuing IRS form 1099; and carrying out other standard office clerical duties.

Potential candidates must have experience with computers and using Microsoft programs and QuickBooks, be a self-starter and excel at working in an office team environment.

  • Must have excellent communications and organizational skills.
  • Pay will be commensurate with knowledge and experience.
  • Health, retirement and leave benefits provided.

SUBMIT a resume with two references and a cover letter describing your interest in the position to:

LFSWCD
722-B East Queen Street
Strasburg, VA 22657


For further information, please call 540.465.2424, ext. 101.

The District is an Equal Opportunity Employer. Applications will be accepted through December 18, 2020.

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School Board schedules extra meeting to pick insurance carrier

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During what was supposed to be their last meeting of the year on Wednesday, the Warren County School Board voted to schedule a special meeting for Wednesday, December 9, to take action on whether to change insurance providers.

The vote was spurred by a new contract finalized earlier this week between Winchester-based Valley Health, the area’s major medical care provider, and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which currently provides health insurance coverage for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) employees through the Local Choice program.

During the School Board’s Wednesday, December 2 meeting, WCPS Personnel Director George “Bucky” Smith (above) and Ed White, (below) senior vice president at McGriff Insurance Services Inc., followed up on insurance provider options after originally discussing the issue with them during an October meeting. At that time, Valley Health and Anthem remained locked in contract negotiations and WCPS worried that a resolution might not be reached before the contract expired on December 31.

In a proactive move, WCPS decided to issue a request for proposals (RFP) to search for alternative insurance providers because the school division thought it would lose its health network, said Smith, adding that several bids were received by the RFP’s November 30 deadline, providing WCPS with more options to consider.

“We’ve had Blue Cross and Blue Shield for a long time,” Smith told the board members. “I think what you’re seeing here is an example of competition. Sometimes there’s complacency that sets in on both parts, whether it be the person receiving the service or whether it be the person providing the service… The situation that occurred with Valley Health and Anthem, to some degree, sort of opened the door for other people to be aggressive on their competitiveness.”

Among the bidders were Aetna, UnitedHealthcare, and Cigna, with Aetna offering the most-attractive health insurance rates compared to Anthem, said White, the insurance consultant for the School Board who is working with WCPS staff to review the returned proposals.

“What we’ve seen over the last few weeks, and most recently with this RFP, is that the competition was pretty fierce when it came to companies going after Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield,”
White said, adding that nearby school divisions have switched from Anthem. For instance, Shenandoah County Public Schools has opted for Aetna, while Winchester Public Schools signed on with UnitedHealthcare.

“They’ve found savings that can’t be ignored,” said White, noting that Warren County also may decide for a better deal.

Smith and White reviewed the submitted proposals with the School Board, taking up most of the Wednesday meeting.

School Board Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr., asked Smith if he saw any shortcomings in WCPS switching insurance companies. Smith responded, “On the surface no, [the Aetna plan] seems very comparable,” but offers more savings for both employees and employer, “which seems promising.”

Williams agreed, calling the Aetna proposal “an improvement.”

School Board member James Wells also agreed, noting that with a difficult 2021 budget year looming, being able to document some savings “would be a marvelous advantage.”

Following a motion made by Wells, and seconded by School Board Vice-Chair Catherine Bower, the board voted unanimously to schedule the December 9 special meeting. All members were present, including Williams, Wells, Bower, Kristen Pence, and Ralph Rinaldi.

More actions taken
The School Board on Wednesday also unanimously approved the proposed WCPS Athletic Handbook, which was collaboratively developed by Skyline High School Athletic Director Bill Cupp and Warren County High School Athletic Director Edward Dike.

One notable update is that all students must have a physical exam prior to beginning workouts. “This is something we thought was pretty important,” said Dike.

“It’s nice to see that the handbook is very easy to read, very easy to understand, and it fits all of our schools,” Board Chairman Williams said.

The School Board also voted to accept with gratitude $2,495 in donations to Skyline Middle School’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) program and Fall Harvest Festival. Skyline Middle School Principal Bobby Johnston said the donations will be used for jackets, dues, trips, and scholarship awards.

The board also unanimously accepted donations from Limeton United Methodist Church, which gave $500 to A. S. Rhodes Elementary School and another $550 to Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School.

Additionally, the School Board approved the proposed school year 2021-2022 calendar:

• August 10, 2021 – First Day of School
• October 8, 2021 – End of 1st Advisory
• November 22–26, 2021 – Fall Break
• November 22–23, 2021 – 11- and 12-Month Employees report to work
• December 21, 2021 – End of 2nd Advisory/1st Semester (87 days in 1st semester)
• December 21, 2021 – January 4, 2022 – Winter Break for students
• December 21, 2021 – January 2, 2022 – Winter Break for staff
• March 14, 2022 – End of 3rd Advisory
• March 21–25, 2022 – Spring Break
• April 15–18, 2022 – Holiday
• June 9, 2022 – Last Day of School.

WCPS Assistant Superintendent Melody Sheppard told board members that there are six built-in weather make-up days. And because students will not be in school for more than 180 days, if the school division does not miss six days due to weather, the days will be taken from the end of the school year.

Watch the Warren County School Board meeting on the Royal Examiner video:

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New Virginia laws seek to close ‘school-to-prison pipeline’

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The near future of in-person schooling is uncertain due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Virginia students will return to a system where several penalties for misbehavior have been taken off the table.

Two new laws seek to stop criminal punishments in elementary, middle, and secondary schools. Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, sponsored two measures that passed the Virginia General Assembly earlier this year. The bills went into effect in July but have not yet been widely implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 3 prevents students from being charged with disorderly conduct during school, on buses, or at school-sponsored events. SB 729 removes a requirement that school principals report student acts that constitute a misdemeanor to law enforcement. These are acts that may be considered misdemeanors, such as an assault on school property, including on a bus or at a school-sponsored event.

McClellan’s bills are a victory, said Valerie Slater, executive director of RISE For Youth, a group that seeks to end youth incarceration in Virginia.

“It gives the control back to principals in their own schools about what actions have to be taken further,” versus which actions can be handled within the school, Slater said.

Suspension and expulsion are used disproportionately against Black students, other students of color, and those with disabilities, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Those punishments, along with arrests at school, often lead to students having a criminal record, according to the NAACP. The trend is known as the school-to-prison pipeline.

McClellan said she was compelled to introduce these bills after looking at data released by the Center for Public Integrity in 2015 and seeing that Virginia led the nation in nearly three times the rate of referral of students to law enforcement. She then worked with the Legal Aid Justice Center to find trends in what kind of behaviors were being punished and whether there were discrepancies involving which students were being charged.

“When we started sort of digging into some cases that they had had, one of the biggest things kids were referred for was disorderly conduct,” McClellan said. “It was things like a kid on a bus in Henrico County was charged for singing a rap song and a kid in Lynchburg was sent to the principal’s office and kicked this trash can on the way out of class.”

McClellan was the co-patron of bills in 2016 which addressed these issues, including a failed bill that would prevent students from being found guilty of disorderly conduct if the action occurred on school property, school bus, or at a school-sponsored activity.

Lawmakers also passed McClellan’s measure that relieved school resource officers from the obligation to enforce school board rules and codes of student conduct as a condition of their employment. Now that the Virginia General Assembly has a Democratic majority, House Democrats felt that they could pass other legislation to curb the school-to-prison pipeline, according to McClellan.

“The thing that happened in between is we had started making progress on the discipline side with things like suspensions and expulsions,” McClellan said. “And once you saw we could make progress on that, that gave us the confidence to try again with a new Democratic majority.”

A statewide analysis by Virginia Commonwealth University Capital News Service found that Norfolk City Public Schools in the Tidewater district had the most out-of-school suspensions in the state over the past five school years. This includes short-term and long-term suspensions. The data is from the Virginia Department of Education. A student is not allowed to attend school for up to 10 days during a short-term suspension, according to Virginia law. Long-term suspensions last 11 to 45 school days. Virginia students suspended from school are more likely to fail academically,
drop out of school and become involved in the justice system, said a 2018 Legal Aid Justice Center report.

Norfolk’s school district issued 21,223 out-of-school suspensions in the past five years. Norfolk school officials did not respond to a request for a statement by the time of publication. Richmond City Public Schools was the second-highest district with the most out-of-school suspensions (19,768). Virginia Beach, Newport News, and Fairfax County public schools were also in the top five.

The majority of students in Norfolk, Richmond, and Newport News public schools are Black, according to VDOE 2020 fall enrollment data. Almost half of the students in Virginia Beach are white and about a quarter is Black. Nearly 40% of students in Fairfax County Public Schools are white and almost 30% are Hispanic. Black students face out-of-school suspension at higher rates at a higher rate than white students in schools throughout the Central Virginia region. Even in districts such as Henrico and New Kent counties that are a majority white student population, often Black students were issued suspensions at a higher rate. Black students in Henrico faced out-of-school suspension almost five times the rate of white students in the 2015-2016 school year. Such racial disparity was presented to the Henrico County School Board as far back as 2012, in a published report analyzing the disproportionate suspension rate.

Aside from incidents involving weapons, Slater said that instances of misbehavior in school should not be handled by law enforcement.

“We should not be so quick to involve children in the justice system,” Slater said. “We know that after that first contact, the likelihood that there will be continued engagement exponentially goes up. Once a child has been engaged with the juvenile justice system, they’re more likely to be involved with the adult justice system.”

Slater praised McClellan’s legislation for taking away schools’ ability to charge students with disorderly conduct, saying that the criteria for being charged with that crime is too vague.

“It basically says that ‘you have caused a disruption.’” Slater said. “Is wiggling in my seat causing a disruption? Is asking to go to the restroom, repeatedly, causing a disruption? Is clicking my pen a disruption? It’s so vague that it’s become a catchall for whatever a particular officer wants to say a student has done.”

David Coogan, a Virginia Commonwealth University English professor and author of the book “Writing Our Way Out,” teaches a writing workshop at the Richmond City Justice Center He said he has worked closely with incarcerated people whose criminal records stemmed from childhood.

“Most broadly, it starts in the structure of society, before you even get to school,” Coogan said.

Coogan said that he sees a pattern in the people he works with at the jail. Children who grow up with few resources and who experience trauma and violence in the school setting later develop addictions or become incarcerated—often both.

“We all do stupid things as kids, as teenagers,” Coogan said. “When you’re Black and traumatized and living in poverty, the stupid thing you do, to fight back at a school resource officer, is going to land you in a juvenile detention center and it’s not fair.”

Though Coogan says McClellan’s bills are steps in the right direction, he believes that more still needs to be done.

“If you think about all the money and time spent on school resource officers—who are like cops—we need to stop thinking about having cops in school,” Coogan said. “What if we had five times as many guidance counselors — people with training to intervene? What if we had five times as many programs to keep kids engaged after school?”

McClellan agreed with Coogan and said it starts with how adults in school treat kids. She pointed to cases in which kids with autism or other disabilities are treated unfairly or disciplined by adults who have no idea how to interact with them.

“Everyone in the school building that interacts with kids, but especially school resource officers and school board members who ultimately make decisions about the code of conduct and discipline, need to have basic training on child brain development,” McClellan said.

By Brandon Shillingford and Anya Sczerzenie
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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Small Business Saturday @ Front Royal, Virginia
Dec 5 all-day
Small Business Saturday @ Front Royal, Virginia
Why should Small Business Saturday just be celebrated on the Saturday after Thanksgiving? Buy Local – Shop Local – Eat Local – Support Front Royal’s Small Business Community and stay local! Small Business Saturdays –[...]
7:00 pm Rotary Club Cash Fair @ Online Event
Rotary Club Cash Fair @ Online Event
Dec 5 @ 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Rotary Club Cash Fair @ Online Event
It’s that time of year for Rotary Club of Front Royal’s annual Cash Fair, and we are going virtual this year due to COVID. This is one of our biggest fundraisers of the year and[...]
Dec
6
Sun
all-day 2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Dec 6 all-day
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Grant Application @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]
11:00 am Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 6 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
Dec
13
Sun
all-day 2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Dec 13 all-day
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Grant Application @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]
11:00 am Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 13 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
Dec
19
Sat
11:00 am Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 19 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
Dec
20
Sun
all-day 2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Dec 20 all-day
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Grant Application @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]
11:00 am Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Dec 20 @ 11:00 am – 4:00 pm
Holiday House Tours @ Sky Meadows State Park
Enjoy special tours of our Historic Mount Bleak house during this festive season. Visit each of the rooms in this stone manor and discover how the people who called Sky Meadows “home” celebrated the holidays[...]
Dec
27
Sun
all-day 2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Gr... @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Dec 27 all-day
2021 Dare to Dream Enrichment Grant Application @ Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center (FRWRC) Beginning on November 1, 2020, to accept Applications for 2021 DARE TO DREAM GRANTS (Take classes, start a business, purchase a computer, learn a new skill, train for a[...]