Following two hours of comments from residents, the Warren County School Board on Wednesday approved the May 2021 Virginia School Board Association (VSBA) Policy Updates, which include anti-discrimination items specific to transgender students. The updates will now be included in the Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Policy Manual.
The School Board also during its regular August 4 meeting approved a comprehensive study to access the feasibility of providing additional privacy in school restroom facilities, as well as a fall WCPS reopening plan that includes the phased-in use of face masks for staff and students.
Roughly 30 residents spoke to board members about the inclusion of the transgender policy updates in the WCPS Policy Manual. Each had three minutes to speak. Many went over that mark, despite Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower’s instructions to refrain from doing so.
Many in the audience also ignored Bower’s instructions to refrain from applause, interruptions, and other distracting behavior. At the meeting’s roughly two-hour mark, some residents got so unruly that Bower called a board recess, had the Warren County Sheriff’s Department clear the meeting room at the government center, and then proceeded to hold the remainder of the meeting in a session closed to the public.
Following are excerpts from some of the residents’ comments, which may be heard and viewed in their entirety here. The chosen comments generally represent — though not completely — what people said ‘for’ and ‘against’ the board voting to include the transgender policy updates in the WCPS Policy Manual. The comments listed below are in the order they were made during the meeting.
1. The feelings of the majority “should not be put aside for the feelings of the one or two that are not the majority. This is not the time or place… to upset the rule of the majority to give special rights to those having special claims.” Gene McGuirk, Front Royal.
2. “There is a difference between an adult and a child. A child is often governed by emotion, as we can witness often in the tantrums of a 2-year-old or even in the struggles of a teenager. It’s a very interesting development to suspect that the feelings of a child should subjugate the structures of society…. It would be odd for those who are to be the educators to be subjugated to the educated.” John T. English III, a Valley Health physician, Front Royal.
3. “The thing that should primarily be in focus is what is best for the kids in our schools. And what we have proposed is the enshrinement of a radical, progressive ideology that is harmful to children and it isn’t in their best interest, not in the best interest of those who are suffering from this mental condition, and certainly not in the best interest of those who might be lured into it by swimming in the waters that have been set up to promote it — and certainly not for the teachers and the students who would be opposed to this.” Anthony McDonald, Front Royal.
4. “Warren County seems so committed to antiquated, oppressive ideals that it would rather risk legal action than ushering its schools into a safer and more inclusive future. Imagine if we fostered love, compassion, and acceptance in our most formative years inside our school system. Although Warren County seems content to perpetuate the status quo of anti-trans violence, fortunately… the rest of Virginia will keep driving us along as it leaves this hateful era in the dust.” Laura Lee Cascada, organizer, Northern Shenandoah Valley Unites (NSVU).
5. “Trans kids have rights in public schools in the state of Virginia and the Warren County School Board just needs to apply them.” Samuel Porter, Front Royal.
6. “No one wakes up one morning and says, ‘I think I’ll be a different gender today.’ To experience yourself as a gender that doesn’t match your body is not a choice; it is an existential reality. And coming to terms with that is made much more difficult by rejection from families, from churches, from schools. Transgender students using bathrooms with the gender with which they identify is not a risk to other students. It’s the transgender students themselves who are at risk of being bullied, demeaned, ostracized, maybe even physically attacked. If our commitment is to keep all students safe, then we need to deal in facts — not fears, not stereotypes.” Rev. Shea Godwin, deacon, Calvary Episcopal Church, Front Royal.
Once order was restored after the meeting room was cleared, the School Board members resumed their work around 9 p.m., which included approval of the May 2021 VSBA School Board Policy Updates as the second action agenda item. Prior to the 3-2 vote to accept the policy updates, the School Board members explained their rationale for their votes.
For instance, School Board member James Wells, who voted yes along with board members Kristen Pence and Ralph Rinaldi, agreed that the board needed to follow the law and make updates to its current policies. Rinaldi agreed, saying his concern “was of a legal stature” and he didn’t want to see the board get bogged down with potential lawsuits.
Among several reasons for voting no, Board Vice Chairwoman Bower and board member Melanie Salins explained that they would first like to see the results of a study on WCPS restroom facilities (see below). Bower also said she had read through the County’s existing policies multiple times and found them to be sufficient, while Salins also voiced concerns that the updates infringed upon parental rights.
The School Board also approved the first action agenda item, which was presented to the board by WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Administration George “Buck” Smith, Jr., who recommended a comprehensive study be conducted that will access the feasibility of providing additional privacy in school restroom facilities, including whether to provide stalls on all urinals and to identify single-user or gender-inclusive facilities, or other reasonable alternatives for any student who seeks privacy.
“I asked for this item to be on the agenda so I would like to make a few comments,” Bower said prior to the board’s vote.
During the past few months, Bower said there have been discussions, public comments, emails, and phone calls related to transgender students in school restrooms. “We have had transgender students in our schools for many years,” she read from a prepared statement. “In the past, if a transgender student was uncomfortable using the restroom that aligned with their biological sex, they were offered the use of a single-stall restroom in the nurse’s office or in the counselor’s office. There had never been an issue.”
However, Virginia law now states that transgender students may use the restroom of their choice, said Bower. “We will absolutely abide by the law,” she said, even if “this may not be acceptable to all students.”
Bower said that she thinks the only equitable solution for all that doesn’t discriminate against anyone is to remodel WCPS restrooms into single-stall or unisex restrooms.
“I think a comprehensive study is needed to assess the restroom needs of our students so that everyone feels comfortable, both physically and emotionally,” said Bower, who added that a preliminary evaluation of single-stall restrooms in WCPS middle and high schools is already underway. However, the restrooms in WCPS elementary schools also will require remodeling “so that they are acceptable,” she added.
Some of the items Bower thinks the study should investigate include determining whether all or just a few restrooms need to be remodeled; where unisex restrooms would be most needed; the costs to remodel and where the remodeling funds would come from; and the length of time needed to complete remodeling and whether a temporary fix would be required in the meantime, among other questions.
“This is a state law that we’re adhering to, and I doubt that the state is going to fund this,” Bower said. “It would be nice, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
The approved study will be conducted by the WCPS Director of Facilities and Assistant Superintendent for Administration, but Bower said she would also like to see the study team include a school administrator, a teacher or two, a School Board member, and a community member. Rinaldi volunteered to join the team on behalf of the School Board.
Following some discussion by board members and WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, Wells made a motion to accept the study with a second made by Pence. The board voted 5-0 to approve the study.
With the fall start date for classes slated for August 17, the School Board also approved a WCPS COVID-19 Mitigation Health Plan entitled “2021 Leading the Rebound,” which emphasizes the implementation of layered prevention strategies “to protect people who are not fully vaccinated,” according to the plan.
Ballenger and WCPS Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch said that the health mitigation strategies in the plan vary in two main areas: distancing requirements and the use of face coverings.
For example, a tiered, or phased, response will be used to address the health and safety needs of WCPS students and staff. According to the plan, medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) has been acquired for health services staff. N95 masks, shields, gowns, and gloves will be provided to WCPS nurses and assistants who are supporting them. Face shields will be available, in addition to additional masks, upon request.
“Face coverings are an important part of our mitigation strategies in keeping our students and staff safe against COVID-19,” the plan states. “Face covering procedures will be discussed in each phase of our plan to reopen. All visitors (very limited number) will wear face coverings when entering and occupying any school building.”
During phase one of the reopening plan, face coverings will be “strongly encouraged” for all employees and students. “However, it is parent choice” whether their child wears one to school. Face coverings will not be required to be worn outdoors.
During phase two of the plan, face coverings will be required for all students and staff when indoors and on school buses.
During phase three, face coverings will be required for all students and staff indoors and outdoors and there will be increased social distancing.
Ballenger noted that movement between the phases will be based on metrics and data. He pointed out that changing between phases “could happen before school starts. We want to stay in phase one,” he said. “We need the community’s help. Everyone has COVID fatigue, but we still need to work as a community as a whole.”
Likewise, as the “2021 Leading the Rebound” plan permits in-person instruction for all students, WCPS will strive to educate students in this manner as health conditions permit, Ballenger said, noting that such a fluid approach will allow WCPS to maximize in-person instruction supported by a robust virtual academy and social-emotional supports.
Additionally, according to the plan, significant resources have been allocated to support the division’s Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Initiative. The current SEL teacher will be collaborating with school social workers and trauma coaches to ensure staff and students are supported.
In addition, Student Support Coaches have been allocated for each school to further support academic remediation and students’ social/emotional needs. This support includes linkage to community-based mental health supports that currently partner with WCPS, as well as direct support to students and staff.
Outpatient counselors also will be available in each middle and high school to meet the additional mental health challenges the pandemic has created, the plan says, and private Insurance, as well as Medicaid, may be used to access these supports.
A motion to accept the plan as presented was made by board member Pence, with a second by Rinaldi. The motion carried on a 4-1 vote with Salins voting no.
Front Royal Moose Lodge 829 supports Fire and Rescue initiative
Recently, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services partnered with the Front Royal Moose Lodge 829 to increase the safety and accountability of our local emergency responders operating on structure fire-type incidents.
Over the past several months, Warren County has worked alongside the Winchester City and Frederick County Fire and Rescue Departments to develop a regional workgroup. This workgroup was tasked with focusing on safety, accountability, and standardizing responses to emergencies in a regional concept.
“One of the first initiatives implemented by the workgroup was a regionalized Incident Command and Personal Accountability System Program. This program will focus on standardizing emergency operations of a fire incident, establishing incident command and personal accountability of all individuals on the incident throughout the region” stated Captain Zachary Burrows, who serves as Warren County’s representative on this workgroup. This initiative will require an unfunded mandate to change the style and design of our incident command boards to become compliant with the regionalized concept. As such, our department turned to the local community to seek alternative ways to fund this potentially live-saving program” Burrows continued.
“Upon hearing the need of our local Fire and Rescue Department, Lodge 829 was eager to assist in ensuring the safety and accountability of our firefighters and emergency responders while operating on an emergency scene. We immediately approved the appropriation of $3,500.00 of our Heart of Community Funds to support the Fire and Rescue Department” stated Wayne Sealock, Front Royal Moose Lodge Treasurer who coordinated the efforts on behalf of the lodge.
The safety and accountability of our emergency responders have been a top priority of Fire Chief James Bonzano and his leadership since taking over as Fire Chief of the department in January of this year. “These funds will be utilized to outfit all emergency response apparatus in our response system with regionalized incident command and accountability tracking boards,” stated Fire Chief James Bonzano. “Our career and volunteer responders have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to operate in a safe and accountable manner, these funds will provide the much-needed tools necessary to do just that” stated the Chief.
For more information on the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Service or to learn how to join your community fire station, visit www.warrencountyfire.com
Royal Tint & Detailing opens in Front Royal
Nike Foster Cales of the Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce, along with fellow Chamber members, welcomed Greg Bell of Royal Tint & Detailing to our community. Royal Tint & Detailing is located at 507 N. Royal Avenue (at the Liberty).
Royal Tint & Detailing in protecting customers’ investments such as homes or vehicles by keeping them in good condition. The company’s professional technicians offer auto detailing, window tinting, and residential power-washing services with a guarantee. The trained and dedicated staff gives each car and house the attention it deserves while providing great customer service.
- Auto Detailing: Vehicles of all sizes get a thorough hand wash, cleaning, and waxing to help preserve their value.
- Auto Window Tinting: This service aims to block heat and upholstery-fading UV rays, reduce dangerous glare, and give a sense of privacy.
- Power Washing: Professionals give dirty decks, patios, driveways, and home exteriors a deep cleaning.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for September 20 – 24, 2021
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 7 to 8, eastbound and westbound – Alternating lane closures for inspection of bridge over the railway and Shenandoah River, Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Mile marker 7 to 15, eastbound and westbound – Overnight alternating lane closures for paving operations, 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. through September 19.
No lane closures were reported.
Route 55 (Strasburg Road) – Overnight mobile lane closures for line-painting operations between Shenandoah County line and Front Royal town limits, 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. through September 23.
Route 624 (Happy Creek Road) – Flagger traffic control between Front Royal eastern town limits and Route 647 (Dismal Hollow Road) for the safety improvement project, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Estimated project completion December 10.
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.
Meteor latest explanation for BOOM and earth shaking in Shenandoah County Friday morning
A meteor strike has been proposed, if not yet confirmed late Friday afternoon, to explain a loud BOOM and consequent reports of earth-shaking in Shenandoah County on Friday morning, September 17. Initial reports, including social media sites, of an explosion or earthquake, were found to be unsubstantiated. No explosion was found to have occurred in the area and the USGS (U.S. Geological Service) reported no earthquake in the region.
So, eyes have turned toward the sky for a possible explanation. It was noted that meteors coming into the earth’s atmosphere often make sonic boom sounds, particularly if they are traveling at supersonic (speed of sound) speeds, which they do many times over.
But then so, one might imagine, do UFO’s or UAP’s (Unidentified Flying Objects or Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) popular in, not only science fiction circles, but military funding ones these days as well.
Steve Foreman announces write-in campaign For Warren County Board of Supervisors-Fork District
Area resident Steve Foreman is announcing his write-in candidacy for the Warren County Board of Supervisors, representing the Fork District.
Foreman, who has a background in communication tech and a B.A. in Business Administration from National-Louis University, feels he is well-suited to help the board with ongoing plans to expand broadband in the area. A former project manager for Sprint who supervised multi-state engineering projects, Foreman says that getting broadband expansion right will depend on asking the right questions as providers and county officials move forward.
“Our decisions need to be based on facts, not opinions. I bring a fresh viewpoint into county leadership and can build on the progress started by the last additions to the board.”
Earlier in his career, Foreman was a lineman in Northern Indiana and plans to work with the school board to make sure they have all the resources needed for vocational training to help educate students looking for careers in new technologies like high-speed internet and solar power.
“We have a lot of great teachers and people in our schools, but ask anyone in education, and they’ll tell you they need more. I consider myself a fiscal conservative, but as a father, I know the best investment we can make is in our kids’ education.”
“Coming off the farm in Indiana where I was raised, I was grateful to receive good job training to become a telephone lineman. That work meant a lot to me, even when it was hard because it meant I was earning a good living and doing something useful, keeping my community connected.”
“Today’s technology and jobs are different, but the need for training is just as important, which is why I want to be sure when we approve budgets, they include programs for all kinds of students, the ones with college in their sights, but also the ones who want training to fast-track a more hands-on career.”
Foreman feels that a well-trained job force is a part of what it takes to draw business to the area. “I want Warren County to be the place where our kids can grow up and decide to raise their own kids right here if they want to. Too often, they feel they need to move away or lose time to a long commute to make a living wage, but if we get this right, we’ll have the jobs, education, and infrastructure to make it possible for them to build their futures right here.”
In matters of infrastructure, Foreman says he feels that Warren County is on a good path, but he wants to lend his experience and perspective to move plans forward.
“In the aftermath of the EDA scandal, a large turnover in county management has actually had a positive effect. Once the dust settled, the EDA put a lot of good measures in place to make their work more transparent. A lot of progress has been made with respect to both the town and county in terms of relations and cooperation. Let’s add to that and keep the progress going.”
Area residents who want to learn more about Foreman’s plans or volunteer to help the campaign can visit www.foremanforfork.com/connect or reach out to campaign spokesperson Paul Miller at email@example.com.
VDH lifts harmful algae bloom advisory for North Fork of the Shenandoah River from Chapman’s Landing to Riverton
Effective immediately, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has lifted the recreational advisory due to a harmful algae bloom (HAB) on the North Fork (NF) of the Shenandoah River in Shenandoah and Warren Counties from Chapman’s Landing to Riverton. This river segment (approximately 52.5 miles) was placed under a recreational advisory on August 10 due to widespread algal mats, which contained both cyanobacteria cells and toxins at elevated levels.
Weekly observations at numerous sites along the river where algal mats were previously widespread which resulted in the recreational advisory being issued indicate these mats are no longer visible. Confirmatory water samples collected September 14 indicate no cyanobacteria cells were present and toxins at or below detection limits, well below those that pose a human health risk. The HAB status report for the NF Shenandoah River has been updated along with the Algan Bloom Map for reference of the prior advisory areas, samples, and observation sites.
VDH would like the public to be aware that while the bloom appears to have dissipated based on recent observations and testing, it is possible for algal blooms to reappear when there is adequate sunlight, nutrients, and warmer temperatures to make conditions favorable for algal growth. Most algae are harmless, however, some may produce irritating compounds or toxins if ingested. Because it is difficult to tell the difference, VDH advises everyone to avoid discolored water, scums, or mat material that are green or bluish-green because they are more likely to contain toxins. The algae bloom, which occurred in this area, may produce mats along the river bottom that may then detach, float on the water surface, or accumulate along downstream shorelines.
The North Fork of the Shenandoah River serves as the drinking water source for the Towns of Strasburg and Woodstock, and the City of Winchester. All three localities took every precaution to prevent impacts to drinking water, including routine testing for cyanotoxins and optimization of treatment processes for cyanotoxin removal. Anatoxin-a, the main toxin present in this HAB, has not been detected in the Town of Strasburg’s raw (untreated) or finished drinking water since August 12, and toxin levels remained below VDH and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health advisory levels at all times during this event. Anatoxin-a was below detectable levels in the Town of Woodstock and the City of Winchester’s raw and finished drinking water for the duration of the HAB. Drinking water remains safe to drink and use in all three localities.
Harmful algae can cause skin rash and gastrointestinal illnesses, such as upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Some toxins in algae blooms can be fatal to dogs and other animals when ingested. If you or your animals experience any negative health effects after swimming in or near an algal bloom, seek medical or veterinary care promptly.
Whenever recreating in natural water bodies, follow these healthy water habits:
- Avoid contact with any area of the river if you observe algae or algal mats to be present.
- Humans and pets should never consume water or material from a natural water body because this water is not treated water and is not suitable for consumption.
- Notify VDH of an algae bloom or fish kill, use the online HAB report form.
- If you suspect you or your animal experienced health-related effects following contact with a bloom, contact the Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Hotline at (888) 238-6154.
The Virginia Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force (VDH, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Old Dominion University Phytoplankton lab, and Virginia Institute of Marine Science) respond to bloom events to protect public health during the recreational season of May through October. The majority of algal blooms will dissipate when temperatures and sunlight are reduced in the fall and winter months.
For more information about harmful algae blooms and the HAB Task Force, visit www.SwimHealthyVA.com.