After room cleared School Board approves transgender policy, restroom study, phased mask use
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.
To watch the School Board’s August 4 meeting in its entirety, go here.
A Fond Farewell to Barbara Way: A Pillar of Front Royal Women’s Resource Center
Front Royal Women’s Resource Center announces the retirement of its cherished Executive Director, Barbara Way. After years of influential service, she’s leaving an indelible mark on the Center and the many lives it has transformed.
Barbara’s passionate and tireless service to the Front Royal Women’s Resource Center has been nothing short of transformative. Her leadership and dedication propelled the Center to new heights, enabling it to reach more local women and positively impact their lives.
One of Barbara’s key accomplishments includes the expansion of the Center’s scholarship endowments. These funds directly facilitate the annual ‘Dare To Dream’ grants, which achieved a record-breaking award of $12,000 this year. This notable increase in financial support for women pursuing their dreams is a testament to Barbara’s commitment and hard work.
Barbara’s departure is undoubtedly significant for the Front Royal Women’s Resource Center. Her relentless pursuit of the Center’s mission has left an enduring legacy that will continue to inspire and guide the organization’s future endeavors.
While Barbara steps down from her official role, her influence remains woven into the fabric of the Front Royal Women’s Resource Center. We express our deepest gratitude for her years of devoted service and wish her all the best in her next chapter.
We invite donations to the Front Royal Women’s Resource Center to honor Barbara’s impactful work. These can be designated ‘In Honor of Barbara Way’ and will contribute to the ongoing support and empowerment of local women.
Library defunding/book removal advocates, Samuels Library defenders clash on D-Day 2023
The Fiscal Year-2023/24 budget public hearing of Tuesday evening, June 6, may have inadvertently, yet appropriately, been scheduled for the 79th anniversary of D-Day, the pivotal Allied invasion of the Nazi Germany-led fascist Axis’s “Fortress Europe” that turned the tide of World War 2 on the western European front.
For what transpired inside and outside the Warren County Government Center as the FY-24 budget public hearing approached and was then launched at 7:30 p.m. led the Warren County Board of Supervisors to view a lengthy “beachhead” battle, albeit verbal, over the future shape the political, governmental, cultural, and societal standards this community may take.
At issue for the bulk of over 70 speakers at both the budget public hearing (our count was 65) and majority of Public Comments (counted 9 total) on non-agenda items was whether continued County funding of Samuels Public Library should occur while a total of 134 books requested for removal by the “CleanUpSamuels” website advocacy group remain on library shelves. The budget public hearing, at which board Chairman Vicky Cook explained the defund/fund issue should be the focus of comments, was convened at 7:30 p.m. in front of a packed to capacity WCGC meeting room. With most speakers going to or near their 3-minute speaking limit, the public hearing adjourned some 65 speakers later at 11:12 p.m. Our count was 34 to defund pending removal of cited books, 26 to fully fund the library and let its own review process control content, with a few who seemed on the fence favoring removal of certain books but not really favoring defunding of the library.
The board took no action, as they must wait a week following the public hearing to vote on approval of the budget. After the meeting went back to a few more Public Comments and other more routine business items, the meeting was adjourned at 11:57 p.m. But prior to that adjournment, County Administrator Ed Daley congratulated the board and staff on their FY-2024 budget preparation, noting that no negative public hearing comment had been directed their way on any other budgetary matter than library funding. County Finance Director Alisa Scott made a PowerPoint summary of budget highlights and proposed expenditures to kick off the public hearing, prior to public feedback.
But on that Samuels Library public feedback D-Day “beach front” it was on. To one side were CleanUpSamuels advocates who see continued use of county tax revenue in support of the library an unacceptable use of public funds while 134 books they seek removal of as “pornographic” remain on library shelves. And to make their point, many pro-defund library speakers read sexually-tinged passages from some books in question.
On the other side, an attempt to institute religious extremist-based censorship was cited by library defenders and opponents of a blanket banning of the books requested for removal by the CleanUpSamuels group and supporters. As noted in a July 5 article in the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, the book removal website received initial social media exposure from a May Facebook post by the “Young Adults of St. John the Baptist (Catholic Church)”. A number of defund the library pending removal of the books in question speakers either cited ties to the church or are known congregation members.
However, one library funding supporter, Tom Howarth, described himself as a lifelong Catholic, but not of the type he had listened to speak prior to his rising to be the 50th public hearing speaker. Noting an abundance of what he termed “zeal” in comments of library critics, of much of that zeal he observed, “This strikes me as an incredibly gross character assassination of the director of the library and her staff. And it’s done, apparently in the name of religious zeal. I can’t believe that my Lord and Savior would have anything to do with destroying a person’s public reputation. And that is what’s happening here tonight,” Howarth said.
After referencing his Catholicism from the “cradle” though work on two parish councils through a decade of work with the poor and homeless, Howarth added, “I’m a Catholic but I don’t want a Catholic library. I don’t want a library that’s run by any religion. Jefferson would be spinning in his grave if he listened to this conversation tonight in Virginia in 2023. Unfortunately, what we have is another orchestrated political attack on a public institution: the press, your electoral system, public schools, and now the public library. Where does it end?” Howarth asked of religious zeal being applied to how a community’s entire population, perhaps a nation’s, must live.
The CleanUpSamuels website front page describes “The Issue” as the presence of “many pornographic books in the children’s section of Samuels Public Library. These books graphically detail sexual activity between minors and are written for young readers. Our tax dollars fund the purchase and circulation of these abhorrent books. We need to let the Board of Supervisors know that these books do not align with our values.” A number of library defunding speakers said they were parents whose families use the library and expressed concern about their children, and others, having access to material tackling LGBTQ and other issues of a sexual nature.
However, one library supporter who spoke later in the meeting noted that children under 12 were not allowed in the library without an accompanying adult or parent, though another person present suggested the library age cap for parental accompaniment was 10. A check with the library the following day revealed that library policies list the accompanied by parent or adult age at 11 and under. A number of County public library funding supporters wondered if parental involvement and oversight shouldn’t be the pivotal controlling factor for what the community’s children are reading, as opposed to political calls for governmental defunding of the community’s public library. For as a “public library” it is open to all of a community’s citizens regardless of religious affiliation or political perspective.
But as noted above, to make their point on the pornographic context of books in question, many defund the library speakers quoted graphic passages at length from several books on the requested removal list. Library funding supporters countered that graphic passages were being taken out of context so that the theme of the books referenced was not conveyed. The pro-funding and self-described anti-censorship contingent argued that rather than pornography, many, if not all, the books in question were written to provide emotional guidance or support to school age youth facing sexual identity crises of their own. Does a book describing teens falling into a life of prostitution do so to encourage such a life, or to warn against it as a tragic mistake, some wondered of one repeatedly referenced book.
A visit to the CleanUpSamuels website the day after the public hearing revealed that the group had advertised prepared comments and book transcripts for supporters to read at the June 6 meeting: “We will provide excerpts from the books and a script, so you don’t need to worry about what to say! Please arrive at 6:30 p.m. for handouts and instructions,” the CleanUpSamuels website front page stated.
The day following the public hearing debate Samuels Library staff verified that 597 requests for reconsideration forms (on library content) from 53 individuals seeking to have 134 books removed from the library had been received to date. That is in a county of some 40,000 people, one library supporter noted.
Stay tuned as the supervisors proceed to their vote on a final FY-2023/24 budget, with Samuels Public Library funding or not, at its special meeting of June 13.
The Royal Examiner will link the June 6, 2023, meeting when the County posts it.
However, we noticed that the first three budget public hearing speakers — following Finance Director Alisa Scott’s PowerPoint presentation on the FY-24 budget (31:00 to 36:11 mark where color bars appear to interrupt the video) — John Lundgren, Dale Carpenter, and Tom Hinnant, appear to be missing prior to Chris Estes taking the podium at the 36:35 video mark. There was some discussion with staff during the meeting concerning some technical problems.
Paving the Path: U.S. Army and Warren County unite under PaYS Program
June 7, 2023, ushered in a groundbreaking collaboration between the U.S. Army and Warren County, Virginia, under the auspices of the Partnership for Your Success (PaYS) program. This unique alliance was brought to life during an earnest signing ceremony that marked the commitment to provide our brave veterans with a secure future in civilian life.
The PaYS program, a strategic collaboration between the U.S. Army and a diverse range of partners, including private industry, academia, and government bodies, assures soldiers and ROTC Cadets five job interviews and potential employment post-service. This fruitful partnership saw Lieutenant Colonel Felicia Brooks, commander of the Baltimore Marine Battalion, and Sheriff Mark Butler of Warren County Sheriff’s Office signing the memorandum of agreement.
An Exciting Road Ahead
Throughout the signing ceremony, the underlying theme was clear – a dedication to bridging the gap between military and civilian life for our veterans. Lieutenant Colonel Brooks expressed the program’s intentions to connect America with its Army, making it the service of choice for future soldiers while ensuring employment opportunities.
Brooks also emphasized the mutual benefits for the PaYS partners – access to a pool of professional veterans with exceptional work habits who adhere to the highest standards of conduct. This paves the way for organizations like the Warren County Sheriff’s Office to recruit from a pool of potential employees who bring the discipline and work ethics inherent in their military background.
A Track Record of Success
For two decades, the PaYS program has partnered with more than 1,000 partners, including giants like Amazon, General Motors, and Comcast. With Warren County Sheriff’s Department now on board, the reach of this innovative initiative extends even further.
Sheriff Mark Butler spoke of the invaluable leadership skills, camaraderie, integrity, courage, and honor that veterans bring to the table – values that align with his motto of “leave no veteran behind.” This program reaffirms these values, bridging the gap between military service and civilian life.
The signing of the memorandum of agreement and the presentation of a certificate of participation to Warren County by Lieutenant Colonel Brooks capped off the ceremony. The event is a testament to all parties’ commitment to recognizing, honoring, and aiding our veterans as they transition into civilian life.
Unlocking the Power of Education and Professional Development
Sergeant Timothy Stowes, an army recruiter from Winchester, has a personal connection to the transformative power of the Army. 13 years into his service, he uses his experience to encourage young individuals to enlist, emphasizing the Army’s commitment to education and personal growth.
Currently, the Army offers comprehensive tuition assistance and access to the Montgomery GI Bill, facilitating free college education for its members. Stones himself has used these opportunities to earn one degree and is currently pursuing another, all while developing his career within the Army. These educational opportunities enrich the lives of Army members and prepare them for successful transitions into the civilian workforce.
Warren County commits to supporting veterans with U.S. Army PaYS partnership
Local scholars shine: James Madison University honors Front Royal graduates in Class of 2023 Commencement
James Madison University (JMU), one of the nation’s leading lights in higher education, takes great pride in announcing its students who graduated with honors during the May 2023 commencement exercises. These students have exemplified academic excellence across a broad range of disciplines, each making their unique mark in their chosen field of study.
Graduating Cum Laude, Meghan Dennis, Jordan Reyes, and Abigail Frey of Front Royal have been acknowledged for their exceptional academic performance. Dennis earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Hospitality Management, Reyes in Individualized Study, and Frey in Nursing. In an outstanding accomplishment, Tyler Chaparro-Compton, also of Front Royal, graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Biology.
In addition to these laureates, JMU also honors other graduates who have successfully completed their degrees. Timothy Cochran of Bentonville earned his degree in Biology, while Kellsie Hollands, Michael Carter, Abegail Lee, Caitlin Thompson, Robert Look, and Olivia Hilton, all of Front Royal, graduated in fields such as Education, General Psychology, Individualized Study, Integrated Science and Technology, and Public Administration respectively.
JMU, established in 1908 and nestled in Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley, is renowned for fostering engaging relationships between students and faculty, driving educational innovation, and supporting advanced research. The university prides itself on offering state-of-the-art amenities and facilities, including NCAA Division 1 athletics, and consistently boasts the highest post-graduation job levels among all Virginia colleges.
In a world that increasingly values knowledge and innovation, these students’ achievements underscore JMU’s commitment to nurturing academic excellence and developing future leaders. The university extends its heartfelt congratulations to all its graduates for their perseverance, resilience, and dedication. As they embark on their professional journeys, these alumni are set to continue their pursuit of excellence, reinforcing JMU’s esteemed legacy.
Front Royal Elk Lodge establishes scholarship fund for skilled trades
Front Royal Elk Lodge 2382 is making a significant investment in the future of the community by establishing a scholarship fund for the skilled trades. Recognizing the importance of providing opportunities for young men and women to gain assistance in learning a trade and entering the workforce, the lodge recently presented a check for $3,000.00 to Laurel Ridge Community College. This partnership marks the beginning of a long-term relationship aimed at benefiting the local community and its young workforce.
On May 30th, Jim Sheppard, the Exalted Ruler of Front Royal Elk Lodge, along with Michael Kominek (Loyal Knight) and Stan Williams (Lecturing Knight), presented the $3,000.00 check to Laurel Ridge Community College. The funds will be utilized to establish the first scholarship dedicated to supporting students pursuing skilled trades education.
The decision to focus on the skilled trades stems from a recognition within Front Royal Lodge 2382 that not all young individuals are destined for a traditional four-year college degree. The lodge understands the value and needs for skilled workers in the community and aims to provide assistance to those who choose to pursue a trade. By supporting students in gaining the necessary skills, the lodge hopes to help them enter the workforce and contribute to the local economy.
To foster a deeper understanding of the college and its programs, Elk Lodge representatives embarked on a tour of the Laurel Ridge Community College campus and facilities. Dr. Kim Blosser, President of Laurel Ridge Community College, Larry Baker, Corporate Training Manager, and Andrew Gyurisin, Foundation Development Manager, guided the representatives through the campus, showcasing the resources and opportunities available to students.
Front Royal Elk Lodge intends to establish a long-term relationship with Laurel Ridge Community College, working closely to identify and support students who show a passion for the skilled trades. Through this collaboration, the lodge aims to make a lasting impact on the community by empowering young individuals with the necessary skills and education to excel in their chosen trades.
Front Royal Rotary ending its year with major student awards
The Rotary Club of Front Royal’s president, Lori Glascock, is using the last weeks of her one-year term of office to distribute scholarship money and other awards to worthy local students. On June 23, Ken Evans will be sworn in as the 2023-24 club president.
In addition to previous student awards and recognition of local outstanding teachers, Glascock, last Friday (June 2), handed out further awards to four students from Skyline and Warren County High Schools who excelled in the arts and in the fields of sport.
Isabella Pittelli, WCHS, received the 2023 Betsy Blauvelt Student Art Award. The late Betsy Blauvelt, a past president of Front Royal Rotary, was a long-time executive director of the old Wayside Theatre in Middletown. Blauvelt’s husband, David, and their daughters attended the presentation.
Cody Henderson, Skyline, received the Kym Crump Student Art Award. Crump, also a former president of Front Royal Rotary and executive director of the Blue Ridge Arts Council, attended the presentation to Cody.
The John Marlow Male Athlete of the Year Award went to Daniel “DJ” Rizzo Jr., WCHS. The ceremony was watched by Marlow and his daughter, Emily Marlow Beck. Marlow was himself an outstanding high school and college athlete, also a past president of Front Royal Rotary and Mayor of the Town of Front Royal.
Sara Waller, WCHS, received one of two 2023 Heidi Moore Female Athletic Awards, along with Ava Bordner, Skyline, who will pick up her award later this month. She was away competing in athletics at the state level. Heidi Moore was an outstanding county athlete who tragically died from cancer shortly after completing her high school years.
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