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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.

Community Participation

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.

Front Royal Virginia

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.

Restrooms Study

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.

Reopening Plan

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.

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Senator Tim Kaine visits George Banks Blvd



On August 11, 2022, Senator Tim Kaine visited George Banks Blvd and met in the front yard of Cornelia Banks, along with her family, and friends.

On Saturday, June 25th, friends, neighbors, and town officials gathered to officially open George Banks Boulevard on the Town of Front Royal’s north side from East 13th to 16th Street near Edgemont and Scranton Avenues.



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Community Events

Belle Grove to host Jerome Bias as an artist-in-residence



Belle Grove Plantation will host North Carolina furniture maker, Jerome Bias, as an artist-in-residence August 27-October 2.

Mr. Bias has been making period furnishings and studying southern decorative arts for more than 20 years. He was a joiner for Old Salem Museums and Gardens in Winston-Salem and has been a presenter at Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, and with the Slave Dwelling Project.

His interest in working at Belle Grove, and at other sites of enslavement like it, is to bring attention to the skilled and talented craftspersons who had significant roles in shaping Southern decorative traditions. These furniture pieces represent the local areas in which they were made, and became a way for the makers, though enslaved, to survive and thrive. Learning and demonstrating these furniture making techniques and skills has been a way for Mr. Bias to connect with his enslaved ancestors, get a glimpse at the pain, trauma, and joys that they experienced, and begin a process of healing. His current project is reproducing pieces of furniture from six areas of the United States in which his family was enslaved, including a buffet from South Carolina, and a china press from Louisville, Kentucky.

Jerome Bias Woodworking (photos by Sean Rowe / Courtesy of Belle Grove)

While at Belle Grove, Mr. Bias will have both indoor and outdoor workshop spaces where visitors can learn about the pieces he is making, their history, and the history of the craftspersons who inspire him. He will be demonstrating during Belle Grove’s Wine Festival on Saturday, August 27, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Thereafter, he will be doing demonstrations Wednesday-Sundays when Belle Grove is open (10 a.m.-4 p.m. and 1-5 p.m. Sundays). For a specific schedule, please visit Access to these demonstrations will be free of charge.

Another way Mr. Bias has connected with experiences of his ancestors is learning about the foodways of enslaved communities. He will share his experience and talents with hearth cooking during a free program by the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Park Ranger Shannon Moeck, “Kneading in Silence: A Glimpse into the Life of the Enslaved Cook Judah.” It is Sunday, September 4, at 2:30 p.m. in the historic kitchen of the Belle Grove Manor House. Attendees of the program will see first-hand the wide variety of skills, intense labor, and personality characteristics that Judah had to have in order to be the head cook.

Jerome Bias Cooking

Support for Mr. Bias’s residency has been provided through the Interpretation and Education Grants of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“Belle Grove is delighted to host Mr. Bias for this residency, and we are excited to share his craft and insights on African-American history with our guests, ” said Executive Director Kristen Laise.

Belle Grove is actively researching and interpreting the African American history of the site and honoring the lives of those enslaved and free. More information may be found at Some of the stories of the people enslaved at Belle Grove are featured in a monthly newsletter found at

About Belle Grove—Belle Grove Plantation is located off Route 11 at 336 Belle Grove Road just south of Middletown, Virginia, and is conveniently situated to I-81 (exit 302) and I-66. Belle Grove Plantation is a non-profit historic house museum that is a National Trust for Historic Preservation historic site ( It is also one of the legislated partners in Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park (

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Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Virginia Opossum



Photos / Blue Ridge Wildlife Center

Do you know what a baby opossum is called?

Baby opossums are called joeys!

This litter of orphaned joeys came to the Center as tiny, eyes-closed babies after their mom was hit by a vehicle.

Joeys take a lot of work to raise, requiring 5-6 feedings per day, constant cleanings, and lots of enrichment. But everyone in this group is now fully weaned and eating on their own, and they will be moved out to larger, pre-release enclosures soon!

Adult female Virginia Opossums traditionally have litters of babies beginning in February and another in late spring. Each litter can produce as many as 13 babies (though we typically see closer to 5 or 6).

Most of the joeys we admit come to us on hit-by-car moms. Please make sure to watch your speed and pay attention while driving. Do not expect wildlife to simply get out of your way. Though many are hit at night, nocturnal mothers are also foraging during the day to support their large families!

If you see a hit opossum on the roadside or accidentally hit one, and are in a SAFE area to pull over, please check to see if they are alive or if you see any movement in the pouch. Look around for slightly older joeys that may be walking near the body. If the mother is alive or if there are living babies, please call a licensed rehabilitator right away. We are available 9-5pm, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to help!

Looking for an easy way to help native wildlife? Become a monthly BRWC donor! For as little as $5/month, you can provide year-round, sustainable support that helps us fulfill our mission.

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VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for August 8 – 12, 2022



The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.

*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new or revised entry since last week’s report.

Mile marker 0 to 15, eastbound and westbound – Right shoulder closures for utility work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).

Mile marker 8 to 7, westbound – Right lane closures for utility work, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).

Mile marker 299 to 300, northbound and southbound – Right shoulder closures for utility work, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday (August 13).

Route 55 (Strasburg Road) – Shoulder closures for utility work in the area of Route 664 (Whipporwill Road), 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. through August 19.

No lane closures were reported.

Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.

Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at

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 Agents are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


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Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over: The results of drunk driving could be crushing



During the Labor Day holiday, including the end of summertime and the busy Labor Day weekend, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is working alongside the law enforcement community in Warren County to decrease impaired driving. From August 19 through September 5, Warren County Sheriff’s Office will be participating in the Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over enforcement period. In support of the law enforcement community’s dedication to protecting the lives of residents in their communities, you’ll see officers working together during this time to take drunk drivers off the roads. No matter how you plan to celebrate the end of the season this year, make sure you plan it safely.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 11,654 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2020 that involved an alcohol-impaired driver. On average, more than 10,000 people were killed each year from 2016 to 2020, and one person was killed in a drunk driving crash every 45 minutes in 2020. This is why Warren County Sheriff’s Office is working together with NHTSA to remind drivers that drunk driving is not only illegal, but also a matter of life and death. As you head out to festivities during the end of summer and Labor Day weekend, remember: Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over.  The Warren County Sheriff’s Office will be conducting a DUI Checkpoint August 19, 2022.

During the 2020 Labor Day holiday period (6 p.m. September 4 – 5:59 a.m. September 8), there were 530 crash fatalities nationwide. Forty-six percent of those fatalities involved drivers who had been drinking (.01+ BAC). More than one-third (38%) of the fatalities involved drivers who were drunk (.08+ BAC), and one-fourth (25%) involved drivers who were driving with a BAC almost twice the legal limit (.15+ BAC). Age is a particularly risky factor: Among drivers between the ages of 21 and 34 who were killed in crashes over the Labor Day holiday period in 2020, 44% of those drivers were drunk, with BACs of .08 or higher.

For more information on impaired driving, visit

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VSP seeking public’s assistance with a crash involving a pedestrian in Fauquier County



Virginia State Police is seeking the public’s assistance with identifying one of the two vehicles that struck a pedestrian Saturday, August 6, in Fauquier County.

Senior Trooper D. Mabie is investigating the crash that occurred at 11:20 p.m. at the intersection of Route 29 (James Madison Hwy) and Route 28 (Catlett Rd).

A pedestrian was walking east across Route 29 when he was struck by a northbound 2017 Alfa Romeo sedan. The driver was unable to avoid the collision and immediately pulled over. A second vehicle then struck the pedestrian and continued on without stopping. This is possibly a white SUV or truck of unknown make and model.

The pedestrian, a 21-year-old male, of Bealeton, Va., suffered life-threatening injuries as a result of the crash and was transported to INOVA Fairfax Hospital for treatment.

The driver of the Alfa Romeo, a 24-year-old male, of Locust Grove, Va., was not injured in the crash. He was wearing a seatbelt.

The pedestrian was wearing dark clothing and not in a crosswalk. The Alfa Romeo had a green light.

The crash remains under investigation.

Anyone who may have witnessed the crash or has any information related to this incident is encouraged to call Virginia State Police Senior Trooper D. Mabie at 540-347-6200 or email

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The Appalachian Chamber Music Festival is delighted to be returning to the Barns of Rose Hill on Thursday, August 18, at 7pm, for the opening night concert of our 2022 summer season. The festival celebrates[...]
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