The Warren County School Board on Wednesday, November 4, approved requests from Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) to spend more federal pandemic-relief funds awarded under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act totaling more than $349,000.
School Board members also learned from WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger that the school division on October 30 sent its termination letter for The Local Choice, the current health insurance provider through Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which is locked in contract negotiations with regional medical provider Valley Health.
WCPS also “is ready to have a request for proposal for other insurance providers to be posted by November 6,” Ballenger told School Board members during the meeting. “So, we will start moving through that process and see where it lands.”
During his superintendent report, Ballenger also provided “a clarification” regarding a potential random drug testing program being implemented for the 2021-2022 school year.
“There have been some questions about drug testing in the schools. Right now, Warren County Public Schools does not have a drug testing program. We do not have a policy in place. We do not have a program in place,” Ballenger said.
During the School Board’s previous meeting on October 21, Ballenger requested that two board members serve on a committee to evaluate and to develop a possible plan. School Board members Catherine Bower and Ralph Rinaldi volunteered to serve on the committee, and the board voted unanimously to accept their membership on the committee. Other members are also being sought, according to the superintendent.
“If there’s anything to come up from that committee, that would not be implemented until next year after the board would have to, of course, approve it and give time for public comment on such a policy,” said Ballenger. “I just wanted to clarify that we do not have a drug-testing policy in place, but we are going to review one and we can develop one for our school system.”
The School Board members acted on several items related to WCPS spending of CARES Act funds. The board — including School Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., and members Kristen Pence, James Wells, Bower, and Rinaldi — unanimously approved (contingent on available funds) all the requested expenditures, which included:
- $200,835.18 for K-5 math textbooks. WCPS Director of Elementary Instruction Lisa Rudacille, who made the WCPS request, said the pandemic has increased the school division’s need for virtual tools to best serve its students. Based on teacher and administrator feedback, she said WCPS opted to adopt the Go Math! series published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for kindergarten through fifth grades.
- $72,775.64 to purchase a one-year digital add-on for AP Physics and Environmental Science and a seven-year digital license for Biology and Chemistry. “Due to the potential for additional funding through CARES, and increased emphasis on virtual instruction and virtual resources, we would like to add a digital component for students taking AP Physics and Environmental Science for one year,” said WCPS Director of Secondary Instruction Alan Fox. “Additionally, we would like to purchase a seven-year digital license for Virginia Miller and Levine Biology and a seven-year digital license for Pearson Chemistry. The Biology and Chemistry purchase also include a class set of textbooks.”
- $75,468 to purchase network firewalls. “Warren County recently increased our network bandwidth to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps),” explained WCPS Technology Director Timothy Grant. “In order for WCPS to make full use of the increased bandwidth, we need to purchase new firewalls for our network.” The purchase price includes a spare firewall, as well.
Ballenger also reported that newly ordered tablets for pre-K and kindergarten students are in and have been distributed so these students will have a technology reboot November 9-13. Chromebooks should arrive on Friday, November 6, and they will be distributed next week, so grades one through five will have a reboot November 16-20. Reboots are to get everyone up to speed on the new devices and Schoology program being used online.
The superintendent also said that the division is “moving quickly through” its coronavirus relief funds and has purchased virtual textbooks and hardcovers that are currently being distributed and has ordered temperature scanners and camera support.
Some sample scanners were onsite during the School Board meeting, with one located at the front door of the Government Center and another in the meeting room. The scanners may be used as a standalone item or on a bus. “These can help with allowing a lot of people to come in [the school buildings] at one time,” said Ballenger, noting that more temperatures can be scanned using these tools compared to using a hand-held thermometer. “And because it’s getting a little colder, standing outside and taking temperatures will not be any fun,” he said.
The Virginia High School Leagues (VHSL) released mitigation guidelines for return to participation, reported Ballenger, and schools are now working through them to develop a plan. “We had our first meeting today with athletic directors to discuss what we can and cannot do and they’re working with the other schools within our district to come up with some uniform guidelines that maybe they could all adhere to,” said Ballenger. “But it’s going to be different at each site, I can tell you that right now.” Final plans will be sent to parents as soon as possible, he added.
Ballenger also recognized three Warren County School Board members with awards from the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA), which annually recognizes school board members for their dedication, time, and hard work through the VSBA School Academy. He recognized and presented the VSBA awards to Vice Chairwoman Bower and member Wells, who earned the Certificate of Recognition, and to Chairman Williams, who earned a Certificate of Achievement.
Additionally, Ballenger highlighted two national awards presented by The College Board to local student Gabriel Smith, a Skyline High School senior who received both the 2021 African American Scholar Award for Excellence in Academic Achievement and the 2020-2021 Rural and Small Town Scholar Award for Excellence in Academic Achievement. Smith received both awards at SHS on October 23, said Ballenger, who added, “This is an outstanding accomplishment for Gabe and for Skyline High School.”
In other news, WCPS Assistant Superintendent Melody Sheppard presented the proposed 2021-2022 school year calendar for the board’s consideration. “The assumption for next year is that school will be normal,” Sheppard said. “We are hoping that is going to be the case — the power of positive thinking.”
Developed by committee with at least one representative from each school, key information regarding the proposed calendar is listed below.
- July 27, new teachers arrive, while veteran teachers would return on August 3, 2021.
- August 10, 2021 – First Day of School
- September 6, 2021 – Labor Day holiday
- October 8, 2021 – End of 1st Advisory
- October 11, 2021 – Professional Development Day
- November 2, 2021 – Professional Development Day on Election Day
- November 11, 2021 – Holiday Veterans Day
- November 22 – 26, 2021 – Fall Break – This would be new because attendance on that Tuesday and Wednesday drops off significantly, Sheppard said. However, employees working a 250-day calendar still would be required to work or request vacation time off for those days.
- December 21, 2021 – End of 2nd Advisory/1st Semester (87 days in 1st semester)
- December 22, 2021 – January 4, 2022– Winter Break for Students
- December 22, 2021 – January 2, 2022 – Winter Break for Staff
- January 17, 2022 – Holiday
- February 7 and 8, 2022 – Professional Development Days
- February 21, 2022 – Holiday
- March 14, 2022 – End of 3rd Advisory
- March 21 – March 25, 2022 – Spring Break
- April 15 – April 18, 2022 – Holiday
- April 29, 2022 – Professional Development Day
- May 30, 2022 – Holiday
- June 9, 2022 – Last Day of School
- June 10, 2022 – Professional Development Day
In total, the proposed calendar has six built-in weather make-up days, Sheppard said, and students would not be in school for more than 180 days. “If we do not miss six days due to weather, the days will be taken from the end of the school year,” she added.
Wednesday night was the first reading of the proposed 2021-2022 school calendar. The second reading and discussion will be during the School Board’s November 17 meeting and the recommendation for approval will be at the December 2 meeting. The board meets next this month on a Tuesday because of a conflicting conference that falls on its regularly scheduled Wednesday night meetings.
Watch the rest of the meeting to hear from principals at Diversified Minds/Brighter Futures and the Blue Ridge Technical Center, who reported on some of the events happening at their WCPS centers during this first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year.
EDA announces pending sale of Baugh Drive warehouse to medical marijuana distributor
The EDA Board of Directors met in a Special Board meeting this morning. With a unanimous vote on a motion by Greg Harold, seconded by Jim Wolfe, the Board approved a resolution authorizing the Chair and Secretary to sign a Letter Of Intent (LOI) to sell the former Atlantic Skyline Building at 426 Baugh Drive for the full asking price of $5,750,000 to Parallel Virginia, LLC, a pharmaceutical processor of medical cannabis. The sale is contingent upon the conditional approval of the company’s application for a pharmaceutical processor permit in Health Service Area 1 by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy – a decision expected in March 2021. As authorized by law, the Virginia Board of Pharmacy may award conditional approval for only one pharmaceutical processor application in this health service area.
The Commonwealth of Virginia passed legislation approving the production and use of medical cannabis oil in 2018. The legislation established five Health Service Areas with one pharmaceutical processor per area. The Board of Pharmacy has already awarded permits in Areas 2-5. The Area 1 permit reopened for applicants in the fall of 2020.
Parallel Virginia, LLC, if awarded conditional approval, will begin establishing its manufacturing presence in the spring of 2021. This experienced, multi-state operator is already successfully operating in four states – Georgia, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Florida. In addition, the company is currently developing a recently awarded research-focused operation in Pennsylvania in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh.
Parallel has a strong research and development component in every operation and has already signed letters of intent for strategic research and workforce partnerships with several public and private Virginia institutions of higher education.
The company’s industry-leading experience and multi-state success will greatly benefit the Warren County and Front Royal area. In the first five years of operation, they project a capital investment of tens of millions of dollars and the creation of hundreds of jobs.
Virginia law requires doctors who want to write prescriptions for medical cannabis to register with the Board of Pharmacy. Patients prescribed medical cannabis are required to pay an annual fee in addition to the cost of the prescription. The law also limits the number of dispensing facilities within the Health Service Area to five. The company, if selected, will establish its pharmaceutical processor operation at this facility, and has future plans to identify separate, stand-alone dispensing facilities within other localities in HSA 1.
Finally, selling the building will save Warren County taxpayers approximately $25,000 per month, or $300,000 a year, in loan payments, utilities, and insurance costs. It was a priority of the Board to get this building back into the hands of the private sector and back online creating jobs and adding to the economic engine of our community. This prospect will create jobs, generate tax revenue, and develop licensed medicine for patients in need. Doug Parsons, EDA Executive Director noted, “We believe this company is a good fit for our community. They have been thorough, transparent, and accommodating in thinking through their potential presence in Virginia. We appreciate their interest in our community and their commitment to making a lasting, positive impact in our region.”
Also following the closed session, on a motion by Tom Patteson, seconded by Harold, the board unanimously approved a short-term storage lease with Interchange Group for 10,000 square feet of space at 426 Baugh Drive for $4,125 per month.
Rotary Club of Front Royal providing free Doc Smith food boxes and Coats for Kids
The Rotary Club of Front Royal is partnering with the Department of Social Services to provide free Doc Smith food boxes and Coats for Kids. The Doc Smith Food Basket program has existed in Warren County/Front Royal since 1916. The Rotary Club of Front Royal has sponsored the food box program since 2003.
The deadline for applications is Monday, November 30. Applications can be dropped off at the following places:
- Department of Social Services – 465 W 15th St (they have a drop box for contactless delivery)
- Warren County Community Center – 538 Villa Ave – Friday and Saturday, November 20 and 21
- Drop box at First Baptist Church -14 W 1st Street (in doors facing 1st Avenue)
- Call or email First Baptist Church – 540-635-2122 or email@example.com
Food boxes and coats can be picked up on Saturday, December 19, from 10:00am – Noon, at First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall. Delivery is also available.
Traditional Thanksgiving off the table for many
Many Americans are grappling with ways to make one of the nation’s most celebrated holidays safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Richmond resident Caroline Kaschak will feast at home to protect at-risk elders in her family.
“It is just going to be my husband and me,” Kaschak said. “We are going to order in fancy takeout instead.”
Colleges like Virginia Commonwealth University are offering COVID-19 exit testing to students before they return home for the holidays. Some Americans still have scheduled traditional Thanksgiving gatherings with their families.
“I plan on going to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving,” said VCU student Rickaya Sykes. “They live in the same town as me, and we are very close. If I am not at home, I am at their house spending time with them.”
The Centers for Disease Control recently issued guidance for gatherings over the Thanksgiving holiday. The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is at home with people who live in the same household, the CDC said. Gatherings with family and friends who live outside the home can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.
The agency recommends that hosts limit the number of guests, disinfect surfaces and keep windows open to decrease coronavirus risk. For attendees, the guidance includes bringing and eating food from home with their own utensils and staying out of the kitchen.
COVID-19 cases and deaths have sharply risen in the past two weeks across the nation and in Virginia, according to the New York Times. Over the past week, there has been an average of 2,262 new cases per day in Virginia, an increase of 62% from the average two weeks earlier, according to the Times.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced a coronavirus mandate in Virginia to limit private gatherings and some public events to 25 people. The restrictions took effect on Nov. 15, less than two weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday.
The CDC urged Americans to consider alternative Thanksgiving Day activities such as virtual celebrations, eating meals outdoors, post-holiday shopping online and using a curbside pickup.
Virginia State Parks is encouraging families to gather at its 39 parks— which have remained open during the pandemic—over the Thanksgiving holiday. The “Opt Outside” promotion will be celebrated throughout the holiday weekend from Nov. 26 to Nov. 29. Visitors have a chance to win a $500 Virginia State Parks gift certificate if they submit up to five photos of their trip and enter it into the annual photo contest. The Virginia State Parks promotion started 10 years ago as “Green Friday” to motivate families to visit the park instead of post-Thanksgiving shopping on “Black Friday.”
“Since the promotion started, we have seen more people visiting parks over the holidays,” said Tim Shrader, the eastern region field operations manager for Virginia State Parks. “You have all this family coming in, you probably need to get outside and enjoy each other’s company outside for physical and mental health.”
AAA released its annual Thanksgiving travel forecast, which anticipated at least a 10% drop in travel. The agency said that is the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008. In mid-October, AAA expected up to 50 million Americans to travel for the holiday. Now they say it could be lowered given the recent surge in COVID-19 cases and health notices.
The nation’s airports saw an uptick in travelers over the weekend, despite the CDC advisory to avoid traveling. The Transportation Security Administration reported almost 4 million travelers from Nov. 19 to Nov. 22, but the rate of travelers was still much lower than at the same time last year.
By India Jones
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.
FRPD releases Chief’s full statement on social media investigation
The Front Royal Police Department was made aware on Wednesday, November 11, 2020, of concerning social media posts that had been made by an officer within our department. These comments do not represent the views of the Town of Front Royal or our Police Department. Our mission remains to safeguard the lives of ALL members of our community. We take this behavior very seriously. Upon receipt of the complaint, the officer was immediately placed on administrative leave pursuant to an internal investigation.
The Internal Affairs Division conducted a thorough investigation, the results of which were also vetted externally by a third party. It was determined in the investigation that the Front Royal Police Department’s General Order 27.01.04; Public Information – Internet / Social Media had been violated by this employee. Specific violations include: ‘D.3 – Department Sanctioned Use’, and section ‘E. – Personal Use/Off-Duty Conduct’. In light of the totality of circumstances, appropriate punitive and corrective disciplinary actions have taken place which includes extensive training in cultural diversity, anti-biased policing, and the role of social media in public safety.
The officer is a 15-year veteran of the Front Royal Police Department. All 15 years of performance evaluations show above average work performance. In the past three years alone, this officer has responded to over 3,000 calls for service in our community. This officer has never had any disciplinary actions, no citizen complaints, and no excessive use of force incidents in the course of his career.
Again, we take this very seriously and do not condone the statements made by this officer. We are instituting social media training for the entire department and will be conducting antibias policing training in addition to the mandated yearly cultural diversity requirements of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.
Steven Hicks to start as Front Royal Town Manager on December 7th, 2020
The Front Royal Town Council is proud to announce the selection of Steven Hicks as the new Town Manager. Hicks will assume the position Monday, December 7th.
Mayor Eugene Tewalt stated, “I know I speak for Council that we could not be more pleased to have Steven serve as our Town Manager and thankful for Matt who filled in as Interim during our Town Manager search.”
Vice-Mayor Bill Sealock said, “Finding the right candidate took longer than we expected. The Council knew what they wanted in a manager and was patient to find the right Town Manager for our community. I believe our efforts have paid off by having the best candidate possible. I’m excited to see what Steven will bring to our Town government, businesses, and community.” Mayor-elect, Chris Holloway commented, “Hicks was selected because of his impressive leadership in operations, bringing business in communities, developing fiscally conservative budgets, managing enterprise departments, and delivering complex infrastructure projects on-time and on-budget.”
“I am honored and appreciate the confidence the Front Royal Town Council has in me to lead and be part of a great organization,” said Hicks. “My daughters are excited to become part of the community while they go to college and for me to be part of the Front Royal team to serve the citizens and businesses.”
Hicks has over 25 years of state and local government experience. He was previously the Town Manager of Selma, NC that provided a full range of services including Solid Waste, Water, Sewer, and Electric, as well as Police and Fire. During Hicks tenure, he was able to develop a transparent operational budget and manage the Town’s enterprise funds delivering positive operating revenue. As part of the budget process, Hicks was able to establish Selma’s first-ever 5-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) with major emphasis in addressing groundwater and stormwater (I&I) that enters into the Town’s sewer system for treatment. Hicks also partnered with Eastfield Crossing Developers and Duke Energy to amend the 400-acre mixed-used development and incentive agreement to increase the Town’s tax base and create 3,100 jobs.
Prior to that position, Hicks was the General Services Director for the City of Durham, NC. He created the Division of Arts, Culture, and Sustainable Communities to cover the social, economic, and environmental wellbeing to empower citizens to advance equity, inclusion, and equal access to opportunities and services. While serving as a Director, he was responsible for a $300 million infrastructure program that included capital investments for parking garages, two fire stations, parks, and a new police headquarters and emergency communication center. He also worked in Virginia as the Petersburg’s Public Works and Utility Director, Acting Assistant James City County Administrator, and Williamsburg Resident Engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation.
While in James City County, Hicks had an impressive record with the business community where he oversaw the Planning and Development Services. He established a business-friendly “One-Stop-Shop” where citizens and the development community were able to get administrative site plan approval within one-business-day.
“I understand the frustration, time, and money it takes to accomplish a home improvement project or a straightforward development. The business-friendly approach I delivered ensured the County’s approval process did not outsmart common sense and expedited approvals for the citizens and business community who expected and deserved it,” says Hicks.
Hicks has a Master of Science Degree in Civil and Infrastructure Engineering (USE) from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Urban Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia Darden School Senior Executive Institute, the University of North Carolina School of Government Municipal and County Administration, and the Virginia Tech Transportation Construction Management Institute. He served as the Commissioner of North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency, Triangle East Chamber of Commerce Board of Director, and Uptown Selma Business Partnership Board Director. He is a member of the International City Management Association and North Carolina League of Municipalities. Hicks was a former member of the Virginia Municipal League.
Matt Tederick began working as the Interim Town Manager in November 2019. Matt has agreed to assist Steven as part of the transition. Tederick concluded, “To date, I have had a very limited time getting to know Steven, but this much I have already observed, he appears to be the perfect selection for our Town. Well done Town Council.”
Town Talk: A conversation with William Huck – 2nd Annual Turkey Egg Hunt and more
The first-ever Turkey Egg Hunt in Front Royal last year was a big success. William Huck of C&C Frozen Treats says to look for the 2nd Annual Turkey Egg Hunt to be even bigger and better. In this Town Talk, Huck shares the details of the Turkey Egg Hunt, the Christmas Parade, and the Christmas Bazaar, all happening in Downtown Front Royal.
Town Talk is a series on the Royal Examiner where we will introduce you to local entrepreneurs, businesses, non-profit leaders, and political figures who influence Warren County. Topics will be varied but hopefully interesting. If you have an idea, topic, or want to hear from someone in our community, let us know. Send your request to news@RoyalExaminer.com
The Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce announces the 2020 Christmas Parade. The festive annual event will be held on Saturday, December 5th at 4 p.m.
Due to COVID-19, this year’s parade route has been changed to allow for better social distancing and to prevent crowding in the village commons (gazebo) area. Parade line-up begins at 3 pm on Stonewall Drive. The parade will turn onto Commerce Ave. and proceed to 8th Street, disbanding at Bing Crosby Stadium.
“We’re excited to once again coordinate this wonderful community event,” said Niki Foster, President of the Front Royal-Warren County Chamber of Commerce. “Much thought, consideration, and research have gone into the decision to move forward with this year’s Christmas Parade. Given the current pandemic, we have made adjustments to help provide a safer experience for attendees. We encourage everyone to practice social distancing and comply with all CDC guidelines while enjoying this festive local activity. Holiday activities like the Christmas Parade are a great way to connect business and community. We hope everyone will come out and enjoy all the wonder and excitement of the Christmas Parade safely.”