The Warren County School Board during its regular meeting on Wednesday, September 1, learned that there are rising numbers of COVID-19 cases across the school division, addressed a recent Confederate flag-waving incident in one of the schools, and had a recently appointed board member opt not to sign a State School Board Association Code of Conduct.
The numbers of students and staff with COVID-19 are rising in Warren County Public Schools (WCPS), Superintendent Christopher Ballenger reported to the School Board on Wednesday.
According to the WCPS COVID-19 Dashboard Data reported online, as of September 1, 2021, there are 102 positive student COVID cases and 14 positive staff COVID cases. The data also shows that as of September 1, there are 316 students and two WCPS staff who are quarantined due to direct contact cases.
In comparison, dashboard data as of September 8, 2020, showed 151 positive student COVID cases and 69 positive staff cases, with 831 students and 151 staff quarantined due to direct contact cases.
“So, we’re seeing a little more positive cases within the schools at this point in time,” Ballenger told School Board members, noting that it’s slightly more difficult this school year to maintain the six feet of social distancing since everyone is back in their regular schools. During the school year 2020-2021, for instance, fifth-graders were moved to middle schools to spread out classes and create more space between students in elementary schools. That’s not being done during the current school year, he said.
What is being done, however, is that WCPS is following state mask policies issued by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and federal quarantine guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Ballenger said, “which is helping us protect instruction for each individual student in the classroom and within our buildings.”
With the COVID-19 trend line inching upward for confirmed cases division-wide, Ballenger outlined several other increased mitigation strategies that are also underway for WCPS, including modified schedules, increased social distancing as much as possible, enhanced cleaning, and constant communication with the Lord Fairfax Health Department.
WCPS is not on the Health Department’s most recent list of outbreaks and there is no clear knowledge of any outbreaks within WCPS, Ballenger said, adding that cases in the schools that are reported on the dashboard are identified from the community.
“We are going to continue to be vigilant, and we are asking our community to help support us as we try to provide instruction for every single student,” said Ballenger. “We understand that students being in the classroom is most beneficial for them, but we need our community to support us and help us make that happen for all of our students.”
Flag incidents addressed
Prior to the superintendent’s report, School Board Vice-Chair Catherine Bower read what she called a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that addressed two incidents during the first week of school when a male student carried and waved a Confederate flag in a crowded hallway the day after displaying a pro-Trump flag. The events “caused a disruption in our schools and community,” Bower read from the PSA.
“The School Board ensures a safe learning environment for all students, staff, and community members,” she read. “We ensure an inclusive environment where we value each individual. Warren County Public Schools does not discriminate and has no tolerance for discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, race, color, national origin, disability, religion, ancestry, age, marital status, pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, military status, genetic information, or any other characteristic protected by law.”
Bower said the board’s commitment is present in all its policies and practices concerning staff, students, educational programs and services, and individual entities with which the board does business.
“We are here to ensure that students can learn in an environment that is orderly, supportive, and respectful. When that orderly environment is disrupted, the school administration will address all situations promptly,” read Bower.
And while the School Board understands that students do possess a certain level of free expression rights under the First Amendment, such rights “must not interfere with the educational environment,” according to the board’s statement.
“We value individuality and respect self-expression; however, we will not allow this to interfere with the school environment and/or the rights of our students,” said Bower.
Questioned about details and possible consequences of the flag incidents, WCPS Director of Communication Shane Goodwin reiterated the content of Bower’s Public Service Announcement in an email response to Royal Examiner.
Code of Conduct
During its last agenda item, the School Board discussed the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) Code of Conduct for school board members. It has been the practice of the Warren County School Board to annually adopt the Code of Conduct, and every member, except one, agreed last night to sign the document.
Melanie Salins — the board’s only appointed member — declined to sign it, saying she was not comfortable with the verbiage used in several sections of the document. For instance, Salins asked to have the word “constitution” included in code item No. 8, which states: “I will bring about desired changes through legal and ethical procedures, upholding and enforcing all laws, state regulations, and court orders pertaining to schools.”
In response to a request for clarification, Salins told the Royal Examiner in an email today: “I would like to see the federal and state constitution added” to that item in the Code of Conduct. “I found it a glaring oversight to leave out such an important word,” she wrote, noting that board members take an oath when they’re sworn into their positions to uphold the constitution.
During the meeting, Board Vice-Chair Bower told Salins that the code is a state-specific document issued by the VSBA and the Warren County School Board cannot change it. But Bower suggested that Salins could contact VSBA to “see if that’s something they might want to consider.” Bower also said it was fine if Salins or any other board member did not want to sign the code of conduct, as it’s an optional choice.
“The VSBA Code of Conduct is a non-binding guide for certain behaviors expected of board members,” Bower wrote in an email sent to the Royal Examiner today. “Individual board members can elect to follow or not follow the Code of Conduct.”
Bower wrote that she signed the document “because I consider the Code of Conduct as a blueprint for the governance of our school system. As a board member, I am choosing to conduct myself in a manner that is in accordance with the VSBA Code of Conduct so that individuals will know that I will do my best to serve our students, staff, and community.”
Some other provisions included in the VSBA Code of Conduct calls for school board members to “refrain from using the board position for personal or partisan gain and avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of impropriety;” to “respect the confidentiality of privileged information and make no individual decisions or commitments that might compromise the board or administration”; and to “delegate authority for the administration of the schools to the superintendent and establish a process for accountability of administrators.”
Salins also told the Royal Examiner that she took issue with code item No. 7, which states: “I will communicate, in accordance with board policies, public reaction, and opinion regarding board policies and school programs to the full board and superintendent.”
“I requested a reference to what specific policy this was asking me to promise to follow,” Salins wrote in her email. “I cannot promise to follow a policy that is not stated in the document or listed by reference on the document.”
Among several items unanimously approved on Wednesday night by the School Board — with all members present, including Bower and Kristen Pence, James Wells, Ralph Rinaldi, and Salins — was the appointment of a new Deputy Clerk of the Board and the approval of an increased financial supplement for that position; a new kindergarten instructional assistant for A. S. Rhodes Elementary School; an expenditure over $15,000 to purchase a point-of-sale software and hardware support package for WCPS Food and Nutrition Services; and a contract for architectural and engineering services for the HVAC replacements at both the Blue Ridge Technical Center and Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School.
Watch the School Board’s September 1 regular meeting video in its entirety here. The board’s next meeting will be held on Wednesday, September 15.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for October 18 – 22, 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.
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.
Front Royal Main Street eatery changes ‘Yappy Hour’ day from Friday to Monday, updates menu
One of Main Street’s popular restaurants recently underwent a name and menu change and also switched the day it devotes to “Yappy Hour.”
During the past couple of years, ViNoVa owner Rachel Failmezger and executive chef Chris Kenworthy featured a tapas menu similar to a Spanish favorite, now moving along to an Italian-Mediterranean style of cooking and changing its long-running “Yappy Hour” from Friday evenings to Mondays (4-6 p.m.). Restaurant hours of operation also have been amended, noon to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday (closed Tuesday) and noon to midnight Friday and Saturday.
The restaurant’s new name retains its original “ViNoVa” with the added words “Mediterranean Bistro.” The property seats about 50 and each Friday, off and on for the past decade, has helped donate thousands of dollars to the Humane Society of Warren County’s Julia Wagner Animal Shelter.
Rachel, noting differing (earlier) eating habits since the pandemic struck, suggests closing earlier than 2 a.m. better meets the needs of an expanded staff and earlier diners, as would the changed menu.
“Overall, we will be more flexible, more accommodating,” Rachel opined in a recent interview as nearby regular customers appeared to be in agreement with the menu changes. “Whatever restaurants did two years ago, they cannot do today. It’s a new age for us,” she said, mentioning that the entrees will be larger, and there will be an emphasis on lunches, particularly the quick “take out” type featuring the “Viva Bowl” in which you choose your own ingredients for an affordable $9 “to go!”
Something to remember by early birds at the Bistro: beer and wine prices are staggered starting at $3 per glass for a beer at 3 p.m., rising to $4 at 4 p.m. and then on to $5 at 5 p.m. for the rest of the evening.
Linden man arrested, charged for child abuse
On October 12, 2021, at approximately 8:20pm, Warren County Sheriff’s Office received a call about an 8-year-old juvenile walking on Freezeland Road, Linden, Virginia. The caller stated the juvenile advised them they were running away from home due to being abused by their father. Deputies responded to 78 Lookout Point Way, Linden, Virginia, where the juvenile resides to perform a welfare check. Upon arrival deputies spoke with Matthew Steven Lewis, the juvenile’s father, and made contact with the juvenile. During the welfare check, deputies observed that the juvenile had sustained multiple injuries. Deputies had Warren County Fire & Rescue respond to the residence, and the juvenile was transported to Warren Memorial Hospital for further treatment.
After the initial investigation Matthew Steven Lewis was placed under arrest for Domestic Assault (M), Child Endangerment (F), and Strangulation (F). Matthew Steven Lewis was held without bond at RSW Regional Jail, preliminary hearing is set for November 4, 2021.
Warren County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank Front Royal Police Department, Virginia State Police, and Warren County Department of Social Services for their assistance.
Social Security announces 5.9 percent benefit increase for 2022
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for approximately 70 million Americans will increase 5.9 percent in 2022, the Social Security Administration announced today.
The 5.9 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2022. Increased payments to approximately 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 30, 2021. (Note: some people receive both Social Security and SSI benefits). The Social Security Act ties the annual COLA to the increase in the Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Some other adjustments that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages. Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $147,000 from $142,800.
Social Security and SSI beneficiaries are normally notified by mail starting in early December about their new benefit amount. Most people who receive Social Security payments will be able to view their COLA notice online through their personal my Social Security account. People may create or access their my Social Security account online at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
Information about Medicare changes for 2022, when announced, will be available at www.medicare.gov. For Social Security beneficiaries receiving Medicare, Social Security will not be able to compute their new benefit amount until after the Medicare premium amounts for 2022 are announced. Final 2022 benefit amounts will be communicated to beneficiaries in December through the mailed COLA notice and my Social Security’s Message Center.
The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated. To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola.
Wildlife biologist to explain changes to deer hunting season during October supervisors meeting
BERRYVILLE, VA — A wildlife biologist from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has been invited by the Clarke County Board of Supervisors to talk about the significant changes to the 2021-22 deer hunting season in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren counties. Fred Frenzel makes his public presentation during the Supervisors’ evening session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 19. The session includes public hearings on proposed code changes. The presentation and public hearings are in the second-floor meeting room of the Berryville-Clarke County Government Center at 101 Chalmers Ct.
DWR made changes to this year’s deer season because of chronic wasting disease, Frenzel said. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal neurological disease that can pass between deer through saliva, feces, and urine as well as through water or contaminated soil. CWD was first diagnosed in deer in West Virginia in 2005. It was first detected in Virginia in 2009, and has been reported in Fauquier, Frederick, Clarke, Culpeper, Loudoun, Madison, Montgomery, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, and Warren counties.
“As a result of chronic wasting disease, DWR made drastic changes to deer season in four of the counties I cover,” said Frenzel, the DWR district wildlife biologist for Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, Warren, and Page counties. He said the changes were made to mitigate the spread of CWD, noting only minor changes were made to deer season in Page.
Supervisor Doug Lawrence, who represents the Russell District, requested the Supervisors host a public presentation to address questions about the current deer season. “When they changed deer season, it caught a lot of people by surprise,” Lawrence said. “I thought our hunters should understand the rationale behind the changes.”
Clarke Supervisors have also asked Frenzel to discuss coyote bounties, game bird preserves, and Clarke’s prohibition of hunting within 300 feet of public roads.
Read about Virginia’s 2021-22 deer season at dwr.virginia.gov/hunting/regulations/deer/.
For more information about the Oct. 19 public presentation on deer hunting and/or the public hearings, contact County Administration at (540) 955-5100 or email@example.com.
RMA Interact students help clean up our community
Our local RMA Interact Club had a great experience cleaning up Kendrick Lane last week. 17 RMA middle school students participated with our very own Nancie Williams, Arnold Williams, and two faculty members. One of the most interesting items they collected was a old piece of metal, featured in a picture below!
Do you have a student in one of our local schools and want to learn more about Interact? Contact us: www.warrencountyrotary.org