The work session portion of the Warren County School Board’s Wednesday, March 16 meeting focused on discussions around student cell phone use, the school division’s annual special education plan, lifting pandemic mitigation strategies, virtual learning options, and a code of conduct for board members.
Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Director of Special Services Michael Hirsch presented the School Board with the draft 2022-2023 Special Education Annual Plan, “which is basically an application for federal funds to support special education,” he said.
The WCPS annual special ed plan will be submitted to the Virginia Department of Education’s Division of Special Education and Student Services. The state will provide the school division with special ed funding once it receives Virginia’s portion of federal special education dollars.
The WCPS annual plan, which is available for public review through March 21, includes four parts: Assurance and certification; Interagency Jail Agreement; Report on implementation of 2020-2021 plan; and Application for Federal Funds. Hirsch said that the Special Education Advisory Committee “wholeheartedly endorsed the annual plan” during its March 14 meeting.
Hirsch detailed each part of the annual plan. For instance, the Interagency Jail Agreement component requires recertification. “Because there is a jail in the jurisdiction of Warren County, we’re committed to serving inmates with disabilities ages 18 to 22 with special education services,” he said. “We have a full-time teacher in the jail with a computer lab without internet.”
The last part of plan, which is the actual application for federal funds, shows that the WCPS allocation of proposed grants funds will total $1,235,532 for K-12 students with disabilities and $31,841 for preschool students with disabilities.
The federal dollars offset what the state and Warren County are providing to support these students, Hirsch said, and the monies will “100 percent fund teacher salaries.”
These are projected funds because the state will get a revised allocation from the federal government after July 1, explained WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger, who said the WCPS special education budget number then will go either up or down depending on what flows through.
“It’s not us telling them what we need; it’s them telling us what they’re going to give us,” Ballenger said, adding that WCPS would be responsible for any salaries over the allotted amount of funds.
WCPS also supports private-school and home-schooled students and works diligently to locate all eligible students with disabilities ages 2-22 in the County, said Hirsch, adding that WCPS also provides speech and language services, vision services, and services for deaf and hard-of-hearing students to these students.
COVID-19 cases drop
Hirsch also provided School Board members with an update on the WCPS COVID-19 Mitigation Health Plan for school year 2021-2022.
As of March 14, there were zero active student cases and just one student was quarantined. “We have no active cases in the school division,” said Hirsch. “Seems like we’ve been waiting a long time to say that.”
In response, WCPS has created a Phase Zero for its plan that resumes normal school operations. Under Phase 0, face coverings are optional for students, staff, and visitors. Face coverings are not required on school buses or in vehicles, according to the plan, although student temperatures will continue to be scanned as they enter the bus.
Additionally, Phase Zero dictates that contract tracing and quarantine protocols remain in place, as does routine COVID cleaning.
“So, it is operations as normal, however, we still want to use our quarantine and isolation protocols if need be and we still want to do cleaning at the level of COVID,” said Hirsch.
Water fountains also will be turned back on, and the replacement of their water filters is ongoing. “We still want to get rid of them and just have bottled water available,” he added.
Ballenger said he recently informed principals that social distancing is no longer required so students may be pulled back into small groups, for instance.
Student cell phone use
Following some discussion, School Board Chair Kristen Pence requested that Ballenger develop a survey to be distributed to WCPS administrators, teachers, and students asking questions about the current use of cell phones by students; whether such use is a problem and/or disruption in each school; and how such issues might be rectified.
Pence said board members have received communication from parents and teachers alike about how disruptive student cell phones can be and wants the board to determine what it can do to try and cut back on such use in WCPS.
Ballenger, who provided the board an explanation and summary of policy from the WCPS Code of Conduct, said, “cell phones are one of the things we are challenged with on a daily basis.”
The superintendent said that some teachers allow their use while others do not. For instance, at Warren County Middle School, some students must check in and turn over their cell phones when they enter school each day. “It’s a process; we’re talking about somebody’s personal property,” he said. “It can be challenging at times.”
School Board member Antoinette Funk asked about what rules and expectations exist for the use of cell phones by staff and teachers. Ballenger said they vary by school because each has an individual handbook. He said that the division is working on developing a division-wide handbook.
The School Board also again discussed adopting a code of conduct for its members and Ballenger, in preparation for the 2022-2023 school year, explained the staffing issues impacting WCPS in offering virtual learning options.
Town officials praise Energy Services staff for restoring power during Saturday’s storm
The aftermath of Hurricane Ian, which brought strong winds and heavy rain to the commonwealth, wreaked havoc on some Front Royal residents over the weekend.
Mary Ellen Lynn, Interim Director of Energy Services, said Monday that about 1,500 homes and businesses experienced a loss of power twice on Saturday, Oct. 1, following two large power outages after the Sprint Substation lost its power supply.
Residents in the Kendrick area and the south side of town experienced a complete loss of power at approximately 3:30 am and then again at 10:15 pm.
Town crews quickly assessed that there were transmission line issues running through Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s territory that fed into the substation. Through unfavorable weather conditions, crews worked tirelessly to conduct load-switching and restore power as safely and quickly as possible.
All customers had power restored within three hours, 22 minutes, during the first outage and within four hours, 21 minutes, during the second.
Officials expressed gratitude to the Town Energy Services team, dispatch officers, the Front Royal Police Department (FRPD), and the linemen, who worked to restore power and keep the community safe during the storm.
In a media release Monday, Lynn stated that the Energy Services Department strives to keep the community as updated as possible in real-time but emphasized that the safety of crews comes first.
“There may be delays in updates when these rare, large-scale events occur, but know that our goal is to always keep your lights on and power outages to a minimum. We assure you that if there’s a lag in communication, it’s simply because we are diligently working to address the issue,” Lynn said.
Interim Town Manager Kathleen Leidich praised the team Monday, stating, “I would like to commend our Line Crew for their hard work and dedication through the cold, wet & dangerous conditions they had to face.”
To report an outage during business hours, contact the department at 540-635-3027. For after-hours outages, call the non-emergency number of the FRPD, 540-635-2111.
Winchester City Manager appoints new Police Chief
Winchester City Manager Dan Hoffman has selected Deputy Chief Amanda Behan as Winchester’s new and first female Police Chief in the department’s 200-year history. DC Behan has been a dedicated member of the Winchester Police Department for over 20 years, climbing the ranks from recruit in 2001 to Deputy Chief in 2021.
“Amanda has been a part of the Winchester community and police department as a public servant, volunteer, mentor, change agent, role model, and leader. Her skills and qualifications are widely known, and she has my full faith and confidence in this new role of protecting the safety and wellbeing of our officers, staff, and city,” stated Mr. Hoffman.
DC Behan has a master’s degree in Executive Leadership from Liberty University, and throughout her career with the Winchester Police Department, she has served many roles. Her accomplishments include implementing officer fitness standards, significantly expanding community outreach activities, redeveloping departmental policies, and acquiring the department’s first therapy canine.
“I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and want to thank my husband, children, and everyone who has supported me throughout this journey,” DC Behan said. “It is my passion for our community and the men and women who protect and serve it gives me this great honor to lead the Winchester Police Department. I will have an outstanding team and look forward to our future together.
In a recent administrative reorganization, the Police Chief vacancy was created when Chief John Piper was promoted to Deputy City Manager, overseeing all public safety divisions. DC Behan’s swearing-in ceremony will occur on October 21 at 2 pm during the Department’s scheduled promotion ceremony at the Jim Barnett Park Rec Center.
Valley Health confronts lingering challenges of COVID-19
Like health systems nationwide, Valley Health is facing financial challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. While social restrictions have eased considerably, and serious illness and death rates are down, the lasting impacts are still significant in the region’s nonprofit health system.
“I’m so proud of our team for their extraordinary dedication to care for the community and each other during this public health crisis,” said Valley Health President and CEO Mark Nantz. “We’ve truly lived our values of compassion, integrity, collaboration, courage, innovation, and excellence and have been a steadfast health resource for our region. Despite our best efforts, however, we face unprecedented financial challenges as the effects and aftereffects of the pandemic continue to take their toll. Since 2020, Valley Health has seen an overall drop in health care utilization, sicker patients due to deferred care, staffing shortages, and higher costs of goods and services.”
Recent reports from the American Hospital Association (AHA) examine the intense financial pressures facing hospitals and health systems:
• One study predicts losses in the billions of dollars this year for U.S. hospitals, with margins at least one-third lower than pre-pandemic levels and more than half of the nation’s hospitals operating in the red.
• A record number of rural hospitals closed their doors in 2020; those remaining face unique financial and workforce pressures moving forward.
• Deferred care during the pandemic has led to increased patient acuity in America’s hospitals, which means hospitalized patients are sicker and more costly to treat.
• In an April report, the AHA looked at increased costs driven by a spike in labor costs of about 20% over the last two years.
Left unaddressed, these financial challenges can jeopardize patients’ access to essential health care services. “Valley Health is not in danger of closing its doors,” Nantz said. “But the pandemic and its aftereffects have continued to create financial challenges for our organization.”
Like every health system across the nation, Valley Health experienced high turnover rates among a COVID-weary staff and national nursing shortages, leaving more than 800 open positions across the organization and driving labor costs to an all-time high.
Valley Health has secured $126 million to address its financial challenges through assistance programs such as the federal CARES Act, the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Were it not for that assistance over the last two and a half years, Valley Health would have experienced operating losses in excess of $100 million.
“COVID-19 forced us to curtail or temporarily discontinue many of the services we budget and staff for across our system,” explained Nantz. “Federal funds helped partially offset revenue loss associated with the pandemic and increased overhead costs due to supply chain issues and skyrocketing costs of supplemental staff. But that support has dried up, and we have not yet returned to our pre-pandemic levels of diagnostic testing, wellness care and screenings, and elective surgeries.”
With no prospects for further government assistance, the health system has been taking steps, including:
1. Investing in training, retaining the best healthcare workforce, and decreasing reliance on agency staff.
2. Assuring health insurers are paying fairly, with rate increases that reflect the rising cost of care, especially as insurance companies experience record profits while healthcare systems are experiencing record losses. Valley Health cannot do business with organizations that will not compensate fairly for services provided.
3. Reviewing and evaluating all Valley Health programs and services to ensure the best stewardship of community healthcare dollars and deploying caregivers to the most necessary roles.
“We are methodically assessing all parts of our organization, re-evaluating how, where and when we provide services, and exploring new ways to deploy our staffing so that we can continue to be our region’s care provider and employer of choice well into the future,” said Nantz.
VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for October 3 – 7, 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.
No lane closures were reported.
No lane closures were reported.
Route 55 (John Marshall Highway) – Flagger traffic control between Front Royal town limits and Route 79 (Apple Mountain Road) for tree removal operations, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday.
No lane closures were reported.
Missing and endangered person, located by FCSO Bloodhound ‘Bleu”
On September 30, 2022, Deputies responded to the area of Norwich Court in Stephens City for a missing person. A son had reported that his mother, age 74, had left their residence while he was on a Zoom call for his work. The son told the Deputies that his mother was not very mobile and didn’t think she could walk far from the residence. Deputies checked the residence to ensure she was not hiding in the residence, as some people have a tendency to do when having mental health issues.
The missing lady and her son had visited a nursing facility the previous day for the mother and had plans to visit another facility that day. The mother suffers from severe depression and anxiety.
A neighbor who lived on Hayvenhurst Drive, Stephens City, stated that “she saw an elderly woman earlier, walking towards Town Run Lane like she was on a mission.”
Deputy Dan Clark and Frederick County Bloodhound “Bleu” checked out the area of Town Run Lane where Bleu located the lady lying in a brushy thicket in the 400 block of Town Run Lane. The woman had taken numerous prescription medications to do bodily harm to herself. Stephens City Fire and Rescue transported the victim to the Winchester Medical Center for treatment.
It is believed that without Bloodhound Bleu’s assistance in locating this victim when he did, the outcome would have been considerably different.
According to Sheriff Lenny Millholland, if any residents of Frederick County have family members with Dementia, Alzheimer’s, or a medical condition that causes them to wander or get away from care, they can contact the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office. Information can be provided about Project Lifesaver and what can be done to help the families.
K-9 Frederick’s Copper “Bleu” Tracker-BLEU is a Bloodhound. His duties include tracking/trailing bad guys and locating missing people, whether children or the elderly and mental patients who walk off or run away on foot.
Bleu serves the citizens of Frederick County, Virginia, and any other jurisdictions that request his services.
Education quality and positive learning enviroment improve in Warren County Public Schools
Last week, the Virginia Department of Education released the 2022 accreditation ratings and school quality indicator data. Seven schools were accredited, and two schools—E. Wilson Morrison Elementary and Skyline Middle—were accredited with conditions.
Dr. Chris Ballenger, Superintendent of Warren County Public Schools, would like to recognize its teachers, staff, and administrators for their dedication to providing students with quality education and a positive learning environment throughout the 2021-2022 school year.
The impact of the pandemic on student learning remains apparent. However, one thing is certain, teachers and administrators have worked hard, which was reflected in the growth seen in last year’s Standards of Learning data. Teachers’ commitment to identify learning gaps and implement lessons to help close those gaps was a big ask, and teachers delivered. The support provided to improve achievement and create a positive learning environment was especially important given the changes to the instructional environment students experienced due to the pandemic. The 2021-2022 school year marked the return to full-time instruction for all K-12 students since March 2020.
The data released by the VDOE reflects that Warren County students improved in reading, mathematics, and science compared to the 2020-2021 data. The work to meet state accountability indicators and ensure students are performing at grade-level proficiency continues this school year. Teachers and staff engage in professional development, implement evidence-based practices in their classrooms, and focus on student learning outcomes.
Warren County Public Schools has a tremendous staff, and as a community, we should be grateful to have such dedicated educators working with students daily.
Virginia’s School Quality Profiles provide information about student achievement, college and career readiness, program completion, school safety, teacher quality, and other topics of interest to parents and the general public. Please visit the VDOE’s School Quality Profile website for more information on school accreditation ratings and quality indicator data.
- A.S. Rhodes Elementary –ACCREDITED
- E. Wilson Morrison Elementary – ACCREDITED WITH CONDITIONS
- Hilda J. Barbour Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Ressie Jeffries Elementary – ACCREDITED
- Skyline High – ACCREDITED
- Skyline Middle – ACCREDITED WITH CONDITIONS
- Warren County High – ACCREDITED
- Warren County Middle – ACCREDITED