Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) is poised to start a new health insurance provider search as a backup plan to a potential contract flop between regional medical provider Valley Health and insurance giant Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
“Both parties continue to work toward a solution, but at this point, a resolution may not be inevitable prior to the contract expiration on December 31,” WCPS Personnel Director George “Bucky” Smith told Warren County School Board members during their Wednesday, October 21 work session. “The longer the two parties take to find a solution, the more difficult it becomes to wait and see.”
Winchester, Va.-based Valley Health and Anthem are locked in ongoing negotiations over costs associated with renewing their contract. The Warren County School Board, the Front Royal Town Council, and the Warren County Board of Supervisors are closely monitoring the situation as thousands of area school- and government-employed residents carry Anthem health insurance and receive services at Valley Health facilities.
In fact, the Town Council on October 19 voted 5-0 to pass a resolution urging Valley Health and Anthem to continue negotiating toward an acceptable contract. The council’s resolution states that if the contract lapses, then roughly 40,000 people in the Valley Health regional healthcare region, including those who use Warren Memorial Hospital in town, could be impacted.
At the same time, Valley Health is currently building a new Warren Memorial Hospital off Leach Run Parkway in Front Royal, supported by a Town and County-approved, $60-million loan through the County-Town Economic Development Authority.
On Wednesday, Smith and Ed White, a consultant and senior vice president at McGriff Insurance Services Inc., detailed the current situation for School Board members to spur some proactiveness by the board should contract negotiations fail.
White said that McGriff and WCPS staff — who have been in discussions with representatives at both Anthem and Valley Health — have devised a preliminary plan, which he and Smith presented to the School Board.
If accepted, the plan timeline would direct WCPS to submit a notice of termination for the Local Choice program on October 29; to gather Census and Claims data November 1-6; to publish a request for proposals (RFPs) November 6-8 toward finding companies interested in providing insurance coverage to WCPS employees; to evaluate the RFPs on November 30; to receive presentations from the RFP finalists and to select a new provider December 2-5; to hold local meetings with WCPS employees on enrollment and begin the enrollment process December 9-13, and to submit data to the selected insurance provider December 18-26.
Health insurance ID cards then would be delivered on January 15, 2021, with new insurance coverage scheduled to begin on February 1, 2021, according to the plan timeline.
School Board Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr. asked what other carriers Valley Health currently takes and White said that in addition to Anthem, the major providers are Aetna, Cigna, and United, among some smaller Medicare supplement companies, for example.
In reviewing the plan details, Williams noted that if a WCPS employee opted to stay with Anthem, then the closest facilities they would be able to go to if the Anthem-Valley Health contract lapsed, would be Warrenton, Va., or Haymarket, Va. White answered yes, but said that Anthem would make allowances for emergencies.
“I wish I knew the numbers; I wish I knew the difference between Anthem and Valley Health, how far apart are they” in dollars, Williams said. “We didn’t cause this problem. We’re just the poor folks trying to have health insurance for all of our employees.”
Williams also said that he felt like the school division was “being forced to have to do something and I don’t know what the right decision is.”
Nevertheless, Smith asked the board for “some guidance, some sense of direction” on what to do about the situation going forward. “Is it fair to ask that we start an RFP to at least find out what else is out there,” he asked School Board members. “We have to have a plan B. We need to be able to have something else to fall back on. If not now, when?”
Williams said he did not “have a problem with a resolution” being introduced during the board’s Wednesday night meeting, while WCPS Superintendent Christopher Ballenger asked if a termination letter should be drawn up as recommended in the McGriff plan.
The School Board members — Williams, Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, and members James Wells, Kristen Pence, and Ralph Rinaldi — all seemed agreeable to Ballenger’s idea. Wells summed it up by saying that while he hoped Anthem and Valley Health would make a decision soon that benefits the population they serve, he thinks the School Board “still has to move forward.”
When Williams asked board members about taking action regarding a termination letter, Smith interjected and told board members that their discussion was the start of a process and that the board was not bound to end WCPS’s relationship with Anthem. The discussion, he said, was more about putting a plan B in place.
“And we are in control of when and if we need to send a letter,” Smith said.
The Warren County School Board’s next regular meeting is on Wednesday, November 4.
In-person middle school days increased; School board OKs curriculum committee, more IAs
As the division continues to work through its reopening plan during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) will increase the in-person days for middle school students starting on March 1 when students will attend school on either an AA (Monday and Tuesday) or BB (Thursday and Friday) schedule with Wednesdays remaining a remote learning day for all middle school students.
Students will attend in-person instruction two consecutive days per week and work remotely three days per week. Teachers will continue to support online learning with face-to-face (synchronous) instruction or through recorded or other learning modes of instruction (asynchronous), WCPS Superintendent Chris Ballenger said in a statement released today.
WCPS staff is working to ensure students in grades 6, 7, and 8 — which Ballenger called the building block grades to high school — have as much time as possible in-person at school. “Studies show that students being in that chair, in that classroom, in front of a teacher is where we’re going to get the biggest gains,” he said.
Therefore, a WCPS middle school student’s designation, as either virtual or in-person, will be locked starting on February 17 and will remain locked until March 12, and neither students nor parents will be able to request a change from virtual instruction to in-person instruction during this time, according to Ballenger.
Additionally, to allow for the additional instructional days for middle school students, a start and end time change will go into effect for A.S. Rhodes Elementary starting March 1 when school will start at 8 a.m. and end at 1:30 p.m. Ballenger said the time change is necessary to accommodate increased transportation needs at the elementary school.
Beginning on March 1, the WCPS schedule will be:
“We would love to get our middle school students in four days a week like we have our elementary,” said Ballenger during the School Board’s work session portion of its meeting. “But that is just not the case for us. It comes down to staffing; it comes down to transportation — just the limitations that we have. So, the best solution that we have to try and close that learning gap… is to try to get students in front of the teacher as much as possible.”
The superintendent also said in his statement that WCPS parents will receive information from the schools concerning the schedule changes. “Please reach out to your child’s principal if you have any additional concerns,” he said.
School Board action
During their Wednesday night regular meeting, Warren County School Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, and members James Wells, Ralph Rinaldi, and Kristen Pence unanimously approved two items.
The first followed a motion made by Rinaldi, with a second by Bower, to approve the creation of temporary positions for more instructional assistants (IAs) for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year to assist in both filling unfilled substitute positions and transitioning to more in-person learning, at a cost not to exceed the allotted $104,070.
“The funding for these temporary positions would come from a budgeted coordinator’s position that duties have been reassigned among current staff,” WCPS Personnel Director George “Bucky” Smith told the board. “Funds available in this line item is $104,070. This amount is inclusive of salary and benefits.”
Smith also said that the number of candidates hired would depend upon the budget amount allotted, the number of qualified candidates for hire, and the need of temporary IAs throughout the division. The funding is already available in the 2020-21 school budget.
“It’s already been budgeted; it’s not an expense,” Smith said. “It’s a line item that we can work out of for this particular purpose… from now through the end of the current school year.”
The next item approved, following a motion by Wells and a second by Pence, was a request by WCPS Director of Elementary Instruction Lisa Rudacille to convene an English Language Curriculum Review Committee that will “review curriculum materials to best serve our English language learners.”
In other business, the School Board heard a required first reading from Warren County High School Director of Guidance Lesley Detweiler, who presented highlights and changes to the 2021-2022 Program of Studies (POS) for grades 6-12.
One POS change regards weighted grades. Currently, AP classes and those with an associated AP exam are weighted. Starting in school year 2021-2022, dual enrolled on-campus courses also will be weighted credits.
“This helps to provide some equal opportunity for weighted grades at both schools,” Detweiler said, referring to Warren County high schools and Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC). “And these courses are equivalent to the AP courses that are already weighted.”
For instance, a Warren County student taking AP English during his or her junior year will receive credit at LFCC for English 111 or 112, she explained, adding that some of WCPS dual enrolled courses that occur on Warren County high school campuses also will have weighted credits, including Anatomy, which is held at Skyline High School (SHS), Biology at Warren County High School (WCHS), and World Civilization at SHS.
Some new courses also are being added, said Detweiler, including Coding and Digital Applications at the middle school level; Criminal Justice I and II, which will take place at the Blue Ridge Technical Center; African American History, a history elective that will be offered through Virtual Virginia during the 2021-2022 school year; Advanced Biology, which will be offered at WCHS with a dual enrollment option; and Music Artistry, which will be offered at SHS with a dual enrollment option.
AP Literature — also known as English 12 — will be renamed Dual Enrolled English 12, which will take place at SHS, although eligible WCHS students also will be able to take the class as they are currently able to do, Detweiler said.
Additionally, certain classes will be offered at both high schools, such as journalism, while Photojournalism also will get a name change to Publication. Sports Medicine II at WCHS also will have a dual enrollment option, she added.
Course offerings are contingent upon funding once the fiscal year 2022 budget is approved in May, according to WCPS.
Watch the entire School Board meeting in the Royal Examiner video.
Warren County girls basketball: Senior Night 2021
On Monday, January 18th, the Warren County girls basketball team recognized their senior athletes during Senior Night prior to their game against the William Monroe Dragons. The game was intense and ended in a win for Monroe with a final score of 48-64. Prior to the varsity game, Warren County hosted Senior Night for their three seniors on the team, Mackenzi Bates, Kaylee Mondrone and Kara Mondrone.
The WC gym was decorated with posters and balloons for the Senior Night celebration. Each senior walked across the gym with two people of their choice and gave a short speech about their achievements as well as their intentions after high school. Kara and Kaylee Mondrone are twins and walked together. The three seniors are very tight knit and Bates stated that she “went to elementary school with Kara and Kaylee, the other two seniors,” and that “It’s been so fun having them by my side and making memories for so many years, and it’s insane we are already seniors.”
In past years, Senior Night has been an exciting event and the gym would be packed for the celebration. Unfortunately, Covid-19 limited the spectators for the event which led to a different type of celebration for the seniors on the team. Kara Mondrone showed appreciation for being able to play at all this year and said “I‘m grateful that I’m able to finish out my last year and be a part of the team for one last time. Even if Senior Night wasn’t exactly normal, I’m happy we had it and it will always be something I will remember.”
The three seniors were starters on the court and led the Wildcats against the Dragons. William Monroe player Ella Weaver demonstrated great skill as she scored a total of 31 points against Warren County. Jamie Kelly scored 15 points for Warren County and had 5 steals.
Despite the loss, Kaylee Mondrone shared her love for the team and said “what I love about our team this year is that we are all friends outside of basketball. We all bond together, including the coaches.” The team has many more games to play this season and will certainly need to use that bond on the court.
The game was live-streamed by Wildcats Live! on sportscopelive.com. Tickets can be purchased for $7/viewership subscription and include high quality video and exciting commentary.
Warren Coalition postpones Youth Have Talent competition
Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Warren Coalition has decided to postpone the Youth Have Talent 2021 competition. Pre-registration is still required; potential participants are encouraged to begin the process by emailing Ryan Cubbage at email@example.com. The new registration deadline, along with the new audition dates, will be announced within the next several weeks.
Warren Coalition is a nonprofit agency established in 1994 to help fill the gaps in health care and substance abuse awareness to the community. The Coalition began under the guidance of Warren Memorial Hospital as an outreach project, but it has since grown and was incorporated in 2001. The office is currently located in the Warren County Community Center. Their mission is to make Warren County a safe, healthy, and drug-free community through many programs and in collaboration with 15+ member agencies.
Front Royal man pleads guilty to dealing two fatal doses of fentanyl-laced heroin
A Front Royal, Virginia man, who in the fall of 2017 distributed two fatal, fentanyl-laced doses of heroin, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg to a drug charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison, and the possibility of a life sentence, Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar, Special Agent in Charge Jarod A. Forget of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington Division, and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, announced.
Glenn Eugene Sovereign Jr., 43, of Front Royal, pleaded guilty today to two counts of distributing fentanyl. Because the recipient of the distribution died from overdose by ingesting the fentanyl within, Sovereign faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum possible statutory penalty of life at sentencing.
“When Sovereign trafficked fentanyl-laced heroin to an already-vulnerable group of people, he perpetuated their addiction and despair, and ultimately caused their death,” Acting United States Attorney Bubar stated today. “Because of the hard work and persistence of our federal and state partners, Sovereign has been brought to justice and will spend the better part of his life in federal prison.”
“The threat fentanyl brings to our Virginia neighborhoods and families cannot be overstated. With overdoses across the area spiking in the past year, DEA Washington Division has been working hard to investigate and arrest egregious criminals such as this, who are blatantly distributing poisonous drugs and spreading death and violence across our communities.”
Sovereign admitted today that in the fall of 2017 he made regular trips from Front Royal, Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland in order to purchase heroin.
On October 24, 2017, Sovereign met with victim E.R. in Front Royal. E.R. purchased a small packet of heroin from Sovereign which contained fentanyl. Later that night, E.R. ingested the contents of the packet, and as a result died.
On or about October 25, 2017, Sovereign traveled to Baltimore to meet his source of supply, where he purchased one gram of heroin. When Sovereign returned to Front Royal, he met with victim N.C. at Sovereign’s residence where he and N.C. ingested 4-5 Ritalin pills together. Later, before Sovereign left for work, he provided N.C. with a small packet of heroin, which contained fentanyl. On or about October 26, 2017, N.C. ingested the contents of the packet, and she died.
The investigation of the case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Warren County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh is prosecuting the case for the United States.
‘Polar Plunge’ launches 2021 Humane Society programs as spay-neuter clinic fundraising progresses
Two major events, one to make money, the other to spend, were launched this month by the Humane Society of Warren County (HSWC) while a look in the rear-view mirror focused on a highly successful 2020 despite the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.
Executive Director Meghan Bowers, beginning just her third year on the job, announced the date of the second annual Polar Plunge – February 20 – which already has five sponsors and 35 swimmers lined up for a wintertime dip in the frigid waters of Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center, south of town. Bowers floated the first winter swim last year, an outstanding success financially and for swimmers and onlookers alike that raised more than $10,000.
“We’re setting a target of $12,000 this year,” Bowers said, while at the same time proclaiming a healthy start to a campaign to establish a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in downtown Front Royal. “This will have a huge impact on the lives of animals and their people in our community,” she said.
Within just a couple of weeks of a campaign to raise $125,000 as startup money for the clinic, $109,000 is already promised or in hand and interviewing of potential staff members begins next week. Inquiries about the proposed veterinary clinic have already been received by other rescue groups, Bowers said. Until now, spay/neuter candidates have been shipped to Harrisonburg twice a month in lots of about 80 animals per trip.
Looking back on the year of the pandemic, Bowers provided interesting information and impressive statistics including 678 adoptions of mostly dogs and cats, many new “foster families”, three pet food distributions serving 289 families, and the preservation of the title “no-kill” shelter with a 95.6% live release rate.
For most of the year, visits to the shelter were confined to “appointments only” due to the virus, but plenty of work for the staff which, Bowers said, was fully retained through the pandemic months of 2020.
Of the upcoming “Polar Plunge,” Bowers named the sponsors – City National Bank, Cool Techs Heating and Air, Ellen Aders State Farm, AirPac, MDUB Chauffer Services, and Cavalier Kennels. Aders is the president of HSWC. Of the 35 individuals already committed to the plunge – and seeking personal sponsorship money – there are 15 newcomers to the chilly sport including Bowers (look for the shark among the costumed entrants) and 20 returning plungers. Molly Llewellyn of Front Royal was the top money earner last year with exactly $1,000. So far, Bowers confided, she has $467 in sponsorship money.
The HSWC is a non-profit agency that houses homeless, neglected, abused and unwanted animals, in business since 1947. While primarily dealing with cats and dogs, the shelter has also been home to horses, other livestock, birds, reptiles and more.
For more information, visit https://hswcevents.org
Volunteers turn Day of Service into an effort to cleanup part of Warren County
As part of this year’s National Day of Service, a group of folks from Warren County decided to clean up sections of Route 522 between Robin Lane and Gate 3 of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. It was a perfect day for the cleanup, with temperatures above freezing and into the 40s, and little wind or precipitation. One big advantage of doing a cleanup at this time of year is that you can go into the underbrush and not worry about encountering a snake, or dealing with ticks, spiders, etc. In addition, with the leaves off the trees and bushes, it is easier to spot trash.
Most of the cleanup crew members met at Mountain Home B&B about 10am on January 18th, dressed for the weather and wearing good boots for tromping along the side of the road and into the brush. Mountain Home provided trash bags and gloves, and offered a free Gatorade or Vitamin Water for each volunteer. The B&B owners also assured participants that they would transport all the bags of trash to one of Warren County’s five refuse/recycle collection sites. Several participants also helped with taking pictures to commemorate the event.
The road section that was cleaned up includes the Appalachian Trail road crossing and parking area, but that wasn’t where most of the trash was found. Cigarette butts, glass and plastic bottles, beverage cans, Styrofoam cups and plastic lids and straws, were distributed fairly evenly across the entire stretch of roadway, indicating that some people in vehicles must be tossing these items out their windows as they drive along. One brand of beer kept showing up again and again, leading us to wonder if one person was throwing a beer bottle out the window every day. Other items collected appeared to be construction debris that was not carefully strapped down and then flew out of trucks as they began to accelerate.
Smokers may not realize that tossing their butts out the window or on the ground (unless it is on your own private property) is littering and is against the law. The filters, made up of plasticized cellulose acetate, do not biodegrade and can last for many years.
Besides being gross, and littering being illegal, the trash isn’t good for the local wildlife either. It can be eaten by fish, birds, and insects, cause suffocation, and eventually get into our streams and contribute to pollution in our oceans. Plastics and Styrofoam are particularly troublesome as they do not biodegrade, but just break into smaller and smaller pieces that make them even more likely to be consumed in the ecosystem. Trash on our roadsides will not help bring visitors into our county and town, or help local businesses, or bring tax revenue into our local government.
The only excuse for littering is laziness and disrespect. If we love our country, and love our county, we need to stop trashing it!
Disposing of trash properly (and reducing the Styrofoam and plastic packaging that you buy in the first place) helps keep it out of the environment and helps make Warren County a nicer place to live. The 12 roadside cleanup volunteers did a fantastic job today, collecting roughly a dozen big, contractor bags of trash, and a few larger items like car parts and a cabinet panel. There are several places around Warren County where trash seems to accumulate at an alarming rate, and this stretch of 522 is one of them. Any time you want to get out and make a difference, you can grab a trash bag and just pick up trash. Just be sure to take each bag to a refuse/recycle collection site when you are done.
The National Day of Service is now a tradition each year on the 3rd Monday in January, Martin Luther King Day, to honor the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, who “sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and all victims of injustice through peaceful protest.” (The History Channel website)
Several groups interested in service projects and/or caring for creation were specifically invited to participate, but everyone was welcome. There were representatives from the Warren County Democratic committee (WCDC), the Warren Front Royal Appalachian Trail (WFRAT) Committee, Calvary Episcopal Church and even an Appalachian Trail hiker who stopped by to help. If you or your group are interested in helping with the MLK roadside cleanup next year, or with other roadside cleanups, please contact Lisa Jenkins of Mountain Home B&B at MountainHomeAT@gmail.com.