FRONT ROYAL— With schoolwide chronic absences reaching almost 30 percent last year, the administrators at Skyline High School (SHS) have had to come up with some creative solutions.
One of the most effective practices currently being used at SHS has been an administrator’s knock on the door at the home of a regularly absent student.
“We have gone to several homes of students who don’t want to come to school after we’ve called the parents, who say they just can’t get them there. So I said, ‘Do you mind if I come to your house?’” SHS Principal Michael Smith explained to members of the Warren County School Board during the work session portion of their January 15 regular meeting.
“It’s been pretty effective because the principal is standing there at the front door, almost at their bedroom door, opening it up and asking, ‘Why aren’t you at school?’ The parents get a good kick out of it and it works for the kids; they don’t want us coming back to their house,” said Dr. Smith.
“Whatever works,” he added. “All of my administrative staff has had to do that, so we’re doing everything we can to get them to school.”
During his presentation to the School Board, Smith said that SHS had an academic review on November 6, 2019. The overall findings and problem identified during the review was that chronic absenteeism at SHS received a Level III performance standing, meaning accredited with conditions, he said.
Melody Sheppard, interim superintendent for Warren County Public Schools (WCPS), told School Board members on Wednesday night that SHS is one of the school district’s two schools dubbed accredited with conditions, and the board next month will hear from Principal Shane Goodwin about similar efforts under way at E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School to curb chronic absenteeism.
Following the academic review, Smith said the subsequent SHS corrective action plan was submitted to the Virginia Department of Education on November 18, 2019, while essential actions to improve the chronic absenteeism rate have been added to the SHS school plan for the 2019-2020 school year.
Additionally, attendance expectations for accurate reporting of attendance were added to the staff handbook; an annual staff training was conducted on the attendance protocol; and attendance data will be reviewed monthly to identify students on track to be chronically absent and to prioritize students requiring Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels of support, he said.
Tier 2 level students are those who have missed nine days at the mid-school year point, while Tier 3 level students are chronically absent from school, said Sheppard, who noted that students are allowed a total of 18 excused absences in a school year.
And according to WCPS attendance policy, absences are excused for a funeral, illness, injury, legal obligations, medical procedures, suspensions, expulsions, religious observances, and military obligations that parents are aware of and support.
In addition to the impromptu at-home visits, Smith said another current practice is to assign teacher mentors to Tier 2 and Tier 3 level students for daily and weekly contact. “It’s usually their first block teacher or another teacher they’re comfortable with,” he said, adding that the goal is for the teacher mentor to get information from the student about why he or she isn’t attending school.
The subsequent data that the teacher mentors put into an online Google form describes when they met with students, what they talked about, and what they determined were some possible solutions. Smith said this data also provides useful evidence for future decision-making around making individualized attendance plans, for example.
Smith outlined several other current practices that are ongoing at SHS to stem the chronic absenteeism problem.
Every Sunday, for instance, Smith sends out a weekly phone blast to relay pre-recorded information about the upcoming week, as well as the importance of regular attendance.
Other practices include what Smith called “simple things,” such as teachers greeting students as they enter the classrooms and administrators greeting students in the morning as they enter the school building. These are county-wide policies aimed at fostering positive relationships across an entire school, he said.
“I actually have two assistant principals at the entrances to the school,” Smith told School Board members. “They open doors and greet every single kid who comes into the school.”
There also has been an attendance committee with parents developed at SHS that already has met twice. “Parents were surprised at the number of students who miss substantial amounts of classroom time,” said Smith.
During the attendance committee meetings that Smith holds with students and their parents, they develop an Attendance Success Plan for each student. He’s so far held 66 meetings.
Second attendance meetings also are held between Smith, the parents, students, and the SHS truancy officer, with 15 having been held thus far. “It’s nothing punitive, it’s just about getting students to realize the importance of what they’re missing when they’re not in the classroom,” said Smith.
Smith also sent out 890 letters to every SHS household asking parents to come in and discuss the chronic absenteeism situation. The parents who did respond to the letter, he said, were the ones whose kids regularly attend school, but who said they wanted to learn how to share the value of coming to school with other families and students.
Additional current practices include a Principal’s Cabinet that consists of class officers who discuss the atmosphere of the school and what incentives might help improve attendance.
During the last meeting, Smith said cabinet members commented that for those students who regularly miss school, they likely wouldn’t attend “no matter what incentive we have.”
The SHS attendance secretary also notifies parents every day to determine why students are absent.
Going forward, Smith told School Board members that SHS will continue to: run the teacher mentor program; meet with students and parents; and send the Sunday phone blasts.
Warren County School Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower asked what the most common reasons are for the chronic absences. Smith said there’s a wide array of excuses.
For instance, many students say they just don’t want to get out of bed or that they’re bored at school, which essentially relates to instruction, said Smith.
Sheppard pointed out that all the current practices at SHS to fight chronic absenteeism are evidence-based practices. “It’s all about building positive relationships with kids,” she said. “Whenever a student comes to school, they have somebody there that they can have a conversation with and not feel uncomfortable.”
“It is about the relationships, the rapport and the trust,” agreed School Board Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., who told Smith to “keep doing what you’re doing. Keep moving forward. I know you can get there.”
“We will,” Smith told him, noting that last year, SHS was at 29 percent chronic absenteeism and this year’s goal is to reduce that mark to 24 percent. “If we can get there, that would be a huge decrease.”
Watch the latest Warren County School Board work session where SHS Principal Michael Smith discusses this problem with the board:
Virginia uses genetic technology to combat COVID-19
~ State public health laboratory is one of the first in the nation to do this work ~
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today (April 6, 2020) announced that the Department of General Services’ (DGS) Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS) is one of the first public health labs in the nation to use genetic technology to help public health officials better understand and track the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic to strengthen prevention and response efforts.
DCLS is using next-generation sequencing to genetically decode some Virginia samples that contain the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. Looking at this genetic fingerprint can help public health officials track how the virus is changing and provide insights into how it is being transmitted.
“Advances in genetic sequencing allow us to track and analyze COVID-19 better than previous outbreaks,” said Governor Northam. “This innovative technology, combined with the work of our public health laboratory and epidemiologists around the Commonwealth, will help us understand the virus, how it spreads, and how it may change. And that will give us more tools to fight it.”
DCLS is working alongside the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and international public health and university partners using specialized lab equipment and computer software to piece together the genetic makeup of the virus found in COVID-19 patients. DCLS is working collaboratively to create a library that stores the information of not only the positive samples it identifies, but also those tested at private facilities, healthcare systems, and universities in Virginia.
Hidden in the genetic makeup of the virus are clues to its origin. Soon after the virus appeared in China, scientists used sequencing to tease out its genetic information and made that information available to the international public health community. As the virus travels from one person to another, it makes copies of itself and sometimes makes small genetic changes called mutations. Scientists can read these mutations like a road map, tracing how cases are related.
Next-generation sequencing generates enormous amounts of data, which is analyzed by specialized bioinformaticians at DCLS. The lab shares the data with public health officials and uploads it to GISAID, an online repository where genomic data is openly available to epidemiologists and virologists around the globe. Nextstrain, an online resource for scientists to visually track the genomics of the virus, creates diagrams that favor family trees showing the evolutionary relationships between different samples collected throughout the world.
“This genetic fingerprint gives us tremendous insight into this novel virus, helping us understand where Virginia cases originated and how they are being transmitted in our communities,” said DCLS Director Dr. Denise Toney. “Providing this information in real-time is unbelievably valuable for public health officials as they determine how to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in our communities.”
In Virginia, the sequences uploaded so far show evidence of multiple introductions of the virus into Virginia communities, suggesting that the emergence of COVID-19 is due to multiple distinct events. This is suggested by looking at the similarity of the virus in Virginia to the virus sequences obtained from Asian and European patients. There is also a clear indication of person-to-person spread within suspected COVID-19 outbreaks.
“Epidemiologists at the Virginia Department of Health can use these data during investigations of outbreaks in nursing homes and other settings to determine whether all of the cases originated from the same source or multiple sources,” said Virginia State Epidemiologist Dr. Lilian Peake.
For more information, visit the DGS website at dgs.virginia.gov, including this Next-Generation Sequencing in Virginia document that explains more about how DCLS is using genetic technology to combat COVID-19 in Virginia.
Governor Northam COVID-19 update briefing – April 6, 2020
May & June Election Clarification from Congressman Ben Cline
There has been a lot of misinformation spread regarding the effect of Gov. Northam’s stay-at-home order and how it will affect the upcoming local elections on May 5th and primary elections on June 9th. It is important that you know how to participate in Virginia’s elections, that is why I would like to share with you some information compiled by my office.
While the Governor’s order lasts until June 10th, in-person voting will still occur at normal polling locations on May 5th and June 9th. A spokesperson for the Governor’s office stated the order does not apply to “the operation of government,” which includes operating and participating in elections.
Additionally, absentee voting has been expanded to allow anyone with COVID-19 safety concerns to select “illness or disability” and receive a mail-in ballot. You can request your absentee ballot by clicking here.
Nothing in our democracy could be more important than transparent elections. It is your right to be fully informed about where and how to vote. I encourage you to forward this message to your friends and family who may be in the dark about the election process in the coming months.
As always, please be encouraged to reach out to my office if I can ever be of assistance
Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force, IRS-CI warn of potential COVID-19 economic impact payment scams
The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force and Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations (IRS-CI) are warning taxpayers to be alert about possible scams relating to COVID-19 economic impact payments.
United States Attorneys Thomas T. Cullen and G. Zachary Terwilliger, and the Virginia State Police along with Kelly R. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the IRS-CI Washington DC Field Office, made the announcement today in an effort to prevent taxpayers in need from being victimized by criminals using the recently approved payments as an opportunity to commit a crime.
“During this time of crisis, scammers and thieves prey on those most vulnerable in our community in an attempt to personally benefit by stealing their money and personal identifying information,” Special Agent in Charge Jackson said today. “Please help us protect everyone in your community by telling family, friends and elderly neighbors to be on the lookout for these potential scams.”
“While most act selflessly and responsibly in a crisis like this, there are fraudsters out there who are attempting to scam and exploit good people,” said U.S. Attorney Terwilliger. “We are likely to see an uptick in government check scams tied to coronavirus-relief, including advanced-fee schemes promising government relief checks, student loan relief, and adjustments in other government benefits, such as increased social security payments. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
“As we have seen over the past few weeks, the worst among us are finding new ways to exploit a global pandemic and prey upon the vulnerable,” said U.S. Attorney Cullen. “Americans need to be extremely vigilant in protecting their personal, financial, and tax information. Assume all unsolicited phone calls and emails regarding IRS or COVID-19 refunds and are potentially fraudulent. Do not respond and report them to law enforcement.”
In a matter of weeks, COVID-19 economic impact payments will be on their way. For most Americans, this will be a direct deposit into your bank account. For the unbanked individuals who have traditionally received tax refunds via paper check, they will receive their economic impact payment through the mail.
Scammers may try to get you to sign over your check to them or get you to “verify” your filing information in order to steal your money. Your personal information could then be used to file false tax returns in an identity theft scheme. Because of this, everyone receiving a COVID-19 economic impact payment is at risk.
Special Agent in Charge Jackson offers the following information and tips to spot a scam and understand how the COVID-19 related economic impact payments will be issued.
• The IRS will deposit your payment into the direct deposit account you previously provided on your tax return (or, in the alternative, send you a paper check).
• The IRS will NOT call and ask you to verify your payment details. Do NOT give your bank account, debit account, or PayPal account information to anyone – even if someone claims it’s necessary to get your check. It’s a scam.
• If you receive a call, do NOT engage with scammers, even if you want to tell them that you know it’s a scam. Just hang up.
• If you receive texts or emails claiming that you can get your money faster by sending personal identifying information or clicking on links, delete these texts and emails. Do NOT click on any links in those texts or emails.
• Reports are swirling about bogus checks. If you receive a “check” in the mail now, it’s a scam. It will take the Treasury a few more weeks to mail out the COVID-19 economic impact payments. If you receive a “check” for an odd amount (especially one with cents), or a check that requires you to verify the check online or by calling a number, it’s a scam.
• Remember, the federal government will not ask you to pay anything upfront to get a legitimate benefit. No fees. No charges. Anyone who asks for an up-front payment for a promised benefit is a scammer.
The Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Task Force: https://www.justice.gov/usao-wdva/covid-19-fraud
Western Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Baudinet, USAVAW.COVID19@usdoj.gov or 540-278-1494.
Eastern Virginia Coronavirus Fraud Coordinator, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaitlin G. Cooke, Kaitlin.Cooke@usdoj.gov or 804-819-5416.
To report a COVID-19 fraud scheme or suspicious activity, contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) by calling the NCDF Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov/coronavirus
FBI at: https://www.ic3.gov or 804-261-1044.
To report fraudulent activity to the Virginia State Police, Virginians can contact the Virginia Fusion Center (VFC) at email@example.com.
For continuing information on the COVID-19 virus and the federal response, check https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
COVID-19 meeting restrictions lead to 2nd EDA grand jury extension
Contacted by phone, Rockingham County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Parker confirmed that Judge Clark Ritchie had extended the term of the Warren County Special Grand Jury impaneled to explore potential criminality tied to the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority (EDA) civil litigation.
That extension is for six months and came as the grand jury’s first extension was coming to an end Tuesday, March 31. The EDA special grand jury was empaneled shortly after the EDA civil litigation was filed on March 26, 2019. Its first six-month term was extended another six months in October 2019.
Parker said the newest six-month extension comes from an “abundance of caution” both legally and medically.
Due to restrictions on public gatherings ordered by Governor Ralph Northam as part of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s emergency management response to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, what have been described as non-essential court functions have joined other enterprises deemed “non-essential” in the private sector in being put on hold at least through much of April. Consequently, it was decided it was unsafe for the grand jury to continue meeting in this pandemic emergency response environment.
In this fluid medical and legal environment, it is uncertain when the EDA Special Grand Jury will be able to meet again. However, Parker said he believes once those meetings begin, it will not take anywhere near six months for the grand jury to complete its business.
“Our goal is to conclude as soon as possible,” Parker said.
Following the recusal from EDA legal matters of Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Bell and his entire staff in the wake of his November 2019 election, Parker was appointed to handle criminal indictments stemming from alleged EDA financial improprieties discovered by a forensic audit commissioned by Warren County on behalf of the EDA in September 2018.
The EDA civil litigation is now seeking recovery of $21.3 million from 15 defendants, including former EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald and two real estate companies she is alleged to have used to misdirect EDA assets to her own benefit.
In a series of filings by the EDA grand jury, McDonald now faces a total of 34 financial felony charges. Also indicted criminally on fewer charges has been a tight circle around McDonald, including her husband Samuel North, her former EDA Administrative Assistant Michelle “Missy” Henry, and former EDA small business loan recipient and B&G Goods proprietor William Lambert. At the time of his business relationship with the EDA Lambert is purported to have been in a relationship with a McDonald sister.
Criminal charges against another McDonald associate, Donald Poe, were dropped by Parker due to an approaching January perjury trial date he was not prepared for with his late 2019 appointment and the mountain of paperwork filed in relation to the EDA civil and criminal cases – estimated at or around a million pages of documentation.
However, as he noted at the time, Parker can refile the criminal indictments against Poe if he feels the evidence so warrants. Poe’s perjury charges related to his testimony to the EDA Special Grand Jury regarding his business ties to McDonald.
The next EDA criminal case hearing dates are scheduled for April 17. Parker said he should have more information on how things will be proceeding forward within the coming week.
A federal grand jury has also been impaneled in Harrisonburg related to the EDA financial allegations and civil litigation. On April 16, 2019, agents from the FBI and Virginia State Police searched and seized documents and materials from the EDA’s Kendrick Lane offices, including the executive director’s office that had been cordoned off and locked down since McDonald’s December 20, 2018 resignation under increasing scrutiny by the investigative auditing firm Cherry Bekaert and her EDA Board of Directors. However, the federal grand jury has yet to issue any indictments from its investigation.
FDA requests removal of all Ranitidine products (Zantac) from the market
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced (April 1, 2020) it is requesting manufacturers to withdraw all prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) ranitidine drugs from the market immediately. This is the latest step in an ongoing investigation of a contaminant known as N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in ranitidine medications (commonly known by the brand name Zantac). The agency has determined that the impurity in some ranitidine products increases over time and when stored at higher than room temperatures and may result in consumer exposure to unacceptable levels of this impurity. As a result of this immediate market withdrawal request, ranitidine products will not be available for new or existing prescriptions or OTC use in the U.S.
“The FDA is committed to ensuring that the medicines Americans take are safe and effective. We make every effort to investigate potential health risks and provide our recommendations to the public based on the best available science. We didn’t observe unacceptable levels of NDMA in many of the samples that we tested. However, since we don’t know how or for how long the product might have been stored, we decided that it should not be available to consumers and patients unless its quality can be assured,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The FDA will continue our efforts to ensure impurities in other drugs do not exceed acceptable limits so that patients can continue taking medicines without concern.”
NDMA is a probable human carcinogen (a substance that could cause cancer). In the summer of 2019, the FDA became aware of independent laboratory testing that found NDMA in ranitidine. Low levels of NDMA are commonly ingested in the diet, for example, NDMA is present in foods and in water. These low levels would not be expected to lead to an increase in the risk of cancer. However, sustained higher levels of exposure may increase the risk of cancer in humans. The FDA conducted thorough laboratory tests and found NDMA in ranitidine at low levels. At the time, the agency did not have enough scientific evidence to recommend whether individuals should continue or stop taking ranitidine medicines, and continued its investigation and warned the public in September 2019 of the potential risks and to consider alternative OTC and prescription treatments.
New FDA testing and evaluation prompted by information from third-party laboratories confirmed that NDMA levels increase in ranitidine even under normal storage conditions, and NDMA has been found to increase significantly in samples stored at higher temperatures, including temperatures the product may be exposed to during distribution and handling by consumers. The testing also showed that the older a ranitidine product is, or the longer the length of time since it was manufactured, the greater the level of NDMA. These conditions may raise the level of NDMA in the ranitidine product above the acceptable daily intake limit.
With today’s announcement, the FDA is sending letters to all manufacturers of ranitidine requesting they withdraw their products from the market. The FDA is also advising consumers taking OTC ranitidine to stop taking any tablets or liquid they currently have, dispose of them properly and not buy more; for those who wish to continue treating their condition, they should consider using other approved OTC products. Patients taking prescription ranitidine should speak with their health care professional about other treatment options before stopping the medicine, as there are multiple drugs approved for the same or similar uses as ranitidine that do not carry the same risks from NDMA. To date, the FDA’s testing has not found NDMA in famotidine (Pepcid), cimetidine (Tagamet), esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid) or omeprazole (Prilosec).
In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA recommends patients and consumers not take their medicines to a drug take-back location but follow the specific disposal instructions in the medication guide or package insert or follow the agency’s recommended steps, which include ways to safely dispose of these medications at home.
The FDA continues its ongoing review, surveillance, compliance, and pharmaceutical quality efforts across every product area, and will continue to work with drug manufacturers to ensure safe, effective and high-quality drugs for the American public.
The FDA encourages health care professionals and patients to report adverse reactions or quality problems with any human drugs to the agency’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program:
Complete and submit the report online at www.fda.gov/medwatch/report.htm; or
Download and complete the form, then submit it via fax at 1-800-FDA-0178.
The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.