The ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Warren County School Board to set a new start date for the 2020-2021 academic school year, which will begin on Thursday, August 27 for students attending Warren County Public Schools (WCPS).
Division administrators have until August 5 to finalize plans for exactly what school will look like this fall, according to WCPS Superintendent Chris Ballenger, who led discussions during the School Board’s three-hour special meeting on Wednesday, July 22 in Front Royal, Virginia.
The School Board voted unanimously — with aye votes from Chairman Arnold Williams Jr., Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, and members James Wells, Kristen Pence, and Ralph Rinaldi in attendance — to heed advice from Assistant Superintendent Melody Sheppard to set the first day of school for August 27 rather than August 11.
The later start date will allow more time for new and returning teachers to partake in professional development that will prepare them for duties during what is expected to continue to be a pandemic-impacted school year.
The School Board’s vote also set the last day of school for June 8, 2021. The existing school calendar had the last day scheduled for June 4, 2021.
Sheppard explained that the WCPS Calendar Committee, which comprises one teacher from each school and possibly an administrator, got together earlier this month and made the recommendations for changing the school year start date.
New teachers will come on August 3-7 for orientation and professional development. All teachers will return for professional development on August 12-21.
“We took all the teacher workdays out of the first part of the school year and front-loaded them so that WCPS would have the opportunity to give our teachers the professional development that they need in order to be successful this school year,” Sheppard said.
“I like the extra training on the front end because that’s really where you’re going to need it with all this shifting around and virtual learning,” said Rinaldi, who represents the Shenandoah District.
Parent training opportunities and back-to-school events are scheduled for August 24, 25, and 26, according to the new calendar, giving local citizens the chance to meet teachers and administrators, and learn about the student curriculums.
Also during those dates, parents will be able to learn how to use the technology that WCPS will utilize during any virtual learning that will be scheduled for the upcoming academic year, said Sheppard.
In fact, all weather make-up days will become virtual learning days this school year, which now lasts only a few days longer than the original end date, a change that Williams said is “a big win for everybody.”
“Pushing the school year back will allow us a little more time to get prepared for the new school year and will give us the opportunity to get our teachers well-informed and well-prepared to deliver new instruction,” Sheppard explained.
Bower moved to accept the new school year calendar with a second made by Rinaldi.
“It’s going to be tough on everybody in our school system this entire year to make sure all of our students are educated,” said Williams, who added that he realizes how difficult it has been for WCPS administrators to rework the calendar, among other challenges.
“And I don’t think it’s going to get any easier this year,” he said. “The bottom line is that we have to take care of our students and our staff.”
The fully revised WCPS 2020-2021 School Year Calendar is available online at: https://www.wcps.k12.va.us/images/DOCUMENTS/Community/Revised_2020-2021_School_Calendar.pdf.
In the only other action agenda item during last night’s School Board meeting, members unanimously approved WCPS joining the Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP), a consortium of public school divisions in Virginia working collaboratively to improve student achievement as measured by Virginia’s Standards of Learning (SOL) assessments.
Ballenger explained that the CIP is designed to help instructors by providing them with activities and assessments that are highly aligned to Virginia’s Curriculum Frameworks in content and rigor.
“These resources have been submitted by teachers who have demonstrated superior performance as evidenced by their students’ scores on Virginia’s SOL assessments,” he said, adding that the CIP also analyzes data across the consortium to identify successful schools and divisions and share their practices with other consortium members.
Currently, the consortium consists of all school divisions in Region VII and Region VIII, as well as individual school divisions, such as Botetourt, Alleghany, Nelson, Page, Shenandoah, Essex, King and Queen, Waynesboro City, Danville, and Colonial Heights.
The cost of the CIP is $10,744 annually and Ballenger said WCPS will fund it through instruction and by absorbing an administrative position.
Bower made the motion to accept WCPS joining the CIP, with a second by Wells.
The bulk of the three-hour meeting was spent reviewing the draft WCPS 2020-2021 Reopening Plan, which included four options that will be provided in an upcoming survey to be distributed to the community for input.
The first three options presented last night included variations on in-school learning for different grade levels on alternating days combined with some virtual learning.
Three of the options would make Wednesday a remote learning day for ALL students so that deep cleaning may be performed at all the schools and on all the buses to help sanitize against the spread of the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fourth option would set all instruction at all grade levels to be delivered remotely for the first quarter of the school year.
Regarding the Blue Ridge Technology Center, WCPS is exploring various options for instruction and plans to release more information closer to the start of school.
Likewise, online instruction for students attending Mountain Vista Governor’s School will begin on August 10, with plans to add in-person instruction in September after school divisions have established both instructional and transportation schedules, according to the reopening plan.
Students receiving special education services may include increased time for face-to-face learning and/or direct instruction, as determined by each student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Instructional delivery will be designed to ensure the least restrictive environment as required by each student’s IEP and IEP teams will review individual student data to determine the need for supplemental instruction, according to the plan.
Students with disabilities also will continue to receive access to instructional materials for use at home, as needed, including assistive technology tools.
School Board member Wells, who represents the Happy Creek District, thanked the WCPS administrators for working diligently on the available options, which may or may not change before being distributed in a survey for the community’s input. “I know you’ve been burning the midnight oil working on them,” he said.
Bower, who represents the Fork District, said she hasn’t “slept the last few nights just thinking about all of this and how it’s going to happen and I absolutely agree that this K through 3 — and most likely K through 5 — they need to be in the classroom every day. They need the socialization; they need the instruction; you can’t teach reading virtually,” she said.
All students also need the safety of attending school, Bower said. “For many of our students, [school] is the safest place they can be. And they need the two meals a day we offer. I worry about our students that aren’t going to be there five days a week. Are we going to need to address getting meals to them?”
Sheppard said the administrators are working on that now. Transportation schedules also are being devised as part of the plan, as are technology needs, with all WCPS students in grades K-12 being provided with a laptop.
“I would like to see all of our students in school every day for equity reasons,” said Bower, who did not wear her mask during the meeting. “But right now, I don’t see how that’s going to happen.”
A lot of parents are ready for their children to return to school, while others remain uncomfortable with that idea, she said, adding that the School Board has “to find a way to accommodate everybody as best we can.”
Superintendent Ballenger said both transportation and classroom space — which must follow federal and state social distancing guidelines — are affecting decisions for WCPS, which is considering how to utilize the space within the middle schools to also accommodate fifth-graders, for instance. In turn, that idea would make more space available in the elementary schools for social distancing.
“It’s a lot to process,” said Williams, who represents the North River District.
Time is a factor in finalizing the reopening plan, Ballenger acknowledged, adding that there is still a lot of planning that must get done by August 3, when new teachers arrive. “The further we push this off, the more difficult it is to make sure we get all of our ducks in a row,” he said.
“The more students we can get in school, the better, I think, personally,” said Williams, who also wore no mask during the meeting.
The School Board requested that Ballenger put together a survey for the community to respond to the options, which is forthcoming.
The next scheduled School Board meeting is Wednesday, August 5 and it is expected that the School Board will approve a reopening plan then. Once approved, the plan then must be submitted to the Virginia Department of Education.
Watch the entire Warren County School Board meeting on this exclusive Royal Examiner video:
Shopping Small has its rewards
Shopping Small does have its rewards in Front Royal.
Beginning on November 28, 2020, and continuing through December 20, 2020, shop ANY small business in Warren County and turn in your receipts for inclusion in a weekly gift bag drawing!
Here are the rules:
Receipts must be submitted for purchases totaling $100.00 or more and purchases must be made on the same day.
Any purchase from any Warren County small business (does not include chain stores, gas stations, or grocery stores) made on the same day will count toward your entry.
You may enter the drawings as many times as you wish.
Drawings for gift bags will be held every Monday morning and the winner will be chosen from only that week’s entries.
Receipts should be presented at Key Move Properties, 403 E Main St, for verification for drawing entry.
Weekly winners will receive gift bags of local business donated goods including gift cards. The value of gift bags may vary.
Numbers down but enthusiasm high for Turkey Egg Hunt 2020
It may not have been the 2020 Thanksgiving Day Turkey Egg Hunt originally envisioned to run from the Gazebo-Village Commons area up a closed-to-vehicular-traffic East Main Street involving “hidden” eggs in a variety of downtown business locations and a larger contingent of egg hunting families. But according to organizers Mr. and Mrs. Turkey (aka Willie and Nina Huck of C&C Frozen Treats) and musical backdrop providers Chris and Sue Laurence of White Picket Fence and Key Move Properties, the more localized and properly family group socially distanced gathering of about 25 total participants was a rousing success, nonetheless.
The measuring stick – the smiling children’s faces as they ran around gathering candy and surprise-filled turkey eggs dominating the Commons area landscape mid-afternoon this Thanksgiving Day.
We spoke with the “Turkeys” after their official launching of the Turkey Egg Hunt about the trials and tribulations of a pandemic and extended, not-extended walking mall-impacted Turkey Egg Hunt.
“Gobble-gobble-gobble, gobble-gobble-gobble,” Mr. Turkey began before we reminded him his interviewer was not bilingual in Turkeyese, at which point Mrs. Turkey took the helm in human-English speak.
“Considering the environment that we’re in, I think we had a good turnout – we have less than 25 people, so we’re not breaking any rules (regarding gubernatorial COVID-19 Phase 3 pandemic guidelines prohibiting public and business gathering of more than 25 people).
“We have a lot of family groups socially distanced from each other and I think people are going to respect that more than anything,” Mr. Turkey added, regaining his command of human-English speak. “I classify this as a success. This is the community coming out and celebrating a little memory, starting a new tradition, second year running – third is the make it or break it, right?” Mr. Turkey observed the old standard of catching on or not.
Looking a year into the future, hopefully with successful vaccines having been developed, and on the market putting an end to the worldwide 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic that is thus far attributed to taking over 266,000 American lives, and over 1.42-million worldwide, Mr. Turkey forecast a bigger and better 2021 Turkey Day Egg Hunt. – “So, next year all this (pandemic restrictions) will be gone and it’ll be much larger, much bigger, and as much fun.”
While a smaller group than hoped for in year two, as noted above, those present, children and parents alike, were notable for the big grins on their faces as children raced to claim their turkey egg candy and toy stash.
“Seeing the smiles on the family’s faces makes it a hundred percent worth it,” Mr. Turkey observed.
“Absolutely,” Mrs. Turkey, who oversaw much of the egg-laying, agreed.
Royal Examiner asked the Turkeys about the planning involved amidst a constantly shifting pandemic and downtown walking mall landscape.
“Well, I had a conversation with Santa and the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, and we hatched this plan last year on a whim – why not do it?” Mr. Turkey replied, as Mrs. Turkey noted, “Last Easter we went to Walmart and bought all their leftover Easter eggs, so we’d have eggs, and asked our customers to bring us some candy after Halloween, so we could stuff the turkey eggs, and here we are after about an hour and a half of putting them out.”
Mr. Turkey estimated that from community donations this year, as many as three thousand eggs and the candy and toys with which to fill them had been gathered. “We had an egg stuffing party at the ice cream shop and winter is upon us,” despite the 68-degree temperatures this November 26th we pointed out – “Despite the 68-degree temperatures – you stuff eggs in your downtime … and you have a bunch of smiling kids faces in the end, and that’s what it’s about.”
Sue Laurence concurred that in the circumstance of 2020, success can’t be measured solely in numbers. “We’re having a great time. There may not be a lot of people here but the weather’s great.
Next year, hopefully, more people will feel comfortable about coming out. But everybody who is here has got a smile.”
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.