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Warren County schools shut down until April 14; free meals available

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Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Interim Superintendent Melody Sheppard announced that schools will be shut down until April 14 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Families will receive a letter dated March 18 notifying them of the extended closure.

“The situation with COVID-19 is dynamic and changing rapidly. Over the past several days, the continued spread of COVID-19 has resulted in additional steps being taken to limit the spread of the virus. In order to continue the effort to protect our community, we are extending our school closure through Monday, April 13, 2020. We are hopeful that students will return to school on Tuesday, April 14, 2020,” according to a copy of Sheppard’s letter emailed to the Royal Examiner on Wednesday night.

Melody Sheppard revealed the planned closure extension during the Warren County School Board’s work session portion of its Wednesday, March 18 regular meeting.

 

“The latest news is that the governor is going to issue additional school closures. We have talked with our neighboring counties and we know what they’re going to do. Our recommendation is going to be that we close schools through April 14,” Sheppard told board members.

Sheppard told the Royal Examiner that she “made the recommendation to the School Board; the School Board does not have to vote to close schools as that is a superintendent’s responsibility.”

Sheppard also said that WCPS wanted to give families a heads-up as soon as possible, a move commended by School Board Vice Chairwoman Catherine Bower, who said it was a good idea so that families can proactively make childcare arrangements.

“We understand that it is a hardship on parents as far as finding care for their children, but we think it’s in our best interest and in the families’ best interest to try and … keep our students and our staff safe,” Sheppard said during the work session.

Closing Warren County Public Schools until April 14 means “that … we have missed 14 days of school due to the coronavirus,” said Sheppard.

But WCPS has four built-in weather days, she added, “so that means we actually would miss 10 days, which we could use bank time to cover those days,” meaning that the school district wouldn’t have to make up those missed days at the end of the official school year.

But for any amount of days missed after April 14, Sheppard said the School Board would have to consider how to make up those lost days.

In other coronavirus-related news, Sheppard said all WCPS staff aged 65 and older have been asked to work from home starting on March 19 as they are in a higher-risk group for contracting the coronavirus disease. And the information will be forthcoming about Comcast providing WCPS students with free WiFi for 60 days, she said.

“Today we had 145 students. I expect there will be more again tomorrow,” WCPS Food Service Coordinator SueAnn Fox told the School Board members on Wednesday.

 

Additionally, during the School Board’s regular meeting, WCPS Food Service Coordinator SueAnn Fox told School Board members that the school system this week started making free breakfasts and lunches available to students during the statewide school shutdown.

Phase 1 of the plan thus far has been “very successful,” Fox said, with 61 students receiving free meals on the first day.

Currently, free meals for children 18 years of age or younger are being handed out in the drive-through area next to the cafeteria at E.W. Morrison Elementary School. Walk-up service is also available. Children must be present to receive the meals, Fox said.

Both breakfast and lunch are provided per visit Monday through Friday to each child present from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. A breakfast consists of a breakfast entrée, a juice, and a fruit; lunch consists of a sandwich, fruit, juice, vegetable, and bottle of water.

“To lessen the burden, we’re including both meals so that people don’t have to come twice,” Fox explained.

“The meals are planned to avoid most known allergies we are aware our students have, should a child receiving meals have an allergy, please let the person providing your meals know and we will provide you an alternate item,” according to the WCPS website.

Phase 2 of the free meals plan, which begins on Tuesday, March 24, will add six additional sites, including Ressie Jeffries Elementary School, Royal Arms Apartments, Skyline Vista Apartments, and the Front Royal Church of the Nazarene, among others.

“More information regarding the satellite locations will be posted on the Warren County Public Schools website and through phone calls home. If you have questions regarding the meal program or for location information, please call (540) 631-0040,” according to Sheppard’s letter.

Fox told School Board members that if the meals program is extended, the plan is to add another phase in which WCPS travels to locations outside of the County and delivers two-days-worth of free meals so people don’t have to drive to any locations.

The WCPS food service department is working now with the transportation division on how to help those who may have even greater difficulty accessing these free meals, she said.

“You and your staff have done a tremendous job putting this together,” School Board Chairman Arnold Williams, Jr. told Fox. “I know it’s all new to everybody. Thank you for feeding our children.”

Fox said the staff really has gone above and beyond. And the community also has been so gracious in helping to spread the word. “We really appreciate it,” she said.

In responding to a question from School Board member James Wells, Fox said WCPS also hopes to deliver backpacks on Fridays and is now coordinating with local churches. The backpacks would continue to be handed out at E.W. Morrison Elementary School. “We just haven’t heard if that’s a definite yet because It’s going to be significantly more than what they currently do,” said Fox.

In action during the School Board’s regular meeting, members Williams, Wells, Bower, Kristen Pence, and Ralph Rinaldi voted unanimously to:

• Appoint Rinaldi to a two-year term as the Warren County School Board representative on the Fauquier-Rappahannock-Warren Regional Special Education Program Board for calendar years 2020 and 2021;

• Authorize the superintendent to request from the Warren County Board of Supervisors that the fiscal year 2020 operating budget appropriation be increased by $534,370 to purchase replacement reading textbooks for kindergarten through fifth grade;

• Approve the change order guidelines for the A.S. Rhodes Elementary School renovation project to be established at $25,000 or less requires the superintendent’s approval; change orders in the amount of $25,000 to $50,000 require both the superintendent’s approval and the School Board chairman’s approval, and change orders $50,000 or more require full School Board approval; and

• Permit the interim superintendent to sign Change Order Number 001 in the amount of $719,800 to authorize Lantz Construction Company of Winchester Inc. to purchase and install HVAC units at A.S. Rhodes Elementary School.

The Warren County School Board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, April 1.

Watch on this exclusive Royal Examiner video:

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Workers urge Northam to sign minimum wage bill

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RICHMOND, Va. — Workers and advocates are urging Gov. Ralph Northam to sign a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $9.50 at the start of next year. The General Assembly will reconvene on April 22, and lawmakers will reevaluate recently passed legislation as the state’s economy takes a blow and unemployment climbs during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Northam and state leaders anticipate the state’s economy will suffer a major hit from the coronavirus outbreak. Northam didn’t respond directly to whether he is considering delaying the increase in the minimum wage when asked at a recent press conference.

“There are a number of pieces of legislation that we are looking at regarding our business environment, and I haven’t made any definite decisions, but we are talking to the patrons of those pieces of legislation,” Northam said. The governor said he will “make a decision in the best interest of Virginia and the best interest of our economy.”

Workers on the front lines of essential businesses continue to serve the public during the COVID-19 outbreak, including many workers who earn minimum wage–currently $7.25 in Virginia.
Employees at a Virginia Kroger grocery store and Amazon distribution center recently tested positive for the coronavirus. Many essential workers have asked for an increase in pay to reflect the increased need for their services and the elevated risks they take while working.

Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia, an advocacy organization, said that raising the minimum wage is necessary to allow these workers to raise their families with dignity.

“That’s especially true now when grocery store workers, delivery drivers, home health aides and so many more are going to work for low wages and putting themselves at risk of getting sick so that we can stay home and healthy,” Scholl said in a press release.

The group is asking Northam to sign House Bill 395 into law without amendments or delays that would water down the bill. HB 395 would raise the minimum wage to $9.50 in 2021, $11 in 2022 and $12 in 2023. The minimum wage could go up to $15 by 2026 if approved by the General Assembly.

Photo by VCU Capital News Service

Some essential workers also argue that they are not being provided adequate protective gear and supplies to keep them safe from the coronavirus, another reason they are pushing for a guaranteed wage increase.

Lisa Harris works at Kroger in Mechanicsville and is a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. She has been with Kroger for 13 years and said in a press conference organized by Progress Virginia that she would benefit directly from HB 395. She is urging Northam to sign the bill with no weakening amendments.

“I find it fascinating how fast grocery store workers like me have gone from being considered unskilled labor to being recognized as essential personnel,” Harris said.

She compared workers dealing directly with an increasingly infected public to being on the front lines like first responders and said: “it would be nice to be paid accordingly.”

Harris said Kroger is not observing the proper social distancing recommendation of 6 feet or providing workers with personal protective equipment. She said the staff is required to wipe down the self-checkout scanners and screens every half hour but argues that this is impossible with the influx of customers visiting the store. Harris said the staff is given Windex to clean equipment and not a proper disinfectant. The company has given full-time workers a $300 bonus and part-time workers a $150 pay boost, but that’s not enough money, Harris said.

“It means barely being able to support myself, it means making tough decisions about whether to pay a bill or skip a meal, it means calling on my family members to help me as I’m attempting to be a fully enfranchised 31-year old,” Harris said.

Allison McGee, corporate affairs manager for Kroger, said the grocery chain provided all hourly workers with a $2 pay increase for hours worked March 29 through April 18. McGee also stated that all Kroger stores in the Richmond area have been provided with Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants to wipe down counters and cash registers. She said employees are required to wipe down surfaces frequently and extra hand sanitizer bottles have been provided at each checkout station.

“As far as PPE, we are encouraging our associates to wear protective masks and gloves, and we’re working hard to secure these resources for our associates,” McGee stated in an email. “Supply has started to arrive for our associates, and we anticipate all locations having personal protective equipment within the next several weeks.”

Kroger said on its website that they want healthcare workers to get a hold of protective gear before they can properly distribute it to their workers. For now, employees have limited access to such PPE and are encouraged to use their own.

Beginning April 7, Kroger will also start to limit the number of customers to 50% of the building code’s calculated capacity to allow for proper physical distancing in stores, the company announced this week.

Michael Cassidy, executive director of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, said that the coronavirus is a reminder many essential workers are also minimum wage workers.

“These individuals are providing a vital service to us right now and they deserve more than $7.25 an hour,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy said if the minimum wage increase were to go into effect in January, it would help 46,000 healthcare workers, 100,00 retail workers and over 100,000 restaurant and service industry workers. He said this would allow people to buy more and contribute to businesses and the economy as a whole.

Photo by VCU Capital News Service

“That’s important because consumer spending is the foundation of our economy, it’s about 72% of Virginia’s gross domestic product,” Cassidy said.

Del. Danica Roem said in a tweet that she is extremely disappointed to see groups advocating for bills like HB 395 to be watered down or delayed.

“We’re $1.50/hr behind West Virginia right now,” Roem tweeted. “You don’t see an uprising of West Virginian business leaders demanding the government lower their minimum wage to match ours.”

Cassidy said history shows that increasing the minimum wage during a recession has been successful in bringing the economy back.

HB 395 is currently pending signature by Northam with a deadline of April 11.

By Ada Romano
Capital News Service

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QuaranTEAMing: Ways to GIVE during the COVID-19 Crisis– featuring George McIntyre and Pam Waters

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These two Warren County residents are embracing their own ways to support their community and use their resources to help others during the crisis. George McIntyre (of The Apple House in Linden, VA) and his devoted team are delivering free donuts and offering complimentary meals to area nursing homes, medical personnel, and others. Pam Waters (of Front Royal) is making masks to donate to offices in need as her way of helping others and herself during this challenging time.

They exemplify the “what matters is your heart” philosophy, as do many local residents who are stepping up even when we are limited in stepping out. Let’s stop talking about fear and discouragement and start talking about the opportunities to make a positive impact and the silver linings in the cloud of the COVID-19 crisis.

Beyond the clouds overhead now and somewhere over the rainbow, this challenging period of our lives will be in the past, so let’s make some memories to cherish–memories that prove that kindness, generosity, and compassion can have even more of an impact on our world than a deadly virus.

Trade your Quarantining for QuaranTEAMING–there’s only one team in this game of life, and we’re all on the same one. Let’s remember that and use our positions to play our best however we can where we are.

Have you seen an inspiring act of selfless giving? Share in the comments below and inspire others to make time each day to take even a small action to brighten the life of another.


WHAT MATTERS:
Are you or your group in need of a free video that could be created to help market your cause or event? Beth’s WHAT MATTERS Warren videos post on Facebook and Youtube.

Learn more about Beth’s nonprofit, WHAT MATTERS, a 501 (c) (3), at www.whatmattersw2.com–check out the “Community” section to request a TOWN TIP or WHAT MATTERS WARREN BETHvid or contact her at 540-671-6145 or beth@whatmattersw2.com.

About WHAT MATTERS:
WHAT MATTERS is a 501(c)(3) that focuses on local and global outreach to help spread the word, support and raise funds for causes that matter (primarily through Facebook). WHAT MATTERS has ZERO overhead as 100% of the expenses are funded by Beth’s real estate business thanks to her clients and supporters. Every cent raised goes to the cause she’s promoting and most are matched by Beth. If you’d like to get involved with her local or international nonprofit work or travel to Africa with her on a future trip to work with the children of Light up Life Foundations, please visit www.whatmattersw2.com.

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Attorney General Herring seeks extension of utility disconnection suspensions through duration of State of Emergency

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~ Herring filed an emergency petition on March 13th to halt disconnections for non-payment and suspend late charges during the state of emergency ~

RICHMOND (April 7, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has asked the State Corporation Commission (SCC) to extend its utility disconnection suspension through at least June 10th when Virginia’s state of emergency is currently scheduled to end. Last month, the SCC halted utility disconnections for non-payment and suspended late charges following Attorney General Herring’s emergency petition requesting a freeze on disconnections.

“As we continue to grapple with the health and financial crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear that this extension is needed to make sure that all Virginians have access to water, power, and gas during the entirety of the state of emergency,” said Attorney General Herring. “This extension is especially important for hourly wage earners and those who work in the service industry who have been particularly affected by social distancing efforts and stay at home orders. I hope the SCC will continue to give Virginians some peace of mind during this time while we continue to ask them to stay home to prevent further spread of this virus.”

As Attorney General Herring explains in the filing “the temporary suspension of service disconnections for the reason of non-payment is needed to minimize adverse impacts on the public health and safety during this period of health and financial crisis.” Additionally, he adds that “during the immediate time of this emergency, the public interest requires that basic needs such as power, heat, and water go uninterrupted for all customers.” The Attorney General has sought the suspension of late fees during this time, but it is important to note that customers will eventually have to pay for the utilities they use during this time. If customers are able to, they should continue to pay their utility bills to avoid higher balances in the future.

In addition to extending the utility disconnection suspensions, Attorney General Herring also asks the SCC to consider the following:

• Reconnect service for any customers who request reconnection who had it disconnected for non-payment before the Suspension Order

• Waive any requirements that would make it harder for utilities to reconnect service

• Suspend late fees

• Provide for any other relief the Commission deems appropriate and necessary

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Second Saturday night fire causes flame jetting phenomenon, injuring two

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On Saturday, April 4, 2020, at approximately 7:40 pm, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services were dispatched to the 200 block of 19th Street, Front Royal for a reported
explosion with people injured.

Fire and EMS units along with units from the Front Royal Police Department quickly arrived on the scene to discover that an outside fire pit had been extinguished prior to their arrival. Two patients were noted to have sustained burn-related injuries. One patient was treated on the scene and transported to MedStar Washington Hospital Burn Center via helicopter with significant burn injuries. A second patient was treated at a local medical facility for minor burn injuries.

The incident which was investigated by the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office was determined to be caused by a phenomenon called “Flame Jetting”. Flame jetting happens when a container of flammable liquid meets an ignition source, causing flames to shoot out of the container for distances of 15 feet or greater. This type of event is often unexpected and extremely dangerous. This blowtorch-like effect can engulf bystanders in flames, leading to serious injury or even death.

Photo courtesy of Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services.

 

In this incident, a container of “weathered” gasoline was utilized in an attempt to accelerate the combustion within the outdoor fire pit. As the vapors ignited, the fire traveled into the container causing an over pressurization and rupture of the container resulting in the flame jetting event to occur. This caused the significant burn injuries to the bystander, burn injuries to the victim holding the container and damages the home ten feet away.

Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico stated, “while this event is certainly unfortunate, it should serve as a reminder that flammable liquids and open flames are a potentially deadly combination.” The Department of Fire and Rescue Services urges the following safety precautions when conducting fire pit activities:

• Never use gasoline as a starter fluid for any type of fire.

• Never leave a fire pit unattended.

• Never leave children or pets unattended near a fire pit.

• Consider investing in a wire mesh cover to keep embers inside and help prevent children
or pets from falling in.

• Limit the amount of fuel you put in the fire—just put what’s necessary to keep it burning
gently.

• Don’t put garbage or paper products into the fire. They can easily spark and throw off
embers or burning remnants.

• Don’t wear flammable or loose-fit clothing while near the pit.

• Don’t burn softwoods like pine or cedar. These can “pop” and throw sparks.

• Even if you follow all of these guidelines, accidents still happen. Keep a container of
water and a hose nearby in case of an emergency.

For more information with regards to the flame jetting phenomenon, visit www.ameriburn.org/stop-the-flame or visit www.warrencountyfire.com.

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Saturday night fire destroys home, cause remains under investigation

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Photo courtesy of Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services.

 

On Saturday, April 4, 2020, at approximately 8:00 pm, the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services received a report of a residential structure fire located in the 1000 block of
Harmony Orchard Road, Front Royal.

Units quickly arrived on the scene to discover a two-story, single-family home with significant fire conditions throughout the structure. The home appeared unoccupied at the time of the fire
and based on the number of fire conditions and structural instability, fire suppression efforts were executed from the exterior of the home for safety concerns. It took firefighters approximately 40
minutes to bring the fire under control. The home was rendered a total loss.

During the course of the incident, a firefighter sustained a traumatic injury and was treated on the scene and transported to Warren Memorial Hospital for further treatment and evaluation.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the Warren County Fire Marshal’s Office with assistance from the Warren County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division.

Anyone with information with regards to this incident is asked to contact Fire Marshal Gerry Maiatico at 540-636-3830 or email gmaiatico@warrencountyfire.com or contact Sheriff’s Office
Investigator Scott Baker at 540-635-7100 or email sbaker@warrencountysheriff.org.

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Randolph-Macon Academy offers virtual Q&A sessions

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Randolph-Macon Academy will host a Virtual Q&A Session on Thursday, April 16th, at 7:00 pm.

The session hosts will be the Director of Enrollment Management, Clare Dame, and the Director of Admission and Financial Aid, Amy Harriman. Families interested in applying to Randolph-Macon Academy, or those having questions about the private school admission process in general, are welcome to attend.

To register, visit RMA.edu/events, or email admission@rma.edu.

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