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Warren County superintendent outlines pandemic-related changes for sports, SOLs

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Local students, their families, and the community can expect changes regarding state Standards of Learning (SOL) tests and winter athletic activities at Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) this year.

Rather than requiring students to take all regularly scheduled SOLs, elementary and middle school students in the spring of 2021 will have the option of taking local assessments in history, social science, and English under waivers and emergency guidance issued recently by the state education department, said WCPS Superintendent Chris Ballenger during the Warren County School Board’s Wednesday, December 2 meeting.

The waivers and guidance are designed to reduce the need for in-person testing this academic year as schools contend with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Virginia Department of Education.

Under Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 51, emergency waivers have been issued allowing school divisions this year to replace the Virginia Studies, Civics and Economics, and Grade-8 Writing SOL tests with local assessments if they follow emergency guidance approved by the state Board of Education and report student performance data to the state. The SOL tests will continue to be available for school divisions that choose to administer them, according to the state education department.


In addition, the state Board of Education approved emergency guidance granting school divisions additional flexibility to award verified credits and to reduce the need for students to return to school buildings to retake end-of-course SOL assessments.

Under the guidance, school divisions may award a verified credit for a course taken in fall 2020 if the student achieves a score of at least 350 on the test and meets local criteria for course achievement.

WCPS staff will be discussing the new waivers and guidance over the next several days “to see in which direction we should move,” Ballenger told School Board members.

Interscholastic athletics
Ballenger also outlined new pandemic-related requirements for WCPS winter sports, which begin on Monday, December 7. The restrictions will meet guidelines set in the recently updated 2020-2021 Guidelines for Return to Participation released by the Virginia High School League (VHSL), as well as Gov. Northam’s amended Executive Order 67, which now limits spectators to 25 persons in response to the rising number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths locally and statewide.

Even with the restrictions, games still may be played, VHSL said. The governor’s order does not call for reductions in participants, just spectators.

According to a WCPS statement released on December 2, the number of tickets available to parents of student-athletes will be limited due to the definition of “participant” and “spectator.”

Participants are defined as players, coaches, officials, school event staff, and school administration who are critical to the operations of the contest, media, law enforcement, and medical services, according to the statement.

Spectators are defined as people who are not critical to the operation of the contest, including parents, grandparents, community members, cheerleaders, pep bands, etc., and other student support groups.

Ballenger told School Board members that WCPS will allow the parents and guardians of its student-athletes to have the first option to attend home games, and each player will be allowed to invite one person to each home game.

Per VHSL guidance, cheerleaders have now deemed spectators and must be counted as part of the capped 25 spectators at a game. That means while there will be sideline cheer, the number of cheerleaders will be limited to five per game and will have to be rotated between junior varsity and varsity games, Ballenger said.

WCPS and individual schools will release more information on the number of spectators that will be allowed to attend home games, according to the superintendent, who said that this number will be determined as teams are formed and there is a better understanding of the number of tickets that will be needed to allow parents to watch their children participate.

Additionally, both Skyline High School and Warren County High School will live stream the competitions to allow the community to watch games remotely, Ballenger said.

Watch the Warren County School Board meeting on this Royal Examiner video:

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Blue Ridge Hospice Thrift Shop re-opens in Front Royal

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The Front Royal Blue Ridge Hospice Thrift Shop location is expanding! The new location is at 425 South Street, Front Royal (Former Peebles Store). Blue Ridge Hospice CEO/President Cheryl Hamilton Fried made the opening remarks along with CFO Cheryl Ringer.

The re-opening was on March 6, 2021, at 9 am. The Front Royal/Warren County Chamber of Commerce was on hand with a ceremonial ribbon cutting and remarks from Vice-Mayor Lori Cockrell and Board of Supervisor Cheryl Cullers.

March 6th was also the first day of its Electronic Recycling Program.  Blue Ridge Hospice Thrift stores will now be accepting your unwanted and out-of-date electronic devices. For more information, visit brhospice.org/erecycling/.


For almost 40 years Blue Ridge Hospice has helped guide patients and their families through the final months and weeks of life. With warmth and compassion, They have provided dignity and comfort, as well as physical, emotional, and spiritual care to people of all ages.


If you’re living with a life-limiting illness, caring for a loved one with an advanced illness, or grieving the loss of someone near to you, Blue Ridge Hospice can help.

Blue Ridge Hospice is a thriving not-for-profit healthcare organization with a robust staff and years of experience providing excellent hospice care to patients in the Northern Shenandoah Valley region.

Blue Ridge Hospice now provides care to the City of Winchester and counties of Frederick, Clarke, Warren, Shenandoah, Fauquier, and Western Loudoun.

Blue Ridge Hospice sets the standard for quality hospice care and is accredited by The Joint Commission. The Joint Commission inspects Blue Ridge Hospice for compliance with Medicare regulations, as well as other rigorous standards, at least every three years.

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Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center offering spring break camping and retreat opportunities

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The Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center provided us the following.

Are you looking for a safe (and somewhat rustic) Spring retreat and/or camping trip to take with your family, significant other, or close immediate group of friends? Would you like to see Spring in bloom and explore the Appalachian Trail and the Shenandoah Mountains? Or perhaps you would like to hold a camping outing for a Girl Scout, Boy Scout, Cub Scout Troop or other small group in which you are involved? If so, the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center might be just the place for you!

Location: Located in Front Royal, Virginia, just over an hour from the D.C. metro area, the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational and Conference Center provides options for an affordable family-friendly getaway, small group retreats, and/or camping. The 4-H Center has opened-up our lodges and property to individuals, couples, families, and small groups looking to find an opportunity to safely getaway for the weekend or during the week to escape to the outdoors and to enjoy and explore nature and the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley.

Adjacent to Shenandoah National Park, the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center provides a great opportunity for those seeking to come and visit the mountains. The Center also offers a perfect and safe opportunity for families and groups that would like camping — but perhaps not outdoors in a tent — experience.


Lodging: Families can rent a room and pitch a tent on the property if they would like. The 4-H Center lodges have private rooms with dedicated heat and A/C, twin-size bunks, and a private restroom/shower. Many of the rooms in the 4-H Center lodges are walk-out directly, so no walking through a lobby or hallways. Guests provide their own bedding and toiletries.

Amenities: The 4-H Center has great hiking opportunities on-site including direct access to the Appalachian Trail from the property (a 10-minute direct hike to the AT). Free recreation options on the property include lake fishing, basketball, tennis, disc golf, and lots of open green space for day activities or tent camping. (Equipment not provided) We have picnic shelters and two campfire circles which can be rented and used by small groups.

Nearby: The 4-H Center is located just south of Front Royal and provides nearby amenities such as Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Skyline Caverns, Luray Caverns, canoeing on the Shenandoah River, 5 public golf courses, and several wineries, local shops, and eateries. Click here for more information on local attractions.

Cost: Cost is $100/room/night + tax and includes a boxed, continental breakfast. Rooms sleep 4 and can adjoin with the adjacent room to sleep 8 total.

COVID-19 Safety Measures: To support the health of all 4-H Center staff and visitors, the 4-H Center is strictly adhering to State of Virginia COVID-19 requirements and Federal CDC guidelines for camps. Therefore, all visitors and 4-H Center Guests are required to wear facial coverings in lodge hallways, entering/exiting the Dining Hall, and any other times that social distancing cannot be maintained, indoors or outdoors. The property is very large (229 acres), so that even when we are busy, it is easy to social distance for outdoor activities on the 4-H Center grounds.

Reservations/Additional Information: For additional information or to make a reservation, please call Chris Newlon, 4-H Center Reservations and Events Coordinator, 540-635-7171, or reach her by email at chris@nova4h.com.

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VDOT: Warren County Traffic alert for March 8 – 12, 2021

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The following is a list of highway work that may affect traffic in Warren County during the coming weeks. Scheduled work is subject to change due to inclement weather and material supplies. Motorists are advised to watch for slow-moving tractors during mowing operations. When traveling through a work zone, be alert to periodic changes in traffic patterns and lane closures.

*NEW* or *UPDATE* indicates a new entry or a revised entry since last week’s report.

INTERSTATE 66
*NEW* Mile marker 12 to 9, westbound – Alternating lane closures for installation of traffic monitoring equipment, Wednesday and Thursday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

INTERSTATE 81
No lane closures reported.


PRIMARY ROADS
No lane closures reported.

SECONDARY ROADS
No lane closures reported.

Vegetation management may take place district-wide on various routes. Motorists are reminded to use extreme caution when traveling through work zones.

Traffic alerts and traveler information can be obtained by dialing 511. Traffic alerts and traveler information also are available at www.511Virginia.org.

The VDOT Customer Service Center can assist with reporting road hazards, asking transportation questions, or getting information related to Virginia’s roads. Call 800-FOR- ROAD (800-367-7623) or use its mobile-friendly website at my.vdot.virginia.gov. Agents are available 24 hours-a-day, seven days a week.

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COVID-19 Update, March 4, 2021: trends and projections

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On March 5, County Emergency Services Coordinator Rick Farrall distributed the following State-sponsored RAND Corporation PowerPoint presentation on COVID-19 Coronavirus trends in Virginia, with comparative information from surrounding states and the nation, as relevant.

As noted on its opening page, “The information in this presentation is intended to keep policymakers abreast of the latest findings of the research team”. Included is information, not only on case, fatality, and hospitalization trends but vaccination distribution and anticipated availability issues.

 

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Front Royal Police Department assists in investigation of railroad derailment cleanup fatality

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Front Royal, Va: On March 4, 2021, just after 2 p.m., a Norfolk Southern Railway Train with approximately 16 cars derailed in the Riverton Junction area of Depot Ave. It was confirmed there were no injuries at that time. Fire and Rescue units cleared the scene while Norfolk Southern began to mobilize clean-up and repair efforts.

At approximately 3:02 a.m. on March 5, 2021, emergency personnel from the Front Royal Police Department and Warren County Fire and Rescue responded to the scene regarding a worker who was critically injured while assisting with the cleanup effort. Upon arrival, it was determined Willie Ezra Phillips, 36, of Lesage, West Virginia had suffered fatal injuries resulting from the accident.

Upon request of Norfolk Southern Railway, detectives with the Front Royal Police Department initiated a death investigation. An investigator from the Northern District of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner responded to the scene to assist. At this time, no foul play is suspected.

Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, no further details will be released.


(From an FRPD Press Release)

Warren County Fire & Rescue respond to train derailment

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Smeltzer acknowledged for her work above and beyond for those in need

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It was a surprise party of sorts for Warren County Department of Social Services Program Coordinator Michelle Smeltzer Thursday evening, March 4, as dinner was being prepared at the department’s indoors “thermal shelter” for the homeless at the 15th Street Health & Human Services Complex. Smeltzer was encouraged to show up around 6:30 p.m. as Masonic Unity Lodge 146 was preparing a turkey dinner for shelter residents as part of their last scheduled winter round of meal provision there.

There would be “special guests” she had been told as several District 3 Masonic representatives were visiting the local lodge’s contribution to social services department work on behalf of those in need in the community. Among those guests were District 3 Deputy Grand Master Mark Pennypacker and District Membership Coordinator Wes Hammack. They were joined by Unity Lodge 146 members Scott Truax, Charles Taggart, Dennis Haas, Tom Kivelhan, and Will Bryan, the latter whose So Mote It Beef G BBQ catering service takes point in some of Lodge 146’s food distribution community outreach.

Why are all these people here milling around? – Michelle Smeltzer, dark print on a white blouse at left-center, may have been wondering as she chats with one of those people, County Board Chair Cheryl Cullers. Royal Examiner Photos by Roger Bianchini

The Masons were joined by County Emergency Services Coordinator and COVID information point man Rick Farrall, County Board of Supervisors Chairman Cheryl Cullers with North River Supervisor Delores Oates, shelter volunteer Robin Townsend with husband Bruce in tow, the latter whom we have encountered recently circulating a petition to get on the November ballot in the 2021 county board elections, and former Interim WC DSS Director Beth Reavis.


What Smeltzer was about to find out as soon as she slowed down from helping staff prep for dinner, was that the real “Special Guest” the District 3 Mason reps and the above assortment of locals were present to acknowledge, was her.

As Will Bryan had told us, Smeltzer was to receive one of two Lodge 146 annual “Community Builder Awards” approved by District 3 as “a token of our appreciation for all that she does in our community. She is an amazing person and a pleasure to work side by side within bettering our community.”

The Lodge 146 So Mote It G Beef crew food-prep line. Below, ‘Oh, I’m just here to help cut the cake,’ Beth Reavis may be telling Smeltzer as Thursday night dinner is prepared, along with a little surprise for DSS Program Coordinator Smeltzer.

Reavis, now “re-retired” more or less she explained, elaborated on Smeltzer’s contributions to the social services department and its community service efforts, particularly for the homeless in winter. She noted that the previous arrangement for homeless winter accommodation and meal provision had largely been achieved through various local churches on a rotating basis. However, with a sometimes-older volunteer member church base more susceptible to pandemic contagion with the arrival of COVID, some of those face-to-face housing and direct meal provision efforts had been withdrawn as a protective precaution for church members.

DSS approached the County and then County Administrator Doug Stanley about a replacement space and it was settled upon that what was then an unused portion of the 15th Street complex with cafeteria space could be utilized.

“And bless the County’s heart, they jumped right it – it looks nothing like it did before. They cleaned it up, they painted it, they spent months making this a workable solution and a nice place for people to be,” Reavis said. “And the churches are still involved, they bring food” along with Lodge 146’s spot in the rotation, which in addition to dinner, includes supplies to cover a cold breakfast and carryout lunch.

November file photo of the sleeping area of the renovated portion of Health & Human Services Complex devoted to winter sheltering of county homeless. There are a few more beds in there now to accommodate as many as 46 people this winter.

So, now there was a space in need of supervision and oversight. Enter Michelle Smeltzer.

“She works all day at her regular job (at WC DSS) and she does this on her own time,” Reavis explained. “The County has been totally supportive of it, and helpful. And Michelle works all day and then comes here – she volunteers here. She made it a really bigger job. It originally started out that she was going to help people who needed short-term housing with the money that the churches were donating. Then it got to be if somebody needs something, call Michelle. There is paid staff, she’s organized all of this, she’s gotten all the churches on board, she meets with the shelter board … And she just keeps the wheels on the wagon. She’s an amazing person with an amazing amount of energy,” Reavis observed.

‘This is for you and all you do’ – Charles Taggart with Masonic Lodge 146 Community Builder Award in hand, and So Mote It G Beef BBQ’s Will Bryan, finally reveals to Smeltzer. Below, Smeltzer displays her award maskless at the urging of the photographer.

And it is that willingness to go above and beyond her prescribed duties and hours to continue to help the community and some of its most vulnerable citizens that made Michelle Smeltzer the “Special Guest” of Masonic Lodge 146, its District 3 officials, and County and other volunteer citizens Thursday evening, March 4.

After having that explained to her, and receiving Lodge 146’s Community Builder Award certification to a round of appreciative applause, we caught up with the evening’s real Special Guest at her “surprise party”.

“I know, I can’t believe people are able to keep secrets – this is amazing to me,” she laughed of the friendly subterfuge. “All of this is really nice, and I’m still kind of in shock over it. I wasn’t at all expecting anything like that. I mean, I know I’m out there and people see my face, but there are so many people that are involved to make it happen. There’s been tremendous support from Social Services, from the County, and then all the churches, pastors, and church members – I mean we just have so much support,” Smeltzer said, deflecting credit to those around her who make her work possible.

‘Yes, we were part of the conspiracy,’ County Supervisors Cullers and Oates may be admitting to Smeltzer after her receipt of the Mason’s Community Builder Award, pictured below.

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Upcoming Events

Mar
9
Tue
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 9 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Mar
13
Sat
10:00 am HSWC Polar Plunge @ Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center
HSWC Polar Plunge @ Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center
Mar 13 @ 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
HSWC Polar Plunge @ Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center
The Humane Society of Warren County “Polar Plunge” delayed from February 20 due to “too-polar” weather here in northwestern Virginia has been rescheduled to Saturday, March 13 – Don’t worry, it will still be a[...]
Mar
16
Tue
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 16 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Mar
23
Tue
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 23 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Mar
28
Sun
2:00 pm Pictures with the Easter Bunny @ Warren County Community Center
Pictures with the Easter Bunny @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 28 @ 2:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Pictures with the Easter Bunny @ Warren County Community Center
Come join the staff of Warren County Parks and Recreation and get your picture taken with the Easter Bunny! Pictures will be taken and printed on site; upon departure you will be given an Easter[...]
Mar
30
Tue
6:30 pm Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
Mar 30 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Dance Fitness Class @ Warren County Community Center
This class is for all fitness levels and anyone who is looking to have fun dancing to a variety of music styles from hip hop to swing to salsa, all while EXERCISING! This class will[...]
Apr
3
Sat
12:00 pm Egg-stravaganza! @ Sky Meadows State Park
Egg-stravaganza! @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 3 @ 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Egg-stravaganza! @ Sky Meadows State Park
Eggs are popping up all over Sky Meadows State Park. Visit our egg-laying free-range chickens by taking our Chicken Walk. Go on an egg-citing Geocache adventure. Kids, use your scavenger hunting skills using clues from[...]
Apr
17
Sat
all-day Shenandoah Epic @ Caroline Furnace
Shenandoah Epic @ Caroline Furnace
Apr 17 all-day
Shenandoah Epic @ Caroline Furnace
This tried and true Epic 24-hour AR will test your biking, paddling, trekking, and navigation skills as you explore two state parks (one of them brand new!) and national forest lands. Join soloists and teams[...]
Apr
18
Sun
9:30 am Forest Bathing Walk @ Sky Meadows State Park
Forest Bathing Walk @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 18 @ 9:30 am – 11:30 am
Forest Bathing Walk @ Sky Meadows State Park
Join Kim Strader, ANFT Certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide, for a gentle walk (no more than a mile or two) where we will wander and sit. Through a series of invitations and prompts, we[...]
Apr
24
Sat
10:00 am Earth Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Earth Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Apr 24 @ 10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Earth Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
On this Earth Day, celebrate safely by doing your part to restore our earth and joining the Great Global Cleanup. Stop by one of our tables at the Explorer Outpost, Picnic Area, or Lost Mountain[...]