Warren County Public Schools (WCPS) Superintendent Chris Ballenger today released the school district’s new plan for graduating the Class of 2020, setting Warren County High School graduation ceremony for Friday, July 31, and graduation at Skyline High School for Saturday, August 1.
“We are trying to do the best thing we can for our students. It’s very difficult to make these decisions during this time,” Ballenger told the Royal Examiner, referring to constraints resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ballenger pointed out that one of the school system’s many responsibilities is to protect the health and safety of its students, families, and staff while hosting a successful commencement ceremony, a situation that this year faces significant challenges due to COVID-19.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on July 6 moved the state from Phase II to Phase III in the Commonwealth’s pandemic strategy, which includes additional mandatory guidelines for schools, including those that cap gathering limits to 250 persons if all other physical distancing measures are observed.
“Unfortunately, at this time, larger gatherings, as is customary with graduation ceremonies, are not permitted,” Ballenger writes in a statement released today.
In May, WCPS surveyed students to determine their graduation preferences. But that was when the state’s Phase I and Phase II gatherings were limited to 10 and 50 people, respectively, and a WCPS decision regarding graduation had to wait until Phase III gathering limits were released.
And the Phase III limits, Ballenger said, “have greatly affected the opportunity to have a traditional graduation” as most students favored.
Thus, Warren County High School 2020 graduates will walk on Friday, July 31 at 8 a.m. (for graduates with last names starting A through K) and at 10 a.m. (for grads with last names starting with L – Z).
Likewise, Skyline High School’s graduation on Saturday, August 1 will be held at 8 a.m. (for graduates with last names starting A – K) and at 10 a.m. (for grads with last names starting with L – Z).
All ceremonies will be live-streamed on YouTube for those who are unable to attend, according to WCPS.
These will not be drive-through graduation ceremonies, as some residents thought was the case when they posted concerns in numerous Facebook comments during the last week.
Instead, the graduation plan calls for drive-in ceremonies that allow graduates to walk across the stage, be recognized, and receive a diploma, while family members gather nearby.
“We understand how important the commencement ceremony is to our graduates and their families,” Ballenger said. “While these circumstances are unique, we have developed a celebration that recognizes each graduate while adhering to the required guidelines.”
WCPS staff will start directing cars at 7 a.m. for the 8 a.m. ceremonies. Parking is NOT first-come, first-serve. Each car will be directed to a designated parking spot. Instructions for parking for the 10 a.m. ceremonies will be given to students when they pick up their parking tickets at their high schools.
Each graduate will be given two numbered car admission tickets with his or her full name as it appears on the diploma. One ticket is required for each vehicle, according to WCPS, which said tickets must be presented for admittance. Tickets only will be issued once all senior responsibilities have been met.
Tickets must be picked up at both high schools in their main offices next week: On Wednesday, July 22, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; on Thursday, July 23, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and on Friday, July 24 during the same times.
In addition, graduates will receive a keepsake ticket for diploma presentation with their first and last names. Graduates must carry their tickets with them to receive their diplomas on stage.
Here are the drive-in ceremony procedures at both high schools:
1.) Two standard-sized vehicles, including the graduate, will be admitted into the parking lots at each school at the same time and will park together, as directed by local law enforcement or a WCPS faculty member. All persons must be seated inside the vehicle when entering the school campus. It is expected that all vehicles will remain for the duration of each ceremony.
2.) Graduates and their vehicles will be lined up in the parking lots closest to the football stadium and directions will be provided when the vehicles arrive at the scene.
3.) After opening remarks and speeches, graduates will begin to receive their diplomas. Working from the far side of the parking lot, the row attendants will signal for the first five graduates in the row to exit their cars and proceed to the stage in a single file to receive their diplomas.
4.) Graduates and their families will be directed by a faculty member on when to exit their vehicles to line up to receive their diplomas. There will be a designated area in front of the stage reserved for picture taking. Family members should enter and exit this area as their graduate enters and exits the staging area. Two professional photographers also will be on-site at the ceremonies, taking pictures of each graduating senior as the diploma is received. Their pictures will be available for viewing and for purchase at a designated site during the ceremonies.
5.) Upon receiving their diplomas, both graduates and families then will return to their respective vehicles.
6.) Once all graduates have received their diplomas and returned to their cars, the official ‘turning of the tassels’ will commence.
7.) Following the ceremony, the parking lot attendants will release rows of parking. Vehicles will exit the Warren County High School parking lot and turn RIGHT onto Westminster Drive and then proceed to John Marshall Highway. Visitors leaving the Skyline High School parking lot will exit near the Northwestern building.
WCPS also released standards and expectations for social distancing during the ceremony. These include that all attendees must remain in their vehicles or stand in between their two cars throughout the ceremony. An attendant will approach the vehicles to direct the graduate and families to walk up to the stage to receive the diploma.
Additionally, all administrators, faculty, and staff will be following CDC guidelines and will be wearing face masks, as well as adhering to the six-feet rule for safe social distancing, according to WCPS, which said that guests are encouraged to wear face coverings, as well.
Graduates will not shake hands with administrators at the presentation of the diploma, according to the WCPS standards and guidelines.
And spectators, other than those admitted in vehicles, are not permitted on school grounds, WCPS said.
Full details for the 2020 WCPS Graduation Ceremony are available online HERE.
Regarding the start of school for the school year 2020-2021, Ballenger said that WCPS staff will discuss plans during the Warren County School Board’s July 22 special meeting. The meeting will be held in the Diversified Minds Meeting Room located at 465 West 15th Street in Front Royal beginning at 5:00 p.m.
“We have multiple options that we will be discussing,” he told the Royal Examiner. “My goal is to provide information to the community by next Friday,” July 24.
Last call to share library feedback and win!
Samuels Public Library’s community survey will close on December 31st. The survey opened on September 1st and has drawn in nearly 300 responses so far. The Library hopes to receive 400 responses.
“We are very excited about the number of responses we’ve received so far,” says Executive Director Michelle Ross, “Our community has wonderful ideas about new library services and we hope to gather even more of those ideas before the survey closes.”
Each person who completes a survey may be entered into a drawing for a Kindle Fire HD 10 Tablet. Limit one entry per person. Every Warren County citizen is invited to share their feedback to enhance our community’s Library.
Print copies of the survey can be found at each Samuels Library public service desk. The survey can also be completed online.
Results from the survey will be shared on the Library website, www.samuelslibrary.net.
About Samuels Public Library
Samuels Public Library brings people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. A 501(c)(3) organization, the library annually serves 200,000 visitors, checks out nearly 400,000 books, electronic and digital services, and provides essential computer access, wireless service and public meeting spaces for the community. To learn more, visit www.samuelslibrary.net or call (540) 635-3153.
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Patient of the Week: Canada Goose
Clean up your fishing line!
This Canada Goose was found and rescued in Sherando Park in Stephens City, VA. The finder came across this bird struggling in the water while entangled in fishing line. Luckily, the goose was untangled and transported to the Center for care.
We see many cases each year of animals (mostly waterbirds) entangled in fishing line. Please help our wildlife and make every effort to retrieve lost hooks/sinkers/line while fishing, and even if you aren’t the person who left it, remove line and other dangerous debris that you find while out enjoying nature.
This goose did not suffer any fractures, but has muscle damage that will take at least a few days to resolve if all goes well.
The struggle and near drowning experience puts this goose at extreme risk of exertional myopathy (muscle damage caused by extreme stress and struggling that creates physiological imbalances and can result in death). We are doing everything possible to monitor for signs of this condition and address changes quickly.
We are glad to be able to help this bird, but many aren’t so lucky. The best prevention is to clean up the dangerous trash we put out in nature. Please dispose of hooks and line properly!
This goose is our 3,237 patient in 2021!
Our patients can’t pay for their care and we don’t receive state or Federal funding for what we do. We rely on your donations to help wild animals and return them to their wild homes. Please consider donating to BRWC today.
Children honor memory of local librarian
The children collected some of their favorite books and donated them to the library. The books will be used as prizes for the children’s reading club. They are hopeful that the books will help cultivate the love of reading, just as Kathy did through her work. Kathy Jacob worked with many teachers, staff, and children from Mountain Laurel, whenever they visited the library.
‘Tis the Season for Kindness
A local singer/songwriter has a message for the world in his debut release starting with the opening lyrics, “Put the kind back in humankind”. “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” was written by local musician and businessman Shae Parker and recorded in Memphis, TN earlier this year. Parker, who has been playing music semi-professionally for the past three decades is no stranger to helping convey messages. The sign maker and owner of Hanna Sign Company also spent years as a radio broadcaster and as a Front Royal Town Councilman and Vice Mayor.
“I’ve always written songs”, says Parker. “In retrospect, I’ve always helped to convey messages. Whether it was a commercial on the radio, a sign for someone’s business, or as a public servant I’ve always tried to help others convey their message.”
Like many during the pandemic, Parker says he did some soul searching and decided he needed to put his own message out in song. After combing through years of writings and narrowing down a list of about two dozen, he formulated a plan to record as many songs as possible. Shae says he reached out to a childhood friend and fellow former disc jockey, Till Palmer who is the Chief Engineer at Ecko Records in Memphis for help.
“Initially the plan was to take the band with me (River Driven Band), but schedules didn’t align and I realized I either needed to reschedule or refocus on a solo project”, said Parker. “A big part of my pandemic soul searching revolved around doing this before I turned 50, so I headed to Memphis for a solo project”.
Fourteen songs were recorded in Memphis over three days according to Parker, with twelve of those planned for release. Most of the overdubs were handled by Shae before leaving, but he says over the coming months the remaining overdubs will be completed by him and his bandmates from the River Driven Band before being sent back to Palmer for mastering. The other two tracks, “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” were independently released in November by Parker on most digital streaming platforms.
“SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” has a message that I felt all humans needed to hear”, explains Parker. “It’s about kindness and how easy it is to just be kind, that’s why I had to put it out first”.
Shae says that independently releasing his music has its own challenges. He says it has been a learning curve from researching and finding a digital distributor to upload the songs to Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube Music among others, to registering songwriting credits with BMI and SESAC.
“There is a reason it’s called the Music Business”, quips Parker. “What is an ISRC number or a DDP? Things like that I didn’t have a clue about as a performer, but Till being in the industry gave me a lot of insight of what needed to be done to make this a reality.”
While Parker maintains the music is the best thing to come out of the experience, he is quick to point out the joy of working with a lifelong friend and using a vintage Gibson Les Paul Junior on some tracks that were bought new by Palmer’s grandfather, Ralph Palmer in 1956. He also finds irony in his and Palmer’s past on radio given that a fellow DJ, Rick Dee’s recorded his number one hit “DISCO DUCK” in the same studio in the 1970s. Parker also recounts that his nickname at 4H camp growing up (where he and Palmer first met) was Duckie. Irony indeed, however despite a good beat you can dance to any other similarities in the compositions end there as Parker’s message of kindness prevails.
The Daily Planet/Shoe Productions studio was built by STAX Records founder Jim Stewart and Bobby Manuel (Booker T & the MG’s) shortly after the shuttering of STAX in 1975. In 1995 John Ward bought the studio and changed the name to Ecko Studios/Records, an American Blues and Soul Blues label that has released albums by Rufus Thomas, Ollie Nightingale, Bill Coday, Barbara Carr, and others.
Shae Parker’s first two releases “SAVE THE HUMANS TOO” and “SHE LOVES ME, BUT” are available on all streaming platforms or wherever you listen to music. Links to the songs and information on booking can be found on his website at www.SongsByShae.com.
Triple your impact this Giving Tuesday
Today is Giving Tuesday!
What is Giving Tuesday? It’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, and was created to encourage people, after spending money on physical items for the holidays, to give back to charities and their local communities.
It’s an important day to support Blue Ridge Wildlife Center because your donation could be matched twice!
- Starting at 8am, donations made through Facebook will be matched with an $8 million dollar match pledged by the social media platform itself until the matching funds are exhausted.
- Your donation will ALSO be matched by our generous Board of Directors up to $15,000! (You can donate through our website, by check, or through Facebook to qualify for this match.)
That gives your donation the opportunity to be TRIPLED, going further than any other time!
We receive no state nor Federal funding for what we do. We rely on your donations to save wild animals and return them to the wild. Donations enable us to afford the foods and specialty formulas we feed out to our 3,200+ patients each year. They allow us to build and maintain our enclosures to house these patients and keep the lights on and water running. They pay for the surgical supplies, medications, and anesthetics needed for the 150+ surgeries we perform each year. They pay for the antibiotics and pain medications needed by the >60% of our patients that are suffering from some sort of human-caused traumatic injury.
We need YOUR help to maximize matching funds and to care for the ever-increasing number of patients we’re seeing each year. Please give generously on Giving Tuesday to let your donation go further!
Thank you for supporting our native wildlife!
Accused Brinklow murderer gets 30-years-9-months on plea agreement and probation violation charges
Following emotional testimony from Jennifer Brinklow, the mother of 20-year-old Tristen Brinklow on the devastating impact on her life of her son’s 2019 murder, and a perhaps surprisingly emotional series of apologies from his accused killer for his role in that murder, the Commonwealth and defense counsels debated at which end of sentencing guidelines 38-year-old Richard Matthew Crouch should be incarcerated on Second Degree Murder and related and unrelated charges he submitted guilty pleas to as part of a plea agreement.
By plea agreement already accepted by Warren County Circuit Court Judge William Sharp, the sentencing range was between 8-years-and-7-months and 28 years-and-9-months. The other involved suspect, George Good, received a 10-year prison sentence with 25 years suspended on August 13, on a similar plea agreement involving two charges of helping Crouch dispose of Brinklow’s body and a variety of unrelated charges. Good was 29 at the time of his sentencing three months ago.
After hearing about an hour and a half of testimony, questions, and arguments Judge Sharp adjourned to chambers at noon, Monday, November 29th to consider his sentencing decision. After 17 minutes Judge Sharp returned to deliver his ruling. That ruling was the high-end 28-years-and-9-months according to sentencing parameters of the plea agreement, after imposing two, 5-year sentences on concealing and defiling (allowing to decompose) a dead body; and 30 years on the Second Degree Murder charge. Crouch will also get credit for time served, about two years. It was said that currently it is estimated that inmates will serve about 85% of their sentence with good behavior time taken off. Crouch also had four, 5-year sentences related to an earlier attack on an ex-girlfriend and his drug possession with intent to distribute charges imposed with all 20 years suspended. He will be on supervised probation for five years after his release.
While getting credit for his time served, two years was later tacked on to the 28-year-9-month sentence, on a probation violation charge argued outside the plea agreement. Arguing that aspect of the cases, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Nick Manthos countered defense co-counsel Eric Wiseley’s call to waive the two additional years of active incarceration after his client received nearly three times the sentence George Good did for their respective roles in Brinklow’s murder.
Manthos, as Commonwealth Attorney John Bell had earlier, noted that while Crouch held to his story that it was Good who actually beat Brinklow to death, the physical evidence matched Good’s story that it was Crouch who attacked and strangled Brinklow to death in a methamphetamine-induced paranoid delusional state. Crouch did admit to being up for at least five days straight, perhaps as many as 10 days, doing an extraordinary amount of methamphetamine – he estimated at 3.5 grams (an 8-ball) to twice that amount per day – while trying to finance being on the run from police from an incident several days earlier in which he non-fatally had strangled an ex-girlfriend.
The Commonwealth noted that in his earlier attack on the ex-girlfriend, Crouch had not only choked her but cut off a large portion of her hair. When Good led authorities to Brinklow’s decomposed body, a bone in the neck was discovered broken at autopsy indicative of strangulation, and a large portion of Brinklow’s hair was discovered cut off. Those aspects of the earlier Crouch attack on the ex-girlfriend were not known to Good, the prosecution told the court.
The fact that all the crimes he enter guilty pleas to, including the assault on his ex, the methamphetamine use, and dealing, as well as Brinklow’s murder, occurred while Crouch was on probation led Judge Sharp to side with the prosecution on the necessity of imposing the two probation violation years hanging over Crouch – “There has to be a consequence, otherwise probation means nothing,” Judge Sharp said in rendering his decision on that second part of the day’s hearing on Crouch’s fate behind bars.
While admitting to the drug use and paranoid state leading him to believe that he was going to be robbed of his meth stash worth several thousand dollars, Crouch insisted that Brinklow coming at him with a knife and Good’s response of pulling him off Crouch and beating him to death was not a part of his drug-induced delusions. However, it seemed Crouch and his attorney in the plea sentencing, Howard Manheimer, may have been the only two in court buying into that scenario. It appeared seven relatives and friends accompanied Jennifer Brinklow to court Monday.
Several times asked by the court if he had anything to say before decisions were rendered, Crouch in a low, emotional voice expressed remorse, saying, “I am so sorry, I am so sorry with all my heart.” Crouch told the court and Brinklow’s mother that he had become involved in a jailhouse ministry conducted at RSW and related drug abuse counseling to try and steer inmates away from drug addiction upon their release.
He also looked at Tristen’s mother testifying from the witness box directly in front of him as she recounted the multiple impacts, including being told she now suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Shock Disorder) in the wake of her son’s murder. “I didn’t know a person could live without a heart and soul,” Mrs. Brinklow told the courtroom of her life since December 13, 2019, when she was informed it was her missing son’s body discovered in an abandoned freezer near the river. The murder occurred in September 2019.
She said tears came often, stimulated by “a smell, food, a cloud – ANYTHING. I never had anxiety, now there are places I can’t go without breaking down … It’s beyond obvious those two did not know Trey – a few minutes with him and he’d give you anything he had … Four days after he turned 20 you took his life – he was just a kid.”
Following the rendering of his plea agreement sentence of 28-years-9-months, Judge Sharp told Crouch he hoped he made the best out of the portion of his life that will now be spent in prison; that he was truly remorseful for letting a dangerous, illegal drug get a grip on his life that led to this point; and that he would continue to work to counsel others away from a similar fate, and turn his life in a positive direction.
“I wish you luck,” the judge told Crouch.
“Thank you,” Crouch replied.