Author Archives: Dick Hall-Sizemore

Violence Prevention and TATs: A Dissenting Opinion

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There has been a lot of discussion on this blog  about violence prevention committees and threat assessment teams (TAT). There have been disagreements over whether the University of Virginia is in compliance with state law as well as lamentations about the lack of enforcement where it is considered that an institution is not in compliance with the requirements of state law.

First of all, I am not sure how the requirements would be enforced. The statutes provide no mechanism or provide authority to any agency to enforce them. The statutes themselves are fairly broad and, as has been shown in the discussions on this blog, there are various ways of interpreting those statutes. If push came to shove, I suppose one could go to court and seek a writ of mandamus against a college or university requiring it to rectify some omission or error in its policies regarding its  violence prevention committee or threat assessment team. I am not sure who would have standing to bring such a suit — faculty and students, probably; parents of students, maybe; alumni or interested citizens, probably not. Such a case would likely be expensive for anyone filing suit.

More importantly, I would advocate abolishing the requirement to establish a violence prevention committee and a threat assessment team altogether. It is an overly bureaucratic and inefficient way to deal with the potential for violence on campuses. In addition, the use of TATs can lead to abuse. Continue reading

Not A Rubber Stamp After All

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Governor Youngkin just got a lesson on how being governor is different from being CEO of a hedge fund. He just cannot get what he wants by fiat.

The Board of Education, on which his appointees constitute a majority, on Thursday rebuffed the administration on two of its top priorities — Standards of Learning for History and Social Science and school accreditation.

Despite our Jim Bacon’s plea that the Board of Education stick to its guns and support the revised History Standards proposed by the Department of Education, the Board, after four hours of listening to opponents of the proposal and discussing it among themselves, voted 8-0 not to accept them and directed the department to come back with a revision that used the November version as a base and incorporated elements of the version proposed by the previous board under Governor Northam. Continue reading

The Times They Are A-Changin’

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In Halifax County, the home of the late former governor Bill Tuck, and a bastion of the Byrd machine, which gave Donald Trump, who wondered why we were taking in immigrants from “all these shithole countries,” about 57% of its votes in both 2016 and 2o2o, Sentara recently announced a new pediatrician being added to its “care team.”  Her name: Akpomevigho Avbovbo.

The History Standards: A Correction, An Apology, and Some Comments

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In an earlier post dealing with the proposed Standards of Learning in History and Social Studies, I complained that I could not find a copy of the earlier draft on the Department of Education website and suggested that it had been purged.

I was mistaken. The draft is available on the website. I apologize for my  oversight and for my erroneous suggestion that DOE was trying to hide something.

I thank Charles Pyle, Director of Communications and Constituent Services for DOE, for letting me know of my mistake. (At least, we know that he follows BR!)

For anyone wishing to compare the two versions, here is the draft prepared during the Northam administration.

And here is the link to the revised proposed Standards that will be first considered by the Board of Education at its meeting tomorrow. Continue reading

Potpourri

WEAPONS AT AIRPORTS

It has long amazed and puzzled me that people think they can get away with taking guns and other weapons onto airplane flights. On Monday, a woman was  caught at the Richmond airport with a loaded .380 caliber handgun in her carry-on bag. The Transportation Security Administration  (TSA) reports that, as of Nov. 13, 18 guns had been caught at Richmond International Airport checkpoints. Nationally, TSA intercepted nearly 6,000 firearms at airports last year, the most on record.

One of the more inventive methods of trying to smuggle a weapon onto a flight at Richmond was the recent attempt by a Williamsburg man with a double-bladed knife hidden in the interior of his laptop computer. After X-ray machines detected the knife, TSA personnel used special tools to disassemble the computer to get the knife.  The owner of the laptop initially had the standard explanation: he had no idea that there was a knife hidden inside his computer.

LONG-TERM DREAM REALIZED

Opening day on the Silver Line Extension. Photo credit: Washington Post

After many, many years of delays and hundreds of millions in cost overruns, Dulles Airport and eastern Loudon County are finally connected to downtown D.C. via Metro. The Silver Line Extension opened with much fanfare.  Officials expect that, in addition to residential and business development along the line, the direct connection between the airport and downtown will result in additional airport passenger traffic at Dulles.

Washington Post reporters tested the line and determined that it took about the same time to drive from downtown to the airport as it would take using Metro.  However, using Metro was considerably cheaper than driving, especially if one assumed a three-day stay in the parking garage, and it was more than $100 cheaper than using Uber.

Richmond Slashes Permit Backlog and Delays

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The city government of Richmond has often taken a beating on these pages, usually deservedly so. Now, there is some good news to report.

David Ress of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that the city has significantly improved its permit processing times. For example, the time to process a building permit application dropped to five days in April and to about a day since July. The delay in getting approvals for a mechanical, plumbing, or electrical permit was 50 days at the beginning of the year, but dropped to 20-25 days by spring, and has been one to three days since August. The total number of permit applications awaiting review and approval dropped from around 1,200 in January to 100 or fewer since August.

Furthermore, the time taken to review and approve site plans and special use applications is less than the internal targets set by the applicable departments.

Several actions led to the improvements. Among them were the hiring of 71 additional employees since July 2021 and contracting with a third party to help with plan review. In addition, management examined the entire process “looking for bottlenecks” and eliminating unnecessary steps.

This may seem rather mundane and unexciting, but it is the type of everyday “government stuff” that the city has sometimes not been very good at. Delays in processing permit applications can cost contractors and businesses significant time and money and discourage them from doing business with the city. The long processing times have long been a source of complaint within the business community in the area. The city administration deserves some credit for taking steps to improve its services.

Those History and Social Studies Learning Standards: Another Perspective

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Predictably, the Youngkin administration’s proposed Standards of Learning for History and Social Studies have  created controversy.

Being able to compare the administration’s proposal with the Standards developed by the previous Board of Education that were ready for consideration and adoption, but put on hold by the Superintendent of Instruction, would add some more context to the discussion.  However, that prior document seems to have been purged from the Department of Education’s website. The only documents available seem to be those related to the “revised proposed Standards.”

The administration has created a framework that is fraught with contradictions and which threatens to put teachers in an untenable situation. On his first day in office, the Governor issued an edict intended to “end use of all inherently divisive concepts.”  In ”The Guiding Principles for Virginia’s 2022 History and Social Science Standards Revisions”, the administration declares that teachers should teach “facts” in “ways that do not ascribe guilt to any population in the classroom.” It wants teachers to “teach all of our history in an objective, fair, empathetic, nonjudgmental” manner. Finally, it directs teachers to facilitate discussions on “difficult” topics “without personal or political bias.” Continue reading

As Election Day Approaches

Polling stations, Robious Elementary School, Chesterfield County. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

For most Virginians, this election season has been fairly quiet. In only three of the 11 Congressional districts has there been anything close to a contested election. Some local offices are on the ballot. Here and there is a bond referendum.

There have been two major election issues in the news that have statewide implications. One was the formation of an Elections Integrity Unit in his office by Attorney General Jason Miyares. In September, Miyares issued a news release boldly announcing the “creation” of what he termed “a new unit” that would help “restore confidence in our democratic process in the Commonwealth.” In the face of criticism, he later backed off the concept of it being something new. In an op-ed piece in The Washington Post he explained, “The Election Integrity Unit is simply a restructuring of lawyers, paralegals, and investigators already employed by my office and working on election matters.” In other words, it was just an office reorganization, similar to what all incoming AGs do. If that is all that it was, one wonders why the move merited a full-blown news release. Continue reading

That Transparency Will Cost You

Robert Barnett, President, Virginia NAACP.   Photo credit: Richmond Free Press

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Attorney General Jason Miyares promised “to increase transparency” in regard to elections. In fact, this was one of the motivations behind the creation of the Election Integrity Unit. However, it seems that this transparency comes with a price.

As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Virginia NAACP filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records related to the establishment of the Election Integrity Unit, its expenditures and activities, and for records of documented cases of election fraud in Virginia. The AG’s office responded that the cost of providing the records requested would be $20,000.

The FOIA statutes authorize an agency to “make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred” a condition of providing the material requested. I do not know what material the NAACP requested nor the basis upon which the AG’s office calculated the cost, but $20,000 seems pretty high. It has been my personal experience that agencies pad these estimates as a way of discouraging requests. The NAACP could have challenged the reasonableness of the cost in court, but that would have taken time. Therefore, the organization paid. Continue reading

What Housing Slowdown?

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

I keep reading and hearing that the housing market has cooled. Well, the folks in my neighborhood have not gotten the message.

About three weeks ago, a house a block and a half from me went on the market. It quickly went under contract. Then, a couple of weeks ago, a “For Sale” sign went up in front of a house near mine. Within two or three days, the owner had five offers, at least two of which were for more than the listing price and one of those was a cash offer. The offer that was ultimately accepted was significantly above the listing price; the buyer was pre-qualified; the offer included no contingencies, not even a home inspection; and, in case the appraisal was less than the amount being offered, the buyer stipulated that he/she would cover a significant amount of any difference.

This house is in good condition, but the final sale price was about the same as that for a larger house also in fine condition down the street that sold last summer when interest rates were about half what they are today.

On my morning walk today, I saw a house on another street with a realtor’s sign denoting it was “Sold”.

My reassessment and tax bill for next year just went up.

Oh, to be a Realtor these days!

Clarification and Additional Information

Jillian Balow, Superintendent of Public Instruction

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In a recent article, I discussed the progress that the Department of Education (DOE) and the Board of Education have made toward fulfilling two of the top educational priorities of the administration—increasing the SOL “cut scores” and revamping the school accreditation process.

In my research for the article, I overlooked, and thus did not report, a presentation made at the Board’s October work session.  The presenter was a senior policy fellow at ExcelinED, a nonprofit organization based in Florida.  Using Florida as an example, she advocated the use of a school accountability system that ranks schools on a scale of A to F.  Only a few states use such a system and doing so in Virginia would entail a radical change from the approach the Commonwealth has used in the past.

It seems that Jillian Balow, Superintendent of Public Instruction, whom I assume has the most influence over what is presented at Board work sessions, is preparing the Board members, especially the new ones, for a major examination, and possible overhaul, of the school accreditation standards and process.  It will not be something that can be done quickly or easily.

The presentation and video of the work session can be found here.

(A Hat Tip to Charles Pyle of the Dept. of Education for bringing this omission to my attention.)

Youngkin’s Get Well Soon Card

“Listen, I want to stop for a minute and — listen — Speaker Pelosi’s husband had a break-in last night in their house and he was assaulted. There’s no room for violence anywhere, but we’re going to send her back to be with him in California. That’s what we’re going to go do,” Youngkin said.

Election’s Over; Time to Govern

Dan Gecker, President, Virginia Board of Education

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

The fall in the NAEP test scores of Virginia fourth-graders is alarming. A decrease itself is not surprising; in fact, it was expected in the wake of the disruption in schools caused by the pandemic. It is the magnitude of the decrease that is surprising and alarming.  That it was the largest decrease in the country is also embarrassing.

Governor Youngkin declared it “catastrophic” and proceeded to blame his predecessors.

It should be pointed out that the Northam administration and the “mainstream media” had begun sounding alarms several years ago. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, much criticized on this blog, declared in 2018 that “Virginia’s failing grade on reading SOLs must not be tolerated.” The administration began to take steps after the release of the 2019 NAEP scores to address the problem.  James Lane, then Superintendent of Public Instruction, expressed his dismay over the widening gap in the reading scores and declared the Department of Education (DOE) would examine the methods used by divisions in which students had scored well with an eye to determining whether those methods could be replicated in other divisions.  He also scheduled a statewide literacy summit in early 2020 in Charlottesville to address the problem. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and whatever was decided at that summit took a back seat to the efforts just to keep schools operating at some level during the crisis.  As the pandemic eased and schools re-opened to in-person instruction, it was recently pointed out on this blog that the Northam administration’s outgoing budget “prioritized reading initiatives for 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders.” Continue reading

Ah, Those Woke Prosecutors!

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Here is a quiz. Below is the description of a crime that was released by the public information office of a Virginia locality. The killer pled guilty to charges of first-degree murder, attempted robbery (2 counts) and use of a firearm (3 counts). The judge sentenced him to 63 years in prison with 33 years suspended, leaving 30 years to serve. As the news release noted, “This was the maximum sentence allowed under the plea agreement.” See if you can guess the jurisdiction and Commonwealth’s attorney that accepted such a plea agreement for a murderer, rather than go to trial.

On the morning of November 29, 2018, the victim, Devin Bell, was alone in his home. Bobby Cason, who was unknown to Bell, knocked on his door. Bell did not open the door but had a strange conversation with Cason, and then noticed that Cason continued to hang around the condominium complex. Bell contacted some friends to come to help him check out the situation.

After Bell’s friends arrived at the complex, Cason ran up to one of them, armed with a handgun with an extended magazine, and demanded the man’s property. The man had nothing but a cup of coffee, so Cason turned toward Bell and said he “needed something.” Bell pulled out his cell phone and told Cason to take it. Cason then pulled a second handgun from his pocket and demanded that Bell take him inside his house. A struggle ensued during which Cason shot Bell. Bell collapsed a short distance away, where he died. Cason fled the scene with both guns. The medical examiner determined that the muzzle of the gun was pressed against Bell’s neck when he was shot.

Cason was linked to the crime through Ring doorbell footage. He was wearing latex gloves at the time. Police found a latex glove near Bell’s body, which was later analyzed by the Department of Forensic Science. Cason’s DNA was found on the glove.

Although no handguns were recovered, police found at Cason’s grandparents’ house a magazine containing bullets of the same type as the shell casing found near Bell’s body. At his grandparents’ and parents’ houses, police also recovered shoes and a latex glove matching Cason’s attire in the Ring doorbell footage. Continue reading

State Treasury Brings In More General Fund Revenues Than Projected

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Some commenters on this blog have expressed serious concern about the choices facing Governor Youngkin this fall in the development of his recommended amendments to the state’s two-year budget. They cite the prospects of recession and the uncertainty created by such prospects. They can rest a little easier for now.

The Secretary of Finance has informed the Governor that the Commonwealth’s first quarter general fund revenues for the current fiscal year are $500 million ahead of projections, or 7.6%. In September alone, after adjusting for timing differences, “total general fund revenues increased 10.7 percent for the month compared to a year ago.” Continue reading