Author Archives: Robin Beres

RVA 5×5: State of The City – What The People Think

by Jon Baliles

There is a little-known part of Richmond’s City Code that requires the City Auditor to produce a “Services, Efforts, and Accomplishments” (SEA) Report by conducting a thorough poll/survey of Richmond residents to see what they think about the level of service and performance and deliverability of City government. In other words, it’s the poll that every politician fears more than anything because they can’t B.S. their way past the peoples’ opinions of what they see and experience every day.

Doug Wilder used to say (and still does), “The people are always ahead of the politicians,” and that is never more accurate than with the SEA report presented by the Auditor in February 2022. It received virtually zero attention, but that’s usually what happens with bad news. You try and bury it, label it fake news, or quickly move on to something else.

SEA reports include questions like: Are you satisfied with the overall direction of the City? What is your opinion of the value of services for the taxes paid to Richmond? Does the City do a good job informing residents about issues facing the community? Is the City open and transparent with the public?

The reason this 2022 report is relevant 11 months after it was issued is that tonight, Mayor Levar Stoney will deliver his penultimate State of the City speech that will undoubtedly be an upbeat recitation of his accomplishments and how great the City is doing — in his eyes. His office put out this four-minute video a few weeks ago to tee-up the talking points and set the stage for his speech (and perhaps his next campaign). Continue reading

Virginia Dems Refuse To Support Female Athletes

by Kerry Dougherty

I’m old.

Old enough to remember when there were sane members of Virginia’s Democrat Party.

They’ve apparently died or left the building and the party is under the complete control of woke loons. Like Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, the former Speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, who recently pretended not to understand why the Old Dominion needs a law prohibiting transgendered athletes from competing in female sports.

(Frankly, I have no problem with trans-men competing against males. Let ‘em try. Truth is, females are smaller and don’t have the strength of men and no amount of hormones and body hair will give them an unfair competitive advantage over biological males.)

Referring to HB1387, a bill introduced by Del. Karen Greenhalgh of Virginia Beach that would require athletes to compete in sports that comply with their biological gender, Filler-Corn voted against the bill and called it “mean-spirited,” sneering: “We have had transgender youth living in the commonwealth, and there has been no takeover of women’s sports,” she said. “I just don’t understand why this conversation continues.” Continue reading

Virginia’s Educational Objectives?

by Matthew Hurt

If one were to ask Virginians whether we wish to have the best educational system in the country, the answer would be a resounding “Yes!” However, if “What does that look like?” were to be the follow-up question, we would get quite a wide variety of answers. It appears that we have not gained consensus on this question, even among the key decision-making bodies in the state. If we don’t have a commonly held definition of what constitutes successful schooling, how can we ever accomplish that goal?

During my leadership journey I have learned a number of important lessons that are critical to the success of any organization. First, the organization must identify desired outcomes and ensure those outcomes are measurable. Second, progress toward those outcomes must be monitored regularly. Third, if acceptable progress is not realized, impediments to that progress must be identified and mitigated. Fourth, the organization must maintain a disciplined focus on the desired outcomes and not be lured into investing in extraneous initiatives. Fifth, if not everyone in the organization is lined up and pulling in the same direction, the organization will not be able to achieve the desired outcomes — therefore it is imperative to get a critical mass of folks on board.

Recently the Board of Education has been entertaining different ideas of how to update our state accountability system. Renewed focus has been placed on this due to declining proficiency on state Standards of Learning assessments (even prior to the pandemic) and significant declines in Reading 4 and Math 4 results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests relative to other states. It seems pretty clear that most constituents are not satisfied with the current accountability provisions, and they have not yielded success for our students. Continue reading

RVA 5×5: Annual Crime Briefing Numbers

by Jon Baliles

The Richmond Police Department held its annual crime review briefing this week and the numbers were positive on the surface, a little mixed in total, and almost miraculous considering the force has more than 150 vacancies.

Mark Bowes writes in the Times-Dispatch that “The good news for the city of Richmond from a crime perspective last year was a 37% drop in homicides (from 90 to 57) and a 17% reduction in robberies of persons.” The numbers of reported rapes, aggravated assaults and commercial robberies rose in 2022 over the preceding year, but overall violent crime was flat, [Acting Police Chief Rick Edwards] said, dropping about 1% from 1,099 reported offenses to 1,087.

However, a more disturbing trend was the 33 incidents of shootings with more than one victim (80 people total in 33 shootings – recall the one shooting last summer on Broad Street with six shooting victims). That was up from 31 multiple shootings in 2021 with 68 victims. Also, the number of non-fatal shootings increased from 244 in 2021 to 256 last year.

“The numbers would have been even higher,” Edwards said, if not for police initiatives during the final quarter of the year that reduced by 12% the number of shootings during that three month period. They dropped from 69 to 61. “We were on track to have a much higher increase in non-fatal shootings,’ the chief said.”
Continue reading

Fairfax County Officials Pay Big Bucks to Another Controversial Author

by Asra Q. Nomani

Fairfax County Public Library officials are paying controversial writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of The 1619 Project, $35,350 for a one-hour lecture on Feb. 19 at the McLean Community Center, with a price tag that amounts to $589 per minute, according to a copy of the contract obtained by the Fairfax County Times.

Fairfax County Public Library, a county government agency, is paying $29,350 of the  total fee and the McLean Community Center is paying $6,000, according to Jessica Hudson, library director.

Local taxpayers are raising issues with the expenditure, coupled with the $22,500 that the Fairfax County Library paid for divisive author Ibram X. Kendi for a 60-minute virtual discussion last month. The combined amount to both speakers comes to $57,850, or about the annual starting salary of $54,421 for a librarian in Fairfax County. This past August, library officials announced they were curtailing operating hours because of “ongoing staff recruitment challenges.”

“By my estimates, the Fairfax County Public Library is using over $60,000 in taxpayer funds to host Ibram Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones as speakers,” said William Denk, a local resident who first alerted the Fairfax County Times to the bill, after discovering the fee. “I would like to see the Board of Supervisors reach out to Kendi and Hannah-Jones to ask that they return these funds to Fairfax County to help our local homeless population.” Continue reading

Virginia Senate Committee Passes Second Look Bill

by Hans Bader

Do all inmates deserve a chance for release? Even a serial killer, or a serial rapist who has been locked up and released before?

They may soon have that chance in Virginia. In the state Senate, the Judiciary Committee has just approved the Second Look bill, SB 842. It would allow offenders of all kinds to file petitions for release or modification of their sentences after they’ve served 15 years. Judges wouldn’t have to grant the petitions, but they could if they think an inmate has mended his ways.

Under the bill, an inmate could be released despite any “combination of any convictions” such as being convicted of both murders and rapes. The bill was approved in an 8-to-6 vote largely along party lines, over conservative opposition.

Supporters of the bill argue that “everyone deserves a second chance.” But to critics, the bill goes beyond giving offenders a second chance, because it gives even the most persistent re-offenders the opportunity to seek release — people who already had and squandered a “second chance.” As an objector noted, “most inmates doing more than 15 years have already had their second, third, fourth, and fifth chances — the typical released state prison inmate has five prior convictions, according to Rafael Mangual, who studies the criminal-justice system at the Manhattan Institute.” Continue reading

Graduates. And Not.

by John Butcher

The U.S. Department of Education requires every state to annually report high school graduation rates. Those data, along with students’ performances on state assessments in subjects such as mathematics, English, and science, along with other measures, are also used to determine annual accreditation ratings.

The VDOE’s website includes the Superintendent’s Annual Report where one can find a wealth of information at the state, division, and school levels.

At first glance, the spreadsheet in Table 5, Diploma Graduates and Completers, looks to be a source of interesting graduation data. The 2022 report gives the diploma counts for 2022 and the fall memberships for 2019. However, calculating the federal diploma rates from those data shows a 203.6% rate for Radford and 151.8% for Hopewell.
Continue reading

Naming Commission is Stripping History

by Donald Smith

The week of January 16, 2023, was a big one for Virginia heritage issues in the Richmond area. Connor Williams, the chief historian for the Congressional Naming Commission (CNC) came to the American Civil War Museum to explain and defend the commission’s sweeping recommendations toward, and its disparagement of, Confederate memories on Department of Defense installations.

That week also saw the announcement that the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond would be renamed as part of a campaign to strip “racist history from military facilities,” according to a story in the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.

In the article, Sen. Mark Warner (D), a former governor of Virginia, praised the renaming. “Naming decisions should honor the patriotism of our veterans,” he said.

So, by highlighting that particular part of Warner’s statement, the Stars and Stripes apparently thinks that, in Mark Warner’s eyes, Dr. Hunter Holmes McGuire and the Virginia soldiers he treated during the Civil War were neither patriots nor veterans.

It is time for the General Assembly to act. The GA needs to convene a hearing to explore the CNC’s recommendations and let the CNC justify them. Continue reading

Chilling Revelations In The Saga Of The 6-Year-Old Teacher Shooter

by Kerry Dougherty

Excuse my language, but what the hell is going on at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News?

On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that school administrators there have downplayed threats of violence, apparently ignoring pleas for help from frightened teachers.

One account claims that the same boy who shot and nearly killed his teacher two weeks ago threatened another teacher saying he wanted to set her on fire and watch her burn.

The Post story is crammed with horrifying accounts of violent outbursts by an out-of-control child allegedly terrorizing his fellow students and teachers.

If true, there needs to be a wholesale shake-up in that school and this bleeding heart nonsense needs to STOP.

School officials must explain why they allow students who have threatened violence against teachers to remain in the classroom. Then they need to tell us why THEY deserve to keep their jobs.

Here’s a question for Richneck school leaders: Is there anything they WON’T tolerate at that dysfunctional elementary school, where a substitute teacher told The Post that the kids were so frightening that after one day she refused to go back to that particular school?
Continue reading

Return to Bull Run: Pumping the Brakes on Data Center Construction

by James Wyatt Whitehead, V

Conflict rages yet again on the site of two major Civil War Battles, Manassas National Battlefield Park, in Prince William County, Virginia. This is nothing new to Northern Virginia residents who can recall the rally cry of “Save the Battlefield.” In 1988, developers fought and lost the battle to build a 1.2 million square-foot mall on property essential to the core of Manassas Battlefield. In 1993, the Walt Disney Company proposed building a 3,000-acre history theme park in nearby Haymarket, Virginia. Preservationists effectively stonewalled the idea and Disney retreated in fear of losing a coveted positive public image.

The Battle of Manassas rages yet again in 2023. This time the antagonist is the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. In November 2022, the board approved on a 5-2 vote a change in zoning rules that would permit the construction of data centers. The property in question is adjacent to the western border of the battlefield. The current plan for the Prince William Digital Gateway encompasses 2,139 acres of land.
Continue reading

RVA 5×5: Redefining 100 Percent Compliance

by Jon Baliles

The recent stories from the City Jail have been anything but good — inmates dying far too often, staffing shortages leading to dangerous work conditions,  deputies quitting, and the lack of leadership that can’t fill the vacancies while conducting lie detector tests on some of the staff that remain.

Tyler Layne at CBS6 reports: “In December 2022, Richmond Councilperson Reva Trammell sent a formal letter to the Board of Local and Regional Jails requesting an investigation into the facility for compliance with state regulations. Several of Trammell’s colleagues on Richmond City Council said they supported her efforts.”

Few people beyond Trammell sounded much of an alarm about the jail until recently, when it became far too obvious that something needs to be done. Families, advocates, and elected officials have finally started raising the volume in recent weeks.

Layne went to the meeting of The Board of Local and Regional Jails (a state board charged to oversee, regulate, and investigate facilities across Virginia) to try and get some answers as to what, if anything, the state is doing. At the meeting, the board discussed ten different cases but found no violations (each case’s location were not revealed), but Layne was told after the meeting that Richmond was not one of the ten cases discussed.

Board Chairman Vernie Francis, Jr. told Layne “We’ll handle all the investigations of any facility the same way, through the process, treat every facility the exact same way.”

Francis told Layne that once an investigation is concluded and reported back to the Board, the facility must develop a corrective action plan if violations are discovered; the action plan can be approved or rejected by the Board.

CBS6 submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the board’s recent email communications related to Richmond’s jail. Ryan McCord, the Board of Local and Regional Jails executive director wrote Layne that “the board withheld 50 records, citing a FOIA exemption that applies to information about imprisoned people. The board withheld an additional 75 records, citing an exemption that applies to working papers of the Governor’s Office.”
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Free at Last

by Jim McCarthy

Compulsory K-12 education under state law is a fact often taken for granted since its enactment in 1908 in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 1984, the state authorized homeschooling initiated by an earlier Supreme Court decision in 1972 (Wisconsin v Yoder), providing for a religious exemption from compulsory attendance in public schools.

At present, some 56,000 youth are homeschooled in Virginia. Enhanced empowerment of parents was a principal plank in Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s campaign for the statehouse and continues to be extolled even as he travels around the country in support of GOP candidates. The newly elected Speaker of the House of Delegates, Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock), enthusiastically proclaimed upon his elevation, “We’re all about empowering parents.”

Under current regulations, homeschooling is authorized where parents demonstrate the following:

1. Possession of a valid high school diploma (or a higher degree, such as can be obtained through a university), which must be submitted to the district’s superintendent (a GED does not fulfill this requirement); or,
2. A valid teacher’s certificate as approved by the state; or,
3. Provide a distance or correspondence curriculum approved by the Superintendent of Public Instruction; or,
4. Provide evidence that they, as the teaching parent, can meet the Virginia Standards of Learning objectives.

Perhaps, under the excitement of the leadership of Youngkin and Gilbert, a newly woke conservative effort is emerging designed further to shed or minimize state control in this area. Del. John McGuire (R-Louisa) introduced House Bill 1454 to eliminate the existing qualifications for homeschool proctors. Evidence of student academic progress remains a requisite at the end of the school year and may be based upon a standardized test on a nationally recognized examination, or an evaluation by a licensed educator, or a report from a distance-learning vendor. Continue reading

School Discipline, Part III: Reframing Discipline in Virginia and Considerations for Making New Policy

by Matthew Hurt and Kathleen Smith

Reframing School Discipline

The Student Behavior and Administrative Response (SBAR) data collection was implemented in response to reframing school discipline from that of criminal, punishment, and exclusionary practices from 1991-2020 to that of restorative, intervention, and inclusionary practices in 2021 and beyond. The SBAR reports on behaviors that impede academic progress, behaviors related to school operations, relationship behaviors, behaviors that present a safety concern, behaviors that endanger self or others, and behaviors identified as persistently dangerous.

The SBAR records responses to discipline such as class removals, suspensions, expulsions with or without instructional services, and loss of privileges; behavioral interventions such as parents contacts, referrals, restorative practices; and instructional supports such as changes in placement, virtual programs, and support with and without face-to-face teacher contact.

The collection will always have inherent problems. Some data are clear: suspension or expulsion. Some data are not clear: support with or without face-to-face teacher contact. What if that contact was made by an administrator? Would removal for the last five minutes of class period be considered a removal? The reporting individual could inadvertently make the data very unreliable.

A cursory literature review demonstrated that “reframing discipline” occurred not only in Virginia, but throughout most educational institutions and juvenile justice organizations. Tight discipline policies in the late 1990s and early 2000s were replaced by less rigid or loose policies as early as 2010. After expulsions and suspensions catapulted, deterrent policies that used police, cameras, metal detectors, and locker searches were replaced by progressive policies that allow for a continuum of responses, prevention, intervention, supports, and consequences that foster positive behaviors.

Unintended Consequences of Both Tight and Loose Policies

Tight discipline policies do not allow for mitigation. The teacher uses minimal discretion for enforcement of rules. Breaking a rule, no matter the circumstance, is followed by a prescribed consequence. Loose discipline policies allow for more teacher and principal latitude over managing students. Loose discipline policies allow them to navigate the circumstance and use their professional judgment and expertise to decide on how much or how little  consequence should be received.

Our efforts to address disproportionality through looser policies that allow more educator discretion and at the same time provide better reporting and hold schools accountable may have inadvertently caused additional problems. Continue reading

Leave Arlington’s Confederate Memorial Intact

Cherry trees bloom in Jackson Circle around the Confederate Monument in Section 16 of Arlington National Cemetery, April 7, 2015, in Arlington, Va. The Confederate Monument was unveiled June 4, 1914, according to the ANC website. (Arlington National Cemetery photo by Rachel Larue)

by Phil Leigh

Arlington National Cemetery’s Confederate Memorial should remain intact. Although four of the first seven cotton states arguably seceded from the union over slavery, they did not cause the Civil War. They had no purpose to overthrow the federal government. After forming the seven state Confederacy in February 1861, they promptly sent commissioners to Washington to “preserve the most friendly relations” with the truncated Union. Instead of letting the cotton states depart in peace, the North’s resolve to force them back into the Union caused the war.

With half of the military-aged white men of the eventual 11-state Confederacy, the four states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas only joined the original seven after President Lincoln called upon them to provide volunteers to force the first seven back into the Union. In response to a telegram from Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton directing that Virginia provide her quota of such volunteers, Governor John Letcher replied that his state would not comply and concluded: “You have chosen to inaugurate Civil War….”

On the eve of the war, Northerners and Southerners differed on their relative loyalties to the federal and state governments. According to historians Edward Channing and Eva Moore, Northerners had

the general opinion that the Union was sovereign, and the states were part of it…. The idea that the people of the United States formed one nation had been reinforced by the coming of immigrants from abroad. These people had no conception of a ‘state’ or a sentimental attachment to a ‘state.’ They had come to America to better their condition….

By mostly settling in the North, they reinforced the Northerners’ belief that they owed their loyalty to the Union first and only secondarily to the state. Continue reading

The Naming Commission’s Diktats

by Donald Smith

The Congressional Naming Commission (CNC) was authorized as part of the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act. Its eight commissioners included two retired Army generals, a retired Navy admiral and a retired Marine Corps general. It also had academics with imposing credentials. One commissioner is a professor emeritus at United States Military Academy West Point and another is a senior official at the American Enterprise Institute. The commission’s chief historian, Connor Williams, took a leave of absence from his faculty position at Yale to serve on the CNC. The CNC even had an elected federal official — Austin Scott, a Republican congressman from Georgia.

The CNC recommended — among many, many other things — that all active U.S. Army bases named for Confederate generals be renamed. And, in the Preface to Part 1 of its report, it appears to pick a fight.

This is how the CNC report’s Preface characterizes monuments erected to Confederates and the Confederacy in the years following the Civil War:

Most importantly, during the end of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth century, the South and much of the nation came to live under a mistaken understanding of the Civil War known as the “Lost Cause.” As part of the “Lost Cause,” across the nation, champions of that memory built monuments to Confederate leaders and to the Confederacy, including on many Department of Defense assets. In every instance and every aspect, these names and memorials have far more to do with the culture under which they were named than they have with any historical acts actually committed by their namesakes. (Preface, page 3).

The obvious implication of this statement goes well beyond changing some base names. The commissioners presume to pass judgment on (a) what these names and memorials meant to everyone and (b) what the “real” motivations for those statues were. Think about that. Continue reading