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Government

Community-based doula project launches in Henrico, aiming to provide free support to pregnant women of color

Eligible individuals who apply for the program receive free Doula care through Birth in Color RVA or Urban Baby Beginnings.

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Richmond and Henrico Health Districts have implemented a fund to support Black- or African American-identifying pregnant individuals living in Henrico to access local community-based Doula organizations. Eligible individuals who apply for the program receive free Doula care through Birth in Color RVA or Urban Baby Beginnings. The doula program is made possible by the Greater Richmond Regional Maternal Child Health Taskforce, which is composed of public health, birthing, parenting, and equity experts. The program was launched in March and is funded through a grant sponsored by the Henrico County Office of Emergency Management.

A community-based doula is a trained labor support person who comes from the same culture and background as the person giving birth. As trusted community members, community-based doulas perform home visits, help connect persons giving birth to local social services, and provide a holistic approach focusing on prenatal and postnatal health.

“We are intentional about addressing health disparities for black people… Doulas can help improve the maternal health experience and address health disparities by reducing the impacts of racism and racial bias on pregnant and postpartum people,” explains Kenda Sutton-EL, Full Spectrum Doula Trainer and Executive Director, Birth In Color RVA.

This program seeks to eliminate health disparities and offer an empowering birth experience. Promising evidence indicates doulas lessen the chance of low birth weight and infant/maternal mortality. Working with a doula has also been associated with more spontaneous vaginal births, higher satisfaction with the birth experience, increased breastfeeding initiation, and shorter labor.

“Perinatal community-led programs help address barriers by providing a culturally congruent web of support centered around respectful and quality reproductive care,” explains Stephanie Spencer, Registered Nurse, and Executive Director, Urban Baby Beginnings. “For over 27 years, Urban Baby Beginnings has addressed barriers… We are honored to continue expanding our community-based support programs.”

Interested individuals can learn more about the program by visiting Henrico County’s website or apply using this screening form. Due to limited resources, acceptance into the program is not guaranteed.

The community-based doula fund is just one of the initiatives coming out of the taskforce; the group seeks to improve maternal and infant health outcomes and eliminate disparities through focusing on doula care, family planning, and integrative care models.

“Our partners in this work are knowledgeable, experienced, and committed to serving our communities,” says Whitney Tidwell, Maternal Child Health Nurse Coordinator at Richmond and Henrico Health Districts. “It has been an honor to work with them.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the taskforce can visit the website or email [email protected].

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Government

Virginia hemp panel suggests tougher rules on unregulated THC products

A state task force studying the rise of unregulated cannabis products in Virginia is recommending stricter rules for businesses selling hemp-based delta-8 THC products that technically aren’t marijuana but produce a similar high when eaten or smoked.

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By Graham Moomaw

A state task force studying the rise of unregulated cannabis products in Virginia is recommending stricter rules for businesses selling hemp-based delta-8 THC products that technically aren’t marijuana but produce a similar high when eaten or smoked.

Virginia’s piecemeal approach to legalizing marijuana has led to major enforcement gaps, with convenience stores and smoke shops offering a variety of difficult-to-classify products in the continued absence of state-sanctioned retail marijuana sales for recreational use.

The General Assembly created a task force this year to get a better handle on hemp-derived edibles and inhaled products that, unlike CBD, can get users high, but usually with a milder effect. A lengthy report the task force delivered last month points to possible legislation state lawmakers will take up when they return to Richmond next month.

Businesses that sell delta-8 products, the task force concluded, should have to apply for a permit and face tougher civil penalties for breaking the rules.

“Edible and inhaled hemp products that are consumed much like marijuana products pose a risk to Virginians, most notably to children, when offered for sale without restriction,” the report says. “A retail permit requirement will likely reduce the occurrence of cannabis-related ‘pop up shops.’”

The report doesn’t lay out how steep the fines should be for businesses that violate the rules, but says existing penalties “are not substantial enough to compel compliance.”

The task force is also recommending an overhaul of how the state regulates all types of cannabis, suggesting a more coordinated strategy instead of having the responsibility split among numerous agencies touching on agriculture, pharmacy, forensic science and law enforcement. The 16-person task force was made up of state officials from all those areas and the state’s newly formed Cannabis Control Authority.

For additional clarity, the report suggests measuring a product’s total THC concentration to determine its legality. Many delta-8 products exist in a legal gray area because many of the state’s cannabis laws are based on measurements of delta-9 THC, the traditional intoxicating element more abundant in marijuana than in hemp. State regulators’ official position is that delta-8 THC in in edible or drinkable form is an illegal food adulterant, but it’s unclear how strongly the state is enforcing that interpretation. State regulators’ official position is that delta-8 THC in edible or drinkable form is an illegal food adulterant, but it’s unclear how strongly the state is enforcing that interpretation.

Looking at total THC, the report says, would help the state draw a clearer distinction between how it treats intoxicating versus non-intoxicating products, no matter which plant they come from or how they’re made.

“The debate of whether cannabis should be legalized in the Commonwealth is a question left up to the General Assembly, and one that this task force takes no position on,” Chief Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Parker Slaybaugh, who chaired the task force, wrote in an introduction to the report.

In a more informal suggestion, task force participants suggested rethinking whether stricter rules on packaging, such as a requirement for child-proof containers, should be implemented to prevent minors from accidentally ingesting high doses of THC. Attorney General Jason Miyares has already issued a warning the state could crack down on “copycat” THC products in packaging made to mimic popular candy and snack brands.

The challenge before the state is figuring out a way to exert tighter control over hemp-derived compounds that can be chemically altered to have intoxicating effects, without hurting a hemp industry already given a greenlight to grow the crop for less controversial uses.

According to public comments incorporated into the report, some of the recommendations are likely to face pushback from the hemp and cannabis industries. From the other side, some advocacy groups have pushed the state to go further and consider banning delta-8 products altogether.

The Virginia Catholic Conference pointed to a recent poisoning case in Spotsylvania County, where a mother is facing felony murder and child neglect charges after her 4-year-old son died after eating delta-8 gummies. The mother, Dorothy Clements, told WUSA9 she thought she had bought CBD gummies and didn’t know they contained THC. She and her attorney have said other medical conditions, such as heart problems and obesity, may have played a role in the child’s death.

The Catholic Conference also pointed to an incident in Fairfax County in which multiple middle school students needed medical attention after apparently eating delta-8 gummies.

“These repeated instances of harm to children make it abundantly clear that the Virginia General Assembly should consider banning the sale of delta 8 as has been done by at least 12 states,” wrote Tom Intorcio, associate director of the Catholic Conference.

The U.S. Hemp Roundtable, a national advocacy group for the industry, disagreed, saying intoxicating hemp products should be legal but put under “a stricter regulatory framework akin to adult-use cannabis.”

The Cannabis Business Association of Virginia, or CannaBizVA, said it opposes changing how the state measures THC content, because it would move Virginia away from the common legal standard of using delta-9 THC levels to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.

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Government

45-day election season went smoothly, Virginia registrar says

The longer election period has appeared to be popular among voters, according to Keith Balmer, director of elections for City of Richmond. However, turnout in Richmond seems to have dropped compared to the 2018 midterm elections, he said.

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By Cassandra Loper

Virginia voters now have a lengthened, 45-day election period to vote in person or by mail via absentee ballot. The state also offers same-day voter registration now, having scrapped the traditional cut-off date of about three weeks before the election.

The longer election period has appeared to be popular among voters, according to Keith Balmer, director of elections for City of Richmond. However, turnout in Richmond seems to have dropped compared to the 2018 midterm elections, he said.

“The turnout was over 50%,” he said. “Four years later the turnout for this election looks like it’s going to be about 41, maybe 42%.”

Voter turnout statewide this election is projected to be around 48%, according to the Washington Post. Over 972,000 people voted early, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, or VPAP. Almost 70% of those votes were cast in person.

The midterm elections went smoothly around the state, other than a few hiccups, according to an election night update from Susan Beals, the commissioner of the Department of Elections. There were no specific reports of voter harassment or intimidation at the polls, according to the Virginia Mercury.

There has not been a need to increase the number of election officers in Richmond in response to the longer election season, according to Balmer. There are less election officers needed during midterm elections compared to presidential elections, he said, and even less needed during early voting because the lines aren’t as long.

Richmond had approximately 700 election officers for the midterm elections, according to Balmer. About 10 officers on average are deployed throughout each of the district’s 72 precincts, he said.

“It’s like having an election precinct, but for 45 days,” he said. “So it requires more resources as far as staffing to make sure everybody can cast a ballot.”

Election officers have many positions to fulfill, including being a greeter, poll book officer, ballot officer, voting equipment and booth officer, chief officer, assistant chief officer and electoral board, according to the Virginia Department of Elections website.

Evelyn Davis has been an election officer for 20 years, and she was previously chief of elections in her Richmond precinct, she said. Davis started working behind the scenes at the Central Absentee Precinct, or CAP, four years ago.

CAP functions as one precinct that handles all absentee ballots, whether done by mail or in person.

“I have learned quite a bit about politics, which at first I had no interest in,” Davis said.

Early voting and Election Day went smoothly for the midterm elections, according to Davis. Davis hopes to return to the normal precincts eventually, because she’s a people person, she said.

“To see the people just coming out like they did to vote,” Davis said, referring to her favorite part of being an election officer.

Election officers play an important role in getting voters to come back for each election, according to Davis.

“They work year round here,” Davis said.

Davis said her respect has grown substantially for those that work at the Office of Elections, after seeing the work they do to prepare officers.

“You get to see the hard work they put in,” said Katherin Cardozo, communications director for Richmond’s Office of Elections. She is a recent Virginia Commonwealth University graduate with a double major in Criminal Justice and Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. This was her first time working the election season, she said.

“Now they kind of make more time out of their daily lives to work for that early voting period,” Cardozo said.

The Department of Justice created a task force last year to address increasing hostility toward election workers, namely in states with close elections. The Election Threats Task Force reviewed over 1,000 contacts reported as harassing or hostile, according to an August DOJ update. Virginia was not 1 of 7 states that experienced the majority of potentially criminal threats.

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Downtown

Missing context, political bias: Some of critics’ objections to Virginia’s new history standards

A number of groups are questioning new history and social science standards proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration ahead of a Board of Education meeting to begin reviewing them Thursday.

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A number of groups are questioning new history and social science standards proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration ahead of a Board of Education meeting to begin reviewing them Thursday.

Critics from diverse communities and lawmakers, most recently in a Nov. 15 letter to the governor and school officials, argue the new standards are missing influential figures and events and voice concern about what they say is a lack of transparency regarding who authored the changes.

The standards will set Virginia’s expectations for student learning in history and social science, which are assessed through the Standards of Learning tests. The Board of Education delayed its first review after Superintendent Jillian Balow requested additional time to correct errors, reorder guidance and allow additional experts to weigh in on the draft.

“Continued review and edits to the standards over the past several months have strengthened the content at each grade level,” wrote Balow in a Nov. 10 letter to the Board of Education. “The edits honor the work done previously by Virginians, and national and state experts.”

Balow also said in her letter that draft curriculum frameworks, which are guides for teachers, will be published later.

However, critics in the Nov. 15 letter said the curriculum frameworks missing from the standards make it “impossible for anybody to effectively evaluate the draft as a whole.”

Among the letter’s signatories are 10 Democratic lawmakers and groups including the Virginia Education Association, the nonprofit Hamkae Center, which describes itself as organizing “Asian Americans to achieve social, economic, and racial justice in Virginia,” the Fairfax County NAACP and the Sikh Coalition. The Virginia Education Association referred inquiries to the Hamkae Center.

They also questioned the number of “problematic content changes that fail to reflect the concerns of our diverse communities” and the involvement of groups such as the Michigan based-Hillsdale College in the review of the standards.

Balow said last month that representatives from other colleges expressed interest in commenting on the draft standards after VPM reported that she was working with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative educational think tank, to develop the standards.

Here are a few objections to the proposed new standards that educational and other groups have raised.

Missing context

Critics say parts of the new standards lack proper context.

For example, while the standards replace the term “Indian” with “Indigenous people” and require students to study aspects of the groups, they do not mention that Indigenous People’s Day replaced Columbus Day in 1992 because Indigenous people view Christopher Columbus as a colonizer rather than a discoverer.

Additionally, the standards recognize the development of slavery in colonial Virginia but lack an emphasis on the slave trade and tobacco plantations, critics say.

“Nazis” and “The Final Solution,” which are necessary to understand the Holocaust, are also missing from the standards.

“Content is crucial for understanding the Holocaust and other genocides,” said Gail Flax, a retired educator. “You have to know what happened before and what happened afterward to be able to analyze and contextualize history.”

Narrative

With the removal of historical figures and events, critics have questioned the narrative of history the administration is conveying to students.

Zowee Aquino of the Hamkae Center said the revisions reflect “pretty explicit political bias.” She said the standards also have a Eurocentric theme that focuses on European or Anglo-American ideas and disregards the contributions of ethnic minorities in white countries.

For example, the name of Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights activist, was removed from the elementary school standards. King’s name first appears in the sixth grade standards.

Aquino said there’s no mention of Juneteenth, the Chinese Exclusion Act or Martin Luther King Jr. Day in any of the standards. China and the African civilization of Mali, which have been part of the standards for world culture studies, have also been removed from third grade standards.

The standards also do not include any mention of tribal sovereignty.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said in a letter to the Board of Education that the revised draft deletes “major components of our history and deliberately omits the diverse perspectives that shape our commonwealth and our nation.”

For example, she wrote that the draft omits any discussion of the history or modern-day culture of the Latino community, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders or the LGBTQ community.

“These decisions would mean that hundreds of thousands of Virginia children would not have the opportunity to learn about their community’s contributions to the fabric and history of our nation,” McClellan wrote. “And, all Virginia students would lack a fuller understanding of our country’s history.”

Rejected recommendations

The inclusion of King, the national holiday for the civil rights leader and Juneteenth marking the day when all enslaved Africans became free were several edits recommended by the Virginia Commission on African American History Education, but excluded or generalized in the redraft.

The list of edits excluded include the mention of John Mercer Langston, the first African American congressman from Virginia. The commission’s recommendation that the standards include the phrase that “not everyone was considered a citizen when our country began, and for a long time after that, even until today” was also excluded.

Mention of Indigenous people and their culture being affected by white European colonization was also excluded from the standards, as was the phrase “the Virginia Colony’s economy was greatly dependent upon temporary and permanent servitude.”

Historical errors and inaccuracies

Critics also say the proposed standards have historical errors and inaccuracies.

Specifically, students starting in the fourth grade are required to explain the reasons for the relocation of Virginia’s capital from Jamestown to Williamsburg as part of the Revolutionary War. However, an email from the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium Monday said “this makes absolutely no sense” given Virginia’s capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond to provide greater protection against British attack.

Additionally, the group says the standards erroneously convey that Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848, was the most recent president from Virginia instead of Woodrow Wilson, who was elected in 1912.

The standards do not explicitly say which president was most recent. The document only states that students starting in the fourth grade will be required to explain the growth of a new America with an emphasis on the role of Virginians by explaining Virginia’s prominence in national leadership, emphasizing its eight presidents from Thomas Jefferson to Zachary Taylor.

“The previous version of the proposed standards did not contain egregious historical errors such as this because they were developed by a team of educators, division leaders and historians,” the consortium wrote.

Age appropriateness

Aquino also questioned whether the revisions are age appropriate.

For example, first and third graders must learn about the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient law text, and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, under the proposed history standards. She said the history is “pretty dense and intense” and includes details about capital punishment.

However, Charles Pyle, a spokesman with the Virginia Department of Education, said under the standards, first graders will learn where the first civilizations began and third graders will learn about democracy. He said Aurelius is part of a list of suggested examples of mythical and historical figures students could encounter as they “hear, read, and retell stories.”

Open access

With the focus on the amount of work demanded of teachers due to the workforce shortage, critics question a sentence in the preface of the history standards that states teachers should provide all of their instructional materials to parents.

Under the Board of Education’s current regulations, parents have the right to inspect instructional materials used as part of the educational curriculum for students.

Aquino said many reports link teacher burnout with increased work demands and argued another mandate does not help support students.

“It’s a huge task that the new administration is asking them to take on that doesn’t improve instruction,” Aquino said.

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