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Government

‘Rush is never worth the risk,’ says mother of daughter struck and killed by truck

October is National Pedestrian Safety Awareness Month. September was Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Month in Virginia. Fatal accidents and injuries involving road users increased last year, according to traffic crash facts from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

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By Darlene Johnson 

October is National Pedestrian Safety Awareness Month. September was Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Month in Virginia. Fatal accidents and injuries involving road users increased last year, according to traffic crash facts from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Cyclist Natalie Rainer was struck in mid-August by a driver who was charged with driving under the influence.

“I have damage to my organs,” Rainer said. “I have a lot of road rash on my skin.”

Rainer was cycling with C. Jonah Holland on a popular bike route in east Henrico County when they were hit. Holland died at the scene and Rainer was badly injured. Her pelvis, ribs and collarbone were broken. Rainer was in the intensive care unit for a week, then placed in the trauma unit for two weeks, she said.

Rainer called the crash a “random occurrence,” where she and Holland were at the “wrong place at the wrong time.”

Jeffrey Brooks, 18, awaits trial on felony involuntary manslaughter and misdemeanor DUI charges.

“One of the scariest things that you can do is operate a car badly, because you put so many people at risk,” Rainer said.

Crashes involving a vehicle increased by 12.2% from 2020-21, according to the DMV’s traffic crash facts. Crashes that involved a vehicle and a pedestrian increased 12.6% in the same time period. The number of pedestrians injured in such crashes increased 11.7%. The number of pedestrian fatalities rose 9.7%.

There was a 100% increase in fatal crashes that involved a cyclist; rising from eight to 16 cyclists killed.

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, became an advocate of safer streets after he cycled cross country and had several close calls, he said. There should be more driver education and awareness, he said, along with improvements to bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. That will help minimize risk to vulnerable road users, he said. For example, roads given high speed limits years ago would need updates to accommodate further developments.

Lack of law enforcement is another big issue, Surovell said. The General Assembly passed the Hands-Free law in 2020, banning cellphone use while driving, but Surovell said he does not see enough enforcement.

Distracted driving crashes increased by over 11% from 2020-21, according to the DMV.

“Put your phone down, take a deep breath,” Surovell said. “Be more attentive, be more courteous. Slow down.”

Rainer echoed that.

“There is no need for speed in our city streets,” she said.

Traffic crashes where speed was a factor increased by 9.5% last year, according to the DMV.

Rainer urged cyclists to be vigilant and wear protective gear, bright colors and have blinking tail lights. She suggested riding where people expect cyclists. Street markings and signs alerting drivers to cyclists would help, she said.

Rainer “will ride a bike again,” she said, although it will take a while before she is physically able. She will likely ease into it by riding with large groups and near home.

“I’ll never stop loving the sport,” Rainer said.

Pedestrian and bicycle safety advocates said there are a host of efforts needed to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries.

More people have been walking and cycling since the pandemic began, according to Doug Allen.

Allen is an avid cyclist and sits on the board of directors for the Virginia Bicycling Federation. Less traffic on roads at the start of the pandemic led to more reckless driving, Allen said. Vehicles are bigger, heavier and faster which is a “bad equation” when there are more reckless drivers and more people sharing the roads.

“People will drive as fast as they feel comfortable driving,” Allen said.

Allen believes infrastructure design should be the primary focus of making streets safer.

“Using enforcement as a hammer to try and make safer streets is not a great idea,” he said. Design changes could help reduce the need for police interaction, and help avoid a potentially “dangerous situation.”

Allen recommended that all road users be aware of their surroundings and limit distractions when traveling. There should be more frequent driver education testing to refresh people and familiarize them with new laws, Allen said. Driver education courses should teach how to interact with pedestrians and cyclists, he said.

October is a hard time of year for Khrystal Bethea-Artis. Her 16-year-old daughter Aajah Rosemond died while walking to the store along Jahnke Road in the early evening in October 2020. Rosemond was killed when two vehicles crashed and one struck her, according to Bethea-Artis.

Bethea-Artis believes her daughter died in part due to bad driver behavior that cannot be unlearned. This includes people speeding, driving under the influence and having road rage, she said.

“The rush is never worth the risk,” Bethea-Artis said.

Surovell hopes learned behavior can be changed.

“It took a while, but we got people to put on seat belts,” he said, as an example.

Bethea-Artis offered testimony earlier this year on behalf of legislation that created stiffer penalties for careless driving that injures or kills a road user. The driver of the vehicle that caused the accident that led to her daughter’s death was only penalized $200 and charged with reckless driving, Bethea-Artis told a legislative subcommittee in January.

Bethea-Artis hopes her advocacy will help ensure other parents do not experience such loss.

“If it’s one voice, it’s like an echo in a hallway,” she said.

If the community works together, she said it could create the change needed to decrease traffic fatalities.

Rosemond’s family will be at the corner of Jahnke and German School roads on Sunday, Oct. 16 from 1-5 p.m. People are encouraged to join and commemorate the loss of their loved ones to traffic fatalities.

“We will not let that day just pass,” Bethea-Artis said.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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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Education

University of Richmond celebrates New Zealand with gumboot throwing, sheep cuddling, and ambassador visit

The annual event celebrating International Education Week this year focuses on our Kiwi friends.

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Richmonders can sample New Zealand cuisine, visit with some sustainably raised sheep, and more at the University of Richmond along with Bede Corry, New Zealand Ambassador to the U.S. next week as the University of Richmond celebrates International Education Week.

The annual program returns at a pre-COVID cadence with events available for the campus and greater community November 14-18. Programming themes for Aotearoa New Zealand Week include the natural world and sustainability, female leadership, indigenous peoples, and sport.

“Aotearoa” is the Maori name for the country.

“This annual tradition has been a valuable way of promoting deeper connection to cultures in the classroom and beyond. UR’s ‘meeting with’ another country during International Education Week emphasizes our commitment to global engagement, dialogue, and cultural exchange,” said International Education Dean Martha Merritt. “Returning to full-scale engagement is exciting as this week provides an opportunity for our campus and greater community to learn together about Aotearoa New Zealand as they return to the world stage after the pandemic.”

This year, scholars and visitors will travel to Richmond from New Zealand and Washington, D.C. to offer their expertise, and faculty have geared their teaching toward intersections with New Zealand. Participants can also participate in a variety of fun and social activities, including attending a Cricket exhibition or trying a BODYPUMP class (the popular fitness class that originated in New Zealand).

Peak programming that is open to the campus and greater community is on Wednesday, Nov. 16, and key events include:

  • Aotearoa New Zealand Fair, 4:30 p.m., Tyler Haynes Commons
    • More than 20 stations will allow attendees to explore a wide variety of community connections to New Zealand, including a business school case study on Allbirds shoes, children’s literature, urban biodiversity, women in STEM fields, and more. Details here.
  • Aotearoa New Zealand Dinner, 6 p.m., Heilman Dining Center
    • Samplings will include lamb chops, Kiwi burger, fish and chips, kumara, and chocolate lamingtons. Full menu here.

Ambassador Corry will be meeting with members of the campus community during a private event.

A full list of events is available here.

Previous years have focused on Chile, India, East Asia, South Africa, and Denmark. Earlier this year, Richmond received the Association of International Education Administrators Innovation Award in Internationalization, recognizing innovative approaches to International Education Week programming during the pandemic.

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