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2019-1-15

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Dual Enrollment Opens Diverse Doors

By Dr. Al Roberts

At the end of the last school year, in addition to their high school diplomas, 741 graduating seniors received credentials from Southside Virginia Community College. Awards included 287 Associate Degrees, 300 Career Study Certificates, and 154 other Certificates documenting the completion of job readiness training. These achievements were made possible through collaborative dual enrollment partnerships with 14 public and private high schools across SVCC’s service region.

Dual enrollment programs offer students an opportunity to get an early start on postsecondary education pursuits. For students in transfer associate degree programs or enrolled in courses designed to satisfy general education requirements at senior institutions, dual enrollment credits can shorten the time required to complete a bachelor’s degree, resulting in tuition cost savings. For students with plans to enter the workforce in technical areas, dual enrollment offers a chance to receive training necessary to pursue more advanced opportunities, enter apprenticeships, and embark on career pathways with family-sustaining earnings.

Standards adopted by the Virginia State Board for Community Colleges safeguard the quality and rigor of college courses offered to high school students. These rules ensure that high school students meet the same academic challenges faced by on-campus college students and that the students be held accountable to the same criteria of achievement. In addition, instructors who teach college-level courses to high school students must hold the same qualifications as instructors who teach older college students.

Brent Richey, Chair of the Mecklenburg County School Board, says “The dual enrollment partnership between Mecklenburg County Schools and Southside Virginia Community College offers our students a wide range of higher education opportunities. Some students will complete a degree, certificate, or industry-recognized certificate that they can use to move immediately into the workforce, while others take their credits with them as they matriculate at a university. It also provides the rigor needed to give Mecklenburg County a talented and well-qualified workforce, which helps us attract new industries to our area.”

Shanley Childress Dorin, a dual enrollment (DE) instructor at Kenston Forest School, says her work with college-bound students equips them for success. “As an instructor I try to prepare my students for college life. Students leave a DE class with college credits and a glimpse into meeting college deadlines, learning various teaching styles, and mastering time management.”

The Commonwealth of Virginia first opened the door to dual enrollment opportunities in 1988. Since that time, course offerings have expanded to provide young adults with multiple pathways to achieve wide-ranging academic goals. SVCC’s most recent Annual Report highlights the diverse successes made possible through collaborative partnerships between the college and regional high schools. For more information about dual enrollment or to view the Annual Report, visit the college’s website at http://southside.edu/parallel-pathways-svcc-annual-report

Dr. Al Roberts is president of Southside Virginia Community College, an institution of higher learning that provides a wide variety of education opportunities to a diverse student population within a service area that spans ten counties and the city of Emporia. He can be reached via email at al.roberts@southside.edu.

Herring Chastises Panel for Rejecting Hate Crime Bill

By Jayla Marie McNeill, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring expressed disappointment Monday after a legislative committee rejected a bill to expand Virginia’s definition of hate crime to include gender, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity.

“The General Assembly has sent a clear message to those who feel vulnerable to hate and mistreatment that they will not take the measures needed to protect them,” Herring stated after the Senate Courts of Justice Committee defeated the bill with a vote 8-6 along party lines, with Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans opposing it.

“The update to Virginia’s hate crimes definition is long overdue and would have offered needed protections for women, the LGBT community and Virginians with disabilities. I am disappointed to see this commonsense bill die in a party line vote. At a time when communities in Virginia and around the country are confronting a rise in hate crimes and hateful rhetoric, the General Assembly has sent a clear message to those who feel vulnerable to hate and mistreatment that they will not take the measures needed to protect them" - Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, Commonwealth of Virginia

Currently, the Code of Virginia refers only to individuals or groups targeted on the basis of race, religion, ethnic background or national origin as being victims of hate crime.

SB 1375, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, sought to expand that definition to include other marginalized groups. Herring called it a “common sense” bill and said he was disheartened that it was defeated on a party-line vote.

The bill would have brought Virginia closer to the federal definition of a hate crime, which includes “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”

Virginia State Police said bias-motivated crimes in the commonwealth rose from 137 in 2016 to 202 the following year.

The statistics for 2017, the most recent year available, include 89 incidents related to race, 44 to religion, 20 to ethnicity, 38 to sexual orientation and 11 to disability.

Virginia’s statistics reflect a larger national trend that shows a rise of hate crimes in the U.S. According to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, 7,175 hate crimes were reported nationwide in 2017. That is an increase of more than 1,000 reports from 2016.

Despite the defeat of the hate crimes bill, Herring remains optimistic about legislation that aims to impede activity by white supremacist militias and similar militant groups.

SB 1210, sponsored by Sens. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, was approved by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee by a 7-6 vote and referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

The measure, which died in committee last year, was first introduced following the “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. During that event, James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into a crowd protesting the rally, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of other counter-demonstrators.

SB 1210 “provides that a person is guilty of unlawful paramilitary activity if such person assembles with another person with the intent of intimidating any person or group of persons by drilling, parading, or marching with any firearm or explosive or incendiary device or any components or combination thereof,” according to a summary by the Legislative Information System.

Such unlawful paramilitary activity would be punishable as a Class 5 felony, under the bill.

“Referring it to the Senate Finance Committee is a step in the right direction,” Herring stated. “It is time for the General Assembly to take action to protect Virginians and make sure that we prevent the kind of paramilitary activity that we saw in Charlottesville from ever happening again.”

Advocates Seek More Access to Medical Marijuana

By Madison Manske, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- As other states have relaxed their laws against marijuana, citizens across Virginia gathered here Saturday to discuss how to persuade the General Assembly to legalize medical and recreational marijuana in the commonwealth.

About 150 people, including health care providers and attorneys, attended the Virginia 2019 Cannabis Conference, held by the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Virginia NORML advocates decriminalizing possession of marijuana and regulating medical and recreational-use production and sales of the substance.

Members of NORML are hopeful after Gov. Ralph Northam voiced support for decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana during his State of the Commonwealth speech on Wednesday, the first day of the General Assembly’s 2019 session.

“We want to keep people safe. But we shouldn’t use valuable law enforcement time, or costly prison space, on laws that don’t enhance public safety,” the governor said in his speech. “Current law imposes a maximum 30 days in jail for a first offense of marijuana possession.”

So far, lawmakers have proposed six bills to decriminalize simple marijuana possession. For example, HB 2371, sponsored by Del. Steve Heretick, D-Portsmouth, and HB 2373, by Del. Lee Carter, D-Prince William, would legalize marijuana for Virginians 21 and older and have the state operate retail marijuana stores. Under such proposals, Virginians under 21 who are caught with marijuana would have to pay a civil penalty.

Most attendees at the conference, held at the Delta by Marriott hotel, seemed particularly interested in medical marijuana and how to access it without traveling to another state.

Lorene Davidson of Richmond works in anesthesia as a nurse practitioner. She came to the conference because of her ongoing struggle with antidepressants, which she found were bad for her liver.

“I’m looking mostly for a way to find out more about getting a medical card and furthering getting that taken care of,” Davidson said.

As a speaker at the event, Melanie Seifert Davis of Richmond shared the story of her 10-year-old daughter Madison, who was diagnosed with ependymoma brain cancer in 2014.

“Although I’m not new to the world of cannabis, I’m brand new to the world of cannabis reform,” Davis said.

Madison is on four different cannabis-based products including CBD, THC, THCA and FECO (full extract cannabis oil) to help with seizures and the cancer itself, Davis said.

“Today and for every tomorrow I’m given, I will fill seven capsules with high doses of four different cannabis medications and watch as Madison swallows each one,” Davis said. “Science, research and experience in my heart all know that it can and will and has helped her.”

At the conference, Davis said the family recently received good news about Madison’s cancer: Four of the five tumors were gone.

“Cannabis is an important and essential part of why she is still here and still her, five years into this battle for her life,” Davis shared. “Cannabis is why she has never, not even once, suffered from the nausea, vomiting or seizures that are expected side effects of her chemo.”

Not only does Davis’ daughter suffer from cancer, but her son, Aiden, has Crohn’s disease. Aiden also uses cannabis to ease the pain of everyday life, Davis said.

“I fight because when I told my son about today, the first thing he said with legitimate fear in his voice was, ‘Mom, you can’t tell them those things. You can’t tell them about Maddie’s medicine. Cannabis is illegal. I need you; you can’t go to jail,’” Davis said.

Madison has been on cannabis products since June 2017. Davis said she gets Madison and Aiden’s cannabis from a licensed doctor in California.

Jenn Michelle Pedini, the executive director for Virginia NORML, said progress had been made in getting the state to expand access to medical cannabis.

According to the Virginia Board of Pharmacy, patients and their legal guardians can register to obtain such products if they have a certification issued by a physician.

“In 2016, we passed a bill that let us go forth and write a regulatory program that was based on Connecticut’s then-program, which was also low-THC, extraction-based products only and served to a small set of patients,” Pedini said.

In 2018, the General Assembly passed a law allowing practitioners to issue certifications for the use of cannabis-based products to alleviate symptoms “of any diagnosed condition or disease determined by the practitioner to benefit from such use.”

The Board of Pharmacy has given approval to pharmaceutical companies to open five dispensaries across the state where CBD and THC-A oils will be sold to authorized patients.

Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, has filed a bill (HB 2245) to double the number of medical cannabis dispensaries.

Hundreds March For Women and Minority Rights in Richmond

By Saffeya Ahmed and Corrine Fizer, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Hundreds of social justice advocates, community members and students marched for women’s rights Saturday in Richmond.

The two-mile reprise of the 2017 Women’s March began at 9 a.m. at the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center as participants holding brightly decorated signs walked toward the intersection of West Broad Street and North Boulevard.

“What do want? Equal rights. When do we want them? Now,” demonstrators chanted in support of both women and minority rights.

Demonstrators made their way back to the Arthur Ashe Center around 10:30 a.m. for an expo where speakers urged reform, marchers danced to empowering music and dozens of vendors sold handmade products and spread awareness about social justice movements.

“I often times get asked … where is this surge of energy from women coming from?” said Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, who spoke at the expo. “I like to tell them, it’s always been in us.”

Carroll Foy sponsored legislation to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment — which prohibits sex-based discrimination — in efforts to make Virginia the 38th and final state necessary to include the ERA in the U.S. Constitution.

“We now know we must have a seat at the table,” Carroll Foy said. “We have to be where the decisions are being made and where the laws are being written.”

After marching to and from the Arthur Ashe Center, participants gathered to hear social justice advocates and elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond.

“Every issue is a woman’s issue,” McClellan said. “We’ve had a long, complicated history. And now we fight and we march today to make sure our voices are heard.”

Spanberger thanked the work of “strong women” who helped send a total of 126 women to Congress during the 2018 midterms.

“For anyone who needs something to show their daughters or young people or anyone else,” Spanberger said, “look at who’s in Congress. Look at what we have happening in Congress.”

Spanberger — who beat Republican Rep. Dave Brat in one of Virginia’s most hotly contested races of the 2018 midterm elections — represents Virginia’s 7th District in the most diverse Congress to step foot in Washington.

“We have women from all over the country,” Spanberger said. “We have our first Muslim women. Our first Native American women in Congress. We have our youngest woman ever in Congress.”

Nearly a quarter of the 116th Congress is made up of women, the most in U.S. history, according to Pew Research.

“I love seeing women in power,” said 11-year-old Natalie Rodriguez, who participated in the march, “because I know that when my grandma was growing up, it wasn’t like that.”

Several speakers also addressed immigrant rights. Some expressed frustration with the now-longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history. The U.S. entered the shutdown Dec. 22, 2018, stemming from a deadlock over President Donald Trump’s $5 billion funding request for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. 
“By shutting down the government, that’s sort of like saying, ‘I’m not going to reopen until you give me my wall,’” said march organizer and local activist Seema Sked. “It’s very childish.”

As a Muslim woman, Sked focuses her advocacy efforts toward fighting Trump’s travel ban, fighting Islamophobia and creating equity for immigrants. She recently traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, to help asylum seekers with the interview process.

“Just to see the conditions that folks are in, and to see the children, and how everyone’s so desperate to find a better life and a safe place,” Sked said, “that’s really, really important to me because I look at that and think that could be me.”

Several marchers supported immigrant rights similar to Sked, holding up signs that read “immigrants are not enemies” and “make America kind again.”

This is the second year that Women’s March RVA has held an event after having been inspired by the National Women’s March held annually in Washington. The march took place a week earlier than the organization’s sister marches, giving Richmond residents the opportunity to partake in one or both events.

The National Women’s March will take place in Washington at 10 a.m. next Saturday.

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