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2019-1-30

Panel OKs Rules for Using ‘Dangerous’ Room Dividers at Schools

By Saffeya Ahmed, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — On an afternoon last spring, Wesley Lipicky, a third-grader at Franconia Elementary School in Fairfax County, was helping his teacher in the gymnasium when he became caught between a motorized room partition and a gym wall. The 9-year-old boy suffered traumatic head injuries and died that night.

On Monday, a legislative subcommittee unanimously approved a bill calling for additional safety measures on using mechanized room dividers in public schools in hopes of preventing similar accidents in the future.

“Children’s lives are precious, and we as a society must do everything in our power to protect them,” said Kathy Cole, who runs a business that specializes in gymnasium equipment for schools. “These tragic situations can and must be prevented.”

House Bill 1753 would require schools across the commonwealth to take precautions when using motorized room partitions. These mechanisms, also called electronic partitions or doors, are used in schools to divide rooms into smaller spaces. They are heavier and larger than garage doors and most commonly used in school gymnasiums.

Sponsored by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, HB 1753 would give public schools that use motorized room partitions one of two options:

  • Install safety sensors that automatically stop the partition if a body passes between the partition and the edge of the wall

  • Or operate the partition only when there are no students in the building

Wesley’s death prompted Sickles to sponsor the legislation.

“These dangerous dividers that are in a lot of our schools,” Sickles said, “need to have technology applied to them that will prevent this kind of thing from occurring.”

A subcommittee of the House Education Committee voted 8-0 in favor of the bill. It now goes to the full committee and then to the House of Delegates for consideration.  

Putting safety sensors on a motorized room partition could cost $3,000 to $6,000, Sickles estimated. He said such sensors would be a useful investment for partitions that must be used multiple times a day, such as in the gymnasium.

Mindful of the costs, the subcommittee suggested that schools have the option of using the partitions only when students aren’t around.

The legislation also would require annual training for school employees on operating the room dividers.

Wesley’s death on May 18 is not the sole case of a student or teacher killed by an electronic partition.

“Unfortunately, this kind of thing has happened before,” Sickles said, citing deaths in 1973, 1991 and 2001, as well as several injuries caused by partitions.

New York is the only state that requires safety devices on motorized room partitions and training for school staff to operate the doors. That state passed its law after two deaths caused by electronic partitions.

“History has taught us that these accidents happen more frequently than most people realize,” Cole said. “No parent should have to lose his or her beautiful son or daughter due to this safety error ever again.”

Northern Virginia Road Projects Get $1 Billion Investment

By Owen FitzGerald, Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Virginia and private partner Transurban will invest over $1 billion in four transportation projects in Northern Virginia andFredericksburg, state officials announced Tuesday. The projects are designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve connectivity on Interstates 495 and 95.

“Creating opportunity for all Virginians no matter who they are or where they live depends on having a safe, reliable transportation network,” Gov. Ralph Northam said. “People need good transportation — be it road, transit or other options — to get to work and businesses need it to move goods.”

Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine said the projects include a two-and-a-half mile extension of the express lanes of I-495 north to the American Legion Bridge and the Maryland border. The Capital Beltway Express Lanes Northern Extensions, or Project NEXT, will require no public funding from the state, Valentine said.

She said the project will address one of the “worst bottlenecks in the region” and reduce cut-through traffic in nearby McLean neighborhoods.

Valentine, who oversees the Virginia Department of Transportation, said Project NEXT will connect Virginia to Maryland by creating direct access to the American Legion Bridge, the George Washington Parkway and the Dulles Toll Road.

Officials also announced a new auxiliary lane that would seek to reduce bottleneck traffic on the Occoquan Bridge.

“The I-95 bottleneck at the Occoquan Bridge has been a source of personal frustration and time stuck in traffic—valuable time that could be spent with family,” said Sen. Jeremy McPike of Prince William County. “With funding now in place, VDOT will begin the design and construction that our community has sought for years.”

The Occoquan Auxiliary Lane will connect the southbound Route 123 ramp onto I-95 with the westbound off-ramp of Prince William Parkway.

Also announced was the addition of a new reversible ramp that would improve access Potomac Mills and Sentara Virginia Medical Center. The ramp would connect existing I-95 express lanes directly to Opitz Boulevard where the facility is located.

Lastly, a plan was finalized to extend the I-95 express lanes in Fredericksburg — a 10-mile extension expected to increase the highway’s capacity by 66 percent during peak hours. The Fredericksburg Extension Project, or Fred Ex, was initially announced in January 2018. Construction will begin later this year and is expected to be finished by the fall of 2022.

Transurban President Jennifer Aument spoke about her company’s long history working with Virginia to solve “major transportation challenges.”

“With expanded capacity and new connections to commuter routes and commercial centers,” Aument said, “we are committed to delivering transportation solutions that keep travelers moving faster and safer throughout Northern Virginia.”

ERA Supporters to Protest Daily After Resolutions Killed in Va.

 

By Kaytlin Nickens, Capital News Service

 

RICHMOND — Women’s rights advocates started a daily protest Tuesday at the Capitol, urging Republican legislators to change their minds and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Inside the Capitol, members of the group VA Ratify ERA began their protest by standing “silent sentinel.” The organizers said they will do this daily starting at 10:45 a.m.

A leader of VA Ratify ERA, Kati Hornung, said all is not lost despite resolutions to ratify the ERA having been killed.

The women’s rights advocacy group adopted Friday the plan to hold a daily protest, after the House Privileges and Elections Committee followed  the subcommittee recommendation to kill resolutions to ratify the ERA. The proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution would guarantee equal rights regardless of sex. 

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy,  D-Prince William, said Virginia must continue efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, even if that means getting new legislators in office. “If we can’t change their minds, we will change their seats,” Carroll Foy said.

Del. David E. Yancey, R-Newport News, supported the ERA in a floor meeting Monday. “Like my mother, there are so many women in my district who all want a level playing field,”  Yancey said. “It’s time we stand up and fight for all women struggling to raise a family and make ends meet.”

If Virginia becomes the 38th state to ratify, the ERA would hit the requirement of having three-quarters of states onboard, for the amendment to become part of the U.S. Constitution.

 

Dana Hawkins, an advocate for the ERA, said that this is a cornerstone of many things.  “The message that’s sent to woman in this country that they are not worthy of the Constitution equality is awful,” Hawkins said. “Treating women fairly can solve so many of the issues we have in this country.”

Hawkins, like many others --  mostly women -- came to the Capitol Tuesday, protesting and holding signs on the stairway of the Capitol gallery. Many ERA advocacy groups stood alongside VA Ratify ERA in the protest.

Hawkins said she thinks it’s important that women equality is written into the Constitution and reflected in laws.

“This is an ongoing effort, so today is just another day in the fight,” Hawkins said. “I think everybody knows how important we feel about constitutional equality for women.”

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