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Photo: Prince William County Police Department Facebook Page

More than 50 children will each pair with a police officer and set off to shop for Christmas gifts.

Santa Cops will return to Woodbridge at 7 a.m. Saturday, December 4, as about 85 officers from police departments in Prince William County, Dumfries, deputies from the county’s Sheriff’s Office, and Virginia State Police troopers meet at Walmart on Worth Avenue next to Potomac Mills mall to spread holiday cheer.

Once paired with a cop, each child gets $175 to shop for Christmas gifts for themselves, family members, and friends. Many of them underprivileged teachers from the county’s public schools choose to select the children for participation in the program.

“You would be surprised at what they buy,” said Roselee Bielec, a volunteer from the Fraternal Order of Police Battlefield Lodge 43 near Manassas, a coordinator of the event for 30 years. “It’s not just toys and video games.”

Many children put bedsheets and clothes into the shopping cart. As it is the only time the children can shop, many also purchase gifts for parents, said Bielec.

At the end of the shopping trip, children will ride with officers in police cars, lights and sirens activated, to the nearby Outback Steakhouse for a pancake breakfast donated by the restaurant.

Next week on Saturday, December 11, police officers from Manassas and Manassas Park cities and FBI members will join the fun when Santa Cops takes a new group of about 50 children shopping at a Walmart at Manassas Mall. Each year, the charity holds Santa Cops events on the east and west sides of Prince William County to better serve children’s needs and help increase the participation of police officers who volunteer their time to help children.

Between both events, Santa Cops helps more than 100 children in the community. Each year, generous donors make the Santa Cops event possible. Donors may choose to give during the event at either Walmart store or mail a check to the Battlefield Charitible Foundation, Inc., PO Box 195, Woodbridge, Va., 22194.

“This a time of year when we can block out all of the negativity in the world, take a step back, and look at the smile on a child’s face,” said Bielec. “It’s a great, worthwhile event.”

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Police are investigating a shooting in Woodbridge.

Before 3:30 p.m. today, police said someone in the Yosocomico Lane, just off Powell’s Creek Boulevard in the Powells Creek area, had suffered a gunshot injury.

Expect a heavy police presence in the area over the next few hours, police said.

Emergency crews took the victim to a hospital. Details are scarce, and we’ll post more information when we have it.

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The Rose gaming resort and hotel proposed to open in Dumfries in 2023.

The Rose invited residents to chime in on its plans to build a new outdoor part next to its coming 305-room hotel and gaming resort.

The project’s developers will host a town hall meeting online via Zoom at 7 p.m. December 8, to discuss the new park. Participants should RSVP for the meeting to receive information for the Zoom call.

Developers will build the hotel and gaming resort atop the Potomac Landfill, a construction debris waste heap between Interstate 95 and Route 1. Developers plan to make the park on about 80 acres of unbuildable land, next to the hotel and gaming resort.

The Dumfries Town Council approved the gaming resort in September, despite concerns about traffic congestion from residents nearby and the Prince Wiliam County Department of Transportation.

The busy intersection of Routes 1 and 234, near I-95, must be reconfigured to accommodate drivers headed to the hotel. Today, the county does not have the funds to complete the project, and there is no guarantee the developer, who is on the hook to rebuild the intersection, will be held accountable, a county spokesman said in September.

The new hotel will bring an estimated 24,500 more cars to the area when it opens in 2023. The resort will include nearly 2,000 video slot machines, restaurants, a theater, and a 2,500-space parking garage.

In January, Colonial Downs, the same firm that will operate The Rose, opened Rosies Gaming Emporium at the Triangle Shopping Center in Dumfries. Featuring video slot machines and a restaurant, the facility accommodates about 175 people.

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A Fredericksburg Regional Transit bus serves a bus stop at the Stafford County Courthouse. [Photo: Uriah Kiser/Potomac Local News]
Sheriff’s deputies removed a bus passenger who claimed to have a gun and refused to pay the fare.

The man boarded a Fredericksburg Regional Transit bus at the Stafford County Courthouse about 12:30 p.m., refused to pay, then refused to exit the bus, a sheriff’s spokeswoman states.

The man claimed to keep a gun in his pocket, she adds. Deputies surrounded the busy courthouse, the county government center and negotiated with the man on the bus. Eventually, deputies used a taser to subdue the man and arrest him, said a spokeswoman.

Afterward, business at the courthouse returned to normal. Deputies took the suspect for a mental evaluation, a spokeswoman added.

Deputies searched the man and did not find a gun.

Bus drivers charge riders a standard $1.25 one-way fare. The address of the courthouse is 1300 Courthouse Road in Stafford.

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[File] Potomac Local News was there to bring you the story when dozens from Woodbridge’s Holly Acres Mobile Home Park were displaced by a flood waters. (Mary Davidson/PotomacLocal.com)
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Prince William County Public Works employee Andy Nevesky clears snow from sidewalks at the Chinn Park Library. [Photo: Uriah Kiser / Potomac Local News]
Snow days will be a thing of the past for Prince William County Public Schools students.

Superintendent Dr. Latanya McDade today will announce a new snow day policy that will require students to log on to their school-issued laptop on winter weather forces the closure of school buildings, a source close to the matter tells Potomac Local News.

Under McDade’s new policy, teachers will provide work for students to complete independently online on days when school buildings are closed. The school division refers to the independent coursework as asynchronous learning, similar to what children did during the coronavirus pandemic when Gov. Ralph Northam shuttered public school buildings.

Students must log on when winter weather forces buildings to close for the remainder of the school year, but the school administration won’t require teachers to do the same. However, beginning in the 2022-23 school year, McDade will require teachers to provide live instruction on winter weather days, a source tells Potomac Local News.

Last month, the County School Board approved the division’s 2022-23 calendar. Students will begin the year before Labor Day, something the division began in 2019. The school year ends June 15, 2023, and includes “two full weeks for winter break and incorporates additional holidays that reflect the diversity of the PWCS community.”

In March 2020, Virginia was the first state in the U.S. to close schools for the coronavirus. Initially, Northam ordered a two-week shutdown of public schools.

The move sent school divisions scrambling to purchase new and used laptop computers for students to use a home. While county school administrators allowed children back into school buildings for a hybrid schedule this time last year, the majority of students at Prince William’s government schools returned to the classroom this past August.

On August 26, the Virginia Department of Education released the long-awaited Standards of Learning test results. As many expected, after nearly a year of remote learning, most students performed poorly.

“Virginia’s 2020-2021 SOL test scores tell us what we already knew–students need to be in the classroom without disruption to learn effectively,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane stated in a press release. “The connections, structures, and supports our school communities provide are irreplaceable, and many students did not have access to in-person instruction for the full academic year. We must now focus on unfinished learning and acceleration to mitigate the impact the pandemic has had on student results.”

Since students’ returned to the classroom five days a week, the school division continues to focus on tutoring children to make up for the lost instructional time.

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Shoppers who fill their orders at grocery stores in Fredericksburg must soon pay for plastic bags.

Today, the city announced it will begin taxing retailers five cents for every disposable plastic bag used starting January 1, 2022. The new tax should reduce the number of disposable plastic bags in the city, leaders said.

At stores that pass the tax along to their customers, shoppers must pay for the bags at the point of sale, similar to when retailers charge sales tax. Groceries, convenience, and drug stores are responsible for paying the new city tax.

The tax does not apply to plastic bags carrying meat, produce, trash, or pet waste. Members of the Fredericksburg City Council began discussing the tax this past summer.

“It is past time for us to take this action. Plastic bags are just one step of the process. It’s not hard to get into new habits if you’re not there already,” said At-large City Council Member Kerry Devine during the September 14 City Council meeting when the City Council voted unanimously to adopt the tax.

Devine encouraged shoppers to carry reusable plastic bags. Devine added that some of the tax money the city collects from the new levy would be used to purchase reusable bags for residents.

Stores at Central Park, a regional shopping hub located within Fredericksburg City limits, will be responsible for paying the tax.

Today, the city issued a press release about the new tax.

A disposable-plastic-bag tax will go into effect on January 1 in the City of Fredericksburg.

The Virginia General Assembly last year enacted legislation to authorize the new tax of 5 cents per disposable plastic bag provided to retail customers by grocery stores, drug stores, and convenience stores. Fredericksburg City Council adopted the tax earlier this year to take effect January 1 in an effort to reduce the use of single-use disposable plastic bags in the City and promote the use of durable multi-use bags by retail and restaurant establishments. This initiative is an extension of City Council’s desired future state for a Green, Clean Environment in which “Fredericksburg is a responsible, modern city with a quality of life that is guaranteed by thoughtful environmental stewardship.”

The tax will be collected at the point of purchase, in a similar manner as sales taxes, and will be administered and enforced by the Virginia Tax Commissioner in Richmond.

Larger “big box” retailers such as Walmart or Target will be subject to the tax if they contain a grocery store, convenience store or drugstore. No retailer will be subject to the tax solely because it offers a limited number of snacks and beverages for sale at the cash register. Furthermore, per state code, the tax will only apply to retailers that maintain regular business hours at a fixed place of business in the City.

Retailers will be compensated for the costs of collecting and remitting the tax by retaining a portion of the tax collected. Until January 1, 2023, retailers subject to the tax will be able to retain 2 cents for every 5 cents collected. After January 1, 2023, this discount will be reduced to 1 cent per bag.

The 5-cent tax will not apply to:
• Durable plastic bags meant for multiple reuse
• Bags that are solely used to wrap ice cream, meat, fish, poultry, produce, unwrapped bulk food items or other perishable food items in order to avoid damage or contamination
• Plastic bags used for dry cleaning or prescription drugs
• Bags that are packaged and sold for use as garbage, pet waste or leaf-removal bags

State law requires that all revenue collected from this tax shall be appropriated for the purposes of environmental cleanup, providing education programs designed to reduce environmental waste, mitigating pollution and litter, and providing reusable bags to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) benefits.

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Prince William County Public Schools students [Photo: Prince William County Public Schools Facebook page]
Parents once again demanded an end to a mask mandate in Prince William County Public Schools.

During a regular county School Board meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, December 1, parents urged elected leaders and school division chief Dr. Latanya McDade to rescind a mask mandate that’s been in n place since August, the beginning of the current school year.

Making masks optional for students was the standard message parents aimed to get across. “Let those who want to wear them, and there should always be a choice,” said Kimberly Stewart.

Stewart criticized the school division for not publishing data on the effectiveness of masks in school buildings, where 98 percent of children returned to in-person learning after a year of learning remotely from home during the pandemic.

“There’s no talk about exercise or diet, just more talk about wearing masks and vaccines,” said Stewart. Patients who are overweight and have comprised immunity tend to have more significant coronavirus symptoms.

A statement posted to Twitter by School Board Chairman At-large Babur Lateef encouraged parents to speak out against the school division’s mask policy. In the Tweet, Lateef said masks should be optional and that people should get vaccinated.

He added that despite the new Omicron variant, there’s no place for future lockdowns or school building closures. Lateef and other Prince William County School Board members referred to the coronavirus as endemic akin to the common cold rather than a pandemic in an about-face.

“Learning to live with the endemic is necessary,” states Lateef.

However, that’s not the view of most parents who have children in the county school system, said Richard Jessie, husband of Occoquan District School Board member Lillie Jessie and a fixture at county School Board meetings.

Jessie introduced politics into the discussion Wednesday when he reminded the community that Virginia Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin lost Prince William County by 15 points. Youngkin says he will end mask mandates in Virginia’s public schools as part of his “day one” plan.

“With him winning the governorship, it’s has emboldened his supporters, and it has them thinking that things are going to change drastically…you are not the majority of parents in this county,” said Jessie.

Jessie encouraged more parents who support children in masks to attend and speak at School Board meetings. “The majority of people in this county are silent,” he adds.

Last week, Prince William County lost its first child, between the ages of 10 and 19, to die of a multi-inflammatory syndrome. Brought on by the coronavirus, the syndrome can cause problems with children’s hearts, lungs, and other organs. In some cases, it can lead to death.

There have been about 100 reported cases of the syndrome across the state since the pandemic began.

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Community Notes

Santa to arrive in Occoquan by boat — On Saturday, December 4 at 10:30 a.m. on the Town Dock adjacent to Mamie Davis Park, Santa will arrive by boat. [Occoquan Mayor Earnie Porta]

Terracon expands in Woodbridge — On November 10, Prince William County Department of Economic Development (PWCDED) hosted a ribbon-cutting event at Terracon’s new DC South office located at 14001 Crown Court, Suite 109 in Woodbridge. [Prince William County Government]

Rural crescent data center plan resurrects Bi-County Parkway debate – As new details emerge about a plan to turn a mostly undeveloped area of western Prince William County into a 2,133-acre data center corridor, some elected officials and civic groups are increasingly concerned it could resurrect the Bi-County Parkway, a controversial 10-mile bypass once planned to connect Interstate 66 with U.S. 50 in Loudoun County. [Prince William Times]

Permanent medication drop box — In Prince William County, residents can dispose of unwanted or unused pills, patches, ointment, or other medications at one of three permanent drop boxes at Prince William County Police Stations that provide year-round access to safe drug disposal for residents. [Prince William County Government]

County urges homeowners to protect pipes — As temperatures begin to drop over the coming weeks, now is the time to start taking preventative measures to protect your pipes and water supply and help control your utility costs. [Stafford County Government]

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Christmas will come to Manassas this weekend.

The cornerstone event is the city’s 75th Annual Greater Manassas Christmas Parade, at 10 a.m. Saturday, December 4. The theme for the parade is “Down Santa Claus Lane.”

The parade will feature more than 100 acts, including marching bands, fire trucks, police, animal acts, and community organizations. Two giant balloons, a reindeer and mouse, measuring 12 feet tall by 14 feet wide, will make their debut in this year’s parade.

The parade begins on Route 28, winds down Prescott Avenue, then to Center Street, where marchers enter Downtown Manassas. Announcers and parade judges will sit at a review stand at Harris Pavilion, at Center and West streets.

WUSA-TV anchor Annie Yu and Manassas Fire and Rescue Lt. Kevin Shafer will be the parade announcers. The city honored Sharita Rouse, founder of Tummy YumYum Gourmet Candy Apples as Woman of the Year, and city native Joe Nelson, a 35-year parade volunteer as Man of the Year.

Parade attendees are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy to donate to Volunteer Prince William’s Untrim-A-Tree Holiday Gift Program. Volunteers will collect toys along the parade route.

Un-Trim-A-Tree helps provide gifts to thousands of children in Prince William County, Manassas, and Manassas Park.

Stanley Martin Homes, TD Bank, Miller Toyota, and Manassas City Government sponsored the parade, which lasts about two hours.

Santa Lights Manassas

On Friday, December 3, Santa Claus will return to Manassas to light the city’s Christmas Tree, on the lawn of the city museum, at 9101 Prince William Street. Crowds will gather at 5:15 p.m. at the city’s train station to welcome Santa, who is scheduled to arrive by rail car at 6 p.m.

After the tree is lit, Santa and Mrs. Claus will greet children and listen to their Christmas wishes. Free wagon rides will be offered, The Harris Pavilion Ice Rink will be open, and the downtown shops and restaurants will be for business.

For the past 27 years, the “Santa Lights Manassas” has been a Christmastime staple in the city.

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