Roanoke middle school participating in NASA challenge

Education-News1RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Students at nine Virginia middle schools are participating in a NASA program to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Virginia Department of Education says the state is one of ten chosen by NASA and the U.S. Department of Education to participate in the 2014-2015 Engineering Design Challenge. Officials say students will take on after-school challenges designed by NASA aimed at solving real-world problems such as how to successfully parachute a spacecraft onto the surface of Mars. The Virginia schools participating are: Caroline Middle in Caroline County, Falling Creek Middle in Chesterfield County, Holmes Middle and Key Middle in Fairfax County, Peabody Middle in Petersburg, Thomas H. Henderson Middle and Thomas C. Boushall Middle in Richmond, Stonewall Jackson Middle in Roanoke and Southampton Middle in Southampton County.

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Va. conservation grants to preserve 5,700-plus acres

wfir-linkRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ Fourteen grants totaling $1.7 million have been awarded by Virginia’s land conservation board. The Virginia Land Conservation Foundation awards will help add 5,700 preserved acres. The grants are used by private land trusts, local governments and state agencies to protect farm and forestland, historic area and open spaces.  The grants are headed to Stafford County to purchase prime farmland, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation to purchase an easement for the core area of Fisher’s Hill Battlefield, and the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund to preserve Bald Knob Natural Area Preserve in Franklin County. Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the funding Thursday, calling the grants “money well spent.”

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Virginia Senate panel OKs marijuana derivatives for epilepsy

State-NewsRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A proposal to legalize two derivatives of the marijuana plant for treating epilepsy has cleared its first hurdle in the General Assembly. The legislation offered by Sen. David Marsden, a Fairfax County Democrat, would allow legal possession of cannabidiol oil or THC-A oil when a doctor determines that a patient has a debilitating epileptic condition. The Senate Education and Health Committee approved the measure Thursday. The panel heard emotional testimony last week from families of children who suffer frequent epileptic seizures and have experienced serious side effects from taking legal drugs. The committee advanced the bill despite testimony from a State Police spokesman that it could put Virginia in conflict with federal law. The measure now goes to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

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Attempt to repeal abortion ultrasound law fails in Senate

State-NewsRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A Republican-controlled state Senate committee has defeated an attempt to repeal a 2012 law requiring a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound procedure first. The Education and Health Committee rejected Sen. Mamie Locke’s repeal bill Thursday on an 8-7 party-line vote. Locke, a Hampton Democrat, called the ultrasound requirement an invasive, medically unnecessary impediment to women seeking a legal medical procedure. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Medical Society of Virginia support repeal of the law. Opponents of repeal, including the conservative Family Foundation of Virginia and the Virginia Catholic Conference, said the ultrasound mandate helps women make an informed choice about undergoing a life-altering procedure. The committee also rejected a bill to repeal a ban on abortion coverage in insurance plans sold through a health benefits exchange.

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Bill to cut number of school tests fails in Senate committee

State-NewsRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ An attempt to reduce the number of required standardized tests taken by Virginia schoolchildren has failed in a Virginia Senate committee. Sen. John Miller’s bill would have cut the number of high-stakes Standards of Learning tests to the minimum required by federal law. Miller, a Newport News Democrat, said the measure would have reduced the number of required tests from 29 to 17. Miller said the tests promote rote memorization at the expense of critical thinking skills. The Education and Health Committee rejected the bill on a bipartisan 9-6 vote. The committee also rejected a perennial bill to remove a longstanding ban on beginning the school year before Labor Day without a waiver from the state Board of Education.

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Mother of inmate delivers pardon petition to Va. governor

Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Gov. Terry McAuliffe

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ The mother of an inmate serving more than six life terms for a robbery is asking Gov. Terry McAuliffe to grant a pardon. Media outlets report that Angela Blount delivered a petition containing more than 14,000 signatures to Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney on Wednesday. Blount’s son, Travion Blount, was 15 at the time of the home invasion robbery in September 2006. He won’t be eligible for geriatric release until 2051, when he turns 60. Two co-defendants who were adults pleaded guilty and received 10- and 13-year sentences. Former Gov. Bob McDonnell granted Blount a conditional pardon that reduced the sentence to 40 years. A federal judge voided that decision, saying McDonnell overstepped his authority.

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Hampden-Sydney cancels classes, sporting events in wake of mass illness

Hampden-Sydney College SealFARMVILLE, Va. (AP) _ Hampden-Sydney College is canceling classes until Monday after an illness sickened more than 300 students this week. An email to faculty and students on Thursday says residence halls and some areas will remain open. But there will be no classes and administrative offices will be closed. All sporting events and recreational facilities at the school of about 1,050 male students also will be closed. Hampden-Sydney hopes to re-open on Monday, weather permitting. Health officials believe the illness is gastroenteritis, an intestinal infection. Symptoms have included vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. The school says students began seeking treatment Tuesday night at the school’s wellness center and an area hospital.  Students are being advised to wash their hands frequently or use hand sanitizer, and to avoid sharing items with other people.

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Va. Senate panel rejects marijuana decriminalization bill

State-NewsRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A proposal to decriminalize marijuana possession in Virginia has been quickly snuffed out. The Republican-controlled state Senate Courts of Justice Committee rejected Sen. Adam Ebbin’s decriminalization bill Wednesday on a party-line 9-5 vote. The measure would have eliminated jail time for possession of marijuana, instead making it punishable by a maximum $100 civil penalty. Ebbin, an Alexandria Democrat, argued that criminalization of marijuana has failed to reduce use of the drug and has made criminals out of nonviolent citizens. Ebbin’s measure was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, which drew attention to racial disparities in marijuana arrests. The bill drew opposition from the Virginia State Police, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys.

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Rare, forgotten Va. plants getting some attention, dollars

Native Plant SocietyRICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ The task of taking an inventory of Virginia’s rare and forgotten plants has received a welcome donation. The Virginia Native Plant Society has donated $11,542 to help botanists with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. The money will be used for an inventory of the state’s “lost treasures” _ rare plant species that include some that haven’t been documented in more than a generation. Information gathered during inventory is used by other state agencies and others for land conservation and land-planning purposes. The program’s goal is to conserve the natural diversity of biological resources of the state, The nonprofit Virginia Native Plant Society is dedicated to the protection and preservation of Virginia native plants and their habitats.

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National leaders tell UVa sororities to avoid frat bid night

UVA LogoCHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) _ Sororities at the University of Virginia have been told to stay away from fraternity recruitment events scheduled Saturday. The sororities are part of the National Panhellenic Conference. Conference spokeswoman Michelle Bower tells The Washington Post (http://wapo.st/1zbHlSZ ) that the mandate came from the sororities’ national presidents. Bower says the conference supports the decision. U.Va. Inter-Fraternity Council President Ben Gorman tells the newspaper that some sororities were told to avoid any social gathering with fraternity members on Boys’ Bid Night. The university recently lifted a suspension of Greek social activities after fraternities and sororities agreed to stricter regulations. The suspension followed a November Rolling Stone article that detailed an alleged gang rape at a U.Va. fraternity. Much of the article has been discredited.

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