The Voice of West Virginia
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Private schools in West Virginia have reached an agreement with state officials for face-to-face instruction to resume.
Gov. Jim Justice announced during Wednesday’s coronavirus briefing that several schools will have to test all students and staff, in which testing will be funded through federal coronavirus relief money that the state received earlier this year. All people who test negative will be allowed in buildings even if the school is in a county that is orange on the state school reopening map
“We have to all understand that now we hope is that in lots and lots of ways, they can be an example for the other Christian and private schools throughout the state,” Justice said. “I just think not only that, but they will significantly help all the public schools from the standpoint that they are 100% being tested and their numbers will reflect well to our public schools and really be able to help our public schools and help them get started back.”
Wednesday’s announcement comes after the Justice administration began talks with Bible Center School in Charleston about opening safely. The institution and Calvary Baptist Academy in Hurricane had face-to-face instruction last week despite Kanawha and Putnam counties being at the orange level.
Students and staff will be required to wear facial coverings at all times, and schools will have to follow other coronavirus-related procedures.
Justice said during the briefing it is unclear what limitations can be placed on religious schools compared to public institutions.
“The facts are it’s different. It’s just different,” he said.
Justice also deferred a question about if the action further divides academic progress between public and private schools.
“I could have surely sent our kids to private school,” Justice said in reference to his own family. “I really believe that all in me that the public school system does a terrific job, and the teachers have been great.”
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One Monongalia County education leader is hopeful face-to-face classes can begin soon as around 12,000 Monongalia County Schools students are in their fourth week of virtual lessons.
Ron Lytle, the Monongalia County Board of Education vice president, told MetroNews affiliate WAJR-AM if once the state Department of Education allows in-person classes, there will be a “buffer week” to allow educators and administrators to make necessary adjustments.
“If we slip barely into gold and then slip out next week based on COVID fluctuations, then we’re back to remote the following week,” he said. “We’re really making it tough on our people to have a consistent model.”
Monongalia County is currently orange on the state Department of Education’s coronavirus map. The county needs a rating of green, yellow or gold for face-to-face classes to happen.
According to the state Department of Health and Human Resources, Monongalia County has a seven-day rolling average of 19.2 cases per 100,000 people. A gold rating would require an average of fewer than 15 cases.
Lytle said administrators, staff and teachers are constantly updating plans to maintain consistency in the classroom and reliability to families.
“Delivering that education to every one of those kids is a challenge,” he added. “It’s a challenge in normal times.”
Lytle also urged people to get tested for the coronavirus; Gov. Jim Justice and state health officials have pushed for additional testing during this week’s coronavirus briefings.
“It’s so important for people to hear that over and over,” Lytle said. “Go get tested.”
There will be free coronavirus testing on Sept. 30 at the WVU Rec Center between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One person is receiving medical treatment after being shot in the chest Wednesday afternoon in Morgantown.
According to the Morgantown Police Department, the man was found lying on the sidewalk near the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Pietro Street. Authorities said the man was unresponsive but had a pulse.
First responders took the man to Ruby Memorial Hospital.
Detectives are looking for a silver Infiniti G35. Police said people should not approach the vehicle or speak to the driver.
Anyone with information is asked to call 304-284-7454 or the Morgantown Police Department tip line at 304-284-7520.
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KEYSER, W.Va. — A former Mineral County chief deputy circuit clerk was sentenced Wednesday to 2-20 years in prison after stealing money to fuel an alcohol and gambling addiction.
Gary Duane Feaster apologized to the court for his three years of theft that resulted in criminal charges after an investigation by the Public Integrity and Fraud Unit of the state Auditor’s Office.
Feaster pleaded guilty earlier this year to a prosecutor’s information
As chief deputy circuit clerk, Feaster would pocket money residents were paying through the clerks office for various fines. He also took money that was being paid in court-ordered restitution in various cases. Investigators said he took as much as $87,000 over a three-year period.
A number of Feaster’s friends and family members testified on his behalf telling special Circuit Judge C. Carter Williams the addictions had changed Feaster but in recent months he has improved through counseling.
Feaster told Williams he would accept the court’s decision on sentencing but requested leniency. Judge Williams told Feaster his leniency came in the plea agreement reached with the special prosecutor in the case, Steve Connolly. General Counsel, Deputy State Auditor, director of the fraud unit.
Williams ordered Feaster to pay restitution to circuit clerk in the amount of $75,000 and an additional $41,666 to the Auditor’s Office for the cost of the investigation.
State Auditor J.B. McCuskey thanked the Mineral County sheriff’s department, prosecutor’s office and probation office for their cooperation in the investigation.
Feaster was remanded to the Division of Corrections Wednesday to begin serving his sentence.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Revenue from the West Virginia Lottery was $93.7 for August, members of the state Lottery Commission were told Wednesday during their monthly meeting in Charleston.
Deputy Lottery Director for Finance Dean Patrick said Limited Video Lottery brought in the most revenue at $38.2 million followed by Racetrack Video Lottery ($35.2 million), traditional lottery games ($17 million), table games ($2 million), the Greenbrier ($890,000), sports betting ($203,000) and online gambling ($102,000).
Patrick said the general lottery fund was down approximately $1.1 million for the month because Racetrack Video Lottery at the casinos hasn’t hit projections for the fiscal year.
“The Lottery Fund is down about $2.7 million year-to-date,” Patrick said.
Limited Video Lottery, the neighborhood slot machine parlors, has exceeded estimates so far this budget year, Patrick said.
“In the Excess Lottery Fund we’re up for the month about $5.2 million and that’s primarily due to Limited Video Lottery performing better than our projections and we’re up about $9.4 million year-to-date in the Excess Lottery Fund,” Patrick said.
The Lottery Commission also approved the annual license renewals of the companies that own the casinos in Charles Town, Chester, Wheeling and Nitro Wednesday. The companies have until Sept. 30 to pay the annual licensing fee of $2.5 million per casino. Only Mountaineer Racetrack and Casino in Chester had paid the fee as of Wednesday.
Commission removes 4 players from exclusion list
The commission voted Wednesday to remove four former casino players in West Virginia from the statewide exclusion list.
The four, three of whom live in Pennsylvania and one in Maryland, have been on the list for more than six years. They’ll now be allowed to return to West Virginia’s casinos.
Myers allowed to approve licenses provisionally
State Lottery Director John Myers received the okay Wednesday to approve various lottery licenses provisionally. Myers told the commission delays caused by the ongoing pandemic has created a need for such a provision.
“This would allow me to approve a license provided that they’ve made their payments, we’ve done our review and then it comes back in front of the commission the next month,” Myers said.
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SWISS, W.Va. — A Nicholas County woman is being charged in the murder of her husband.
According to the Nicholas County Sheriff’s Department, Alicia J. Drennen was involved in a domestic dispute her husband, Bernard Lee Drennen, Wednesday morning.
During the argument, deputies said Alicia Drennen shot her husband. She’s being held in the regional jail.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Wyoming County Schools announced Wednesday afternoon remote learning would begin immediately for students at Westside High School after it was learned a staff member at the school had tested positive for COVID-19.
The positive case was reported by the local school board to local residents and state Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch said earlier Wednesday that’s how school reporting should be done.
— Wyoming County Schools (@SchoolsWyoming) September 23, 2020
“It is appropriate for those local boards of health and those local school boards to announce that information,” Crouch said at Gov. Jim Justice’s Wednesday media briefing on the coronavirus.
Crouch was answering a question from a reporter following criticism of Gov. Justice earlier Wednesday in separate statements form the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and Justice’s opponent in the November General Election, Democrat Ben Salango.
AFT-WV President Fred Albert said Justice promised to be transparent on Sept. 4 but now no longer announces school cases.
“It’s disturbing that our Governor and state health officials have abandoned transparency in school-related COVID case reporting. While we understand the local health departments are responsible for contract tracing, AFT-WV believes the employer has an ethical and legal obligation to report cases in order to protect the health and safety of students, staff and community at large,” Albert said.
Crouch said the state is collecting the school information but it comes through the local health departments. He said the local level has quicker information on individual cases.
“We have outbreak information for schools but we don’t have those individual cases that a lot of counties are reporting,” Crouch said.
Salango, who has the endorsement of AFT-WV, said in a separate statement that Justice is trying to score political points by manipulating COVID-19 data.
“Justice is putting politics over public safety. His repeated changes to reporting of COVID-19 cases in the state has caused confusion and chaos among West Virginians who rely on the consistent accuracy of these metrics. By deciding not to report accurate data in our schools, he is putting the lives of children, teachers, and school service personnel at risk and that is unacceptable,” Salango said.
State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad said Wednesday nothing has changed about the reporting.
“Those (cases) are reported to the school board, the local health departments, parents are notified, teachers are notified at the local level,” Amjad said. “Those are being aware at the community level and nothing has changed as far as that goes.”
Justice said Wednesday he was going to work on the situation more later Wednesday because he said he understands the concerns.
“I’ll make an extra push on that because I understand the importance,” Justice said. “Surely the importance from the standpoint of parents wanting to know what’s happening at all of the schools.”
The DHHR defined a school outbreak for MetroNews:
“When it comes to schools and universities, the only thing that is being reported right now to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) is an outbreak which is two or more laboratory confirmed cases among staff or students with onsets within a 14-day period, who are epidemiologically linked to the school setting (e.g. same classroom, core group, bus, sports team, meeting, etc.). This shows evidence of transmission rather than single cases that became infected in the community and just happen to work or attend the same school. These outbreaks are handled at the local level through contact tracing by the local health department and then reported to DHHR,” the agency said.
Wednesday marked the second straight day that Wyoming County announced a school closing because of COVID-19. It closed Glen Fork Elementary-Middle School Tuesday for 14 days for cleaning of the building after a positive COVID-19 case.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The director and chief executive officer of West Virginia’s largest airport is on board for another five years as the leader.
Nick Keller and the Yeager Airport, Central West Virginia Regional Airport Authority board of directors signed a management agreement during Wednesday’s monthly meeting to the term of five years for Keller to remain in his role.
As this past week was Keller’s anniversary of taking over for Terry Sayre, Keller told MetroNews this was the first agreement of its kind for a director of the airport to sign.
He said he is thrilled and looks forward to a long future with an airport he has been with since May 2005.
“I was born and raised in Charleston, I love it here,” Keller said. “I love that I have the opportunity through this job and working with a lot of people to make positive change and implement our vision to make the airport the most important economic engine for the state of West Virginia.”
Wednesday’s meeting was the annual review of the airport director and CEO and board members expressed support for the agreement with Keller. Previous to last September, Keller had been serving as an assistant director to Sayre. He will continue to make $181,000 per year, the same as Sayre made, board chair Ed Hill stated.
Hill complimented Keller’s reliability, preparedness and dedication to the airport as well as his communication to the board. Not one board member voiced displeasure of Keller when given the chance during the meeting.
“He (Keller) has been very faithful to keep us informed on what’s going on and issues that come along and there have been many. I have heard no complaints from employees or any other members of management about Nick’s performance this past year,” Hill said.
Keller told the board that the airport’s work in the first year including the Marshall aviation school groundbreaking, controlling the budget during the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuation of other construction projects could not have been done without all staff and board members. He noted how everyone was on board with organizational meetings when he first took over and that prepared them for 2020.
“We have a good team of employees and I look at the airport staff as a team and even the board is on the team. Without everyone working together, we could not implement the positive things going on,” he said.
Keller, who has an airport management degree from Purdue University, told MetroNews the airport has been able to move forward in the past year, despite record low enplanement numbers in the spring due to COVID-19.
The airport has not had to lay anyone off because of the pandemic and the Marshall University aviation school, U.S. Customs Building and Capital Jet Center extension projects have not seen delays.
The agreement runs from Sept. 23, 2020, to Sept. 23, 2025. There is a severance package in the agreement should Keller be terminated without cause, including eight months base compensation or the amount of time remaining pursuant to the agreement.
There is a list in the agreement that shall be defined as action given to raise termination including gross negligence, malfeasance, failure or refusal to follow lawful, written instructions issued by the board, and conviction of a felony.
If Keller decides to resign during the agreement, there must be 90 days notice to the board. That is an increase from 30 days for previous directors.
The agreement was noted by the Central West Virginia Regional Airport Authority and signed by Hill, Keller, and the airport authority’s attorney Charles Bailey.
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice took a COVID-19 test during his live streamed coronavirus media briefing at the state capitol Wednesday.
Justice said he wanted state residents to see how easy it is to take a test.
“There’s nothing to it. It takes every bit of 10 seconds. There’s no pain. There’s no nothing. There’s a split little bit of something that makes you try to sneeze,” Justice said.
Justice took the test, the latest of many he said he’s taken during the pandemic, to further urge state residents to get tested especially those who live in counties that are ‘orange’ or ‘red’ on the COVID-19 map.
“Mon (Monongalia) County, Kanawha County, Putnam County, all of the counties that have been in the orange and red, listen to me, you are so close,” Justice said. “You are so close to being there. I want you to be there so badly.”
Justice announced a plan Wednesday to send the National Guard into those counties to conduct more widespread testing. He said local health departments have been doing a good job but he wants more testing in an attempt to lower the positivity rate so schools can reopen along with corresponding extra-curricular activities.
Justice said the reopenings are important but more importantly, additional tests will find those who are spreading the virus without knowing it.
“I want the information. I want them to lay in front of me the information of thousands of tests to where I can go directly as a pinpoint surgical strike and go directly to the problem and help those people and get that situation fixed,” Justice said.
A county can improve its color designation on the school COVID-19 map by reducing the number of overall cases or by positivity rate. Justice said additional testing can take down the positivity number.
Kanawha County had a daily positivity rate of 7.5% percent Tuesday. Putnam’s rate had dropped to 1.61% and Monongalia County’s was at 1.67%. Those numbers could change because of a lag in reporting.
Orange counties can move to gold with a positivity rate of less than 5%; gold counties can move to yellow with a positive rate of less than 4%; yellow can move to green with a rate of less than 3%.
State Coronavirus Czar Doctor Clay Marsh said Wednesday on MetroNews “Talkline” it’s important to get different people to test.
“We want people to test and we want a lot of people to test not just a few people that test all the time,” Marsh said.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) September 23, 2020
Gov. Justice called for 7,000 tests a day in his Monday media briefing. DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch said the state had the capacity to handle about 10,000 tests a day.
The state had a 3.35 daily positivity rate in numbers released by the state Department of Health and Human Resources Wednesday. There are 120 new cases with 3,464 active cases in West Virginia. Deaths from COVID-19 now number 319, the latest a 91-year old female and an 80-year old male both from Kanawha County.
Justice ended his briefing by asking state residents to “pile on us all of those tests” and then he promised “we’ll fix this thing.”
“We do not have the power but with God’s great assistance we will get there,” Justice said.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Prior to winning the starting quarterback competition in the preseason, Jarret Doege made just one start at Milan Puskar Stadium. That came on Senior Day last November. The Mountaineers were edged by Oklahoma State 20-13 in a game where West Virginia outgained the Cowboys 333-285 but struggled to put points on the scoreboard. The Mountaineers had five drives of fifty yards or more, but found the end zone only once.
“When they go man, or they try to ‘zero’ you, you have to make them pay for it. And last year, they did that to us a couple times and I think we made them pay once to George (Campbell) and then a lot of the times they got us,” Doege said. “You have to get them more than they get you.
“We just didn’t execute all that well last year in the red zone. I remember us getting tackled at the one and we just didn’t get in. We have to be a lot better this year in the red zone.”
When players scattered across the country from March until June in the early stages of the pandemic, Doege believes he made the best use of time away from the team by improving his arm strength. He ended up winning the starting spot over Austin Kendall.
“I think it has gotten a little bit stronger and that is just being with (strength and conditioning coach) Mike Joseph in the weight room. I’m getting stronger and getting bigger and maybe having a little bit more velocity on my ball right now.”
During the offseason, the Mountaineers were split into ten ‘Accountability Teams’ and each squad was paired with an assistant coach. New offensive coordinator Gerad Parker was grouped together with ‘Team Doege’, the team that won the competition.
“When we were going through the pandemic together during the time of almost four months virtually, we had a lot of conversations about how we are going to lead the team better,” Parker said. “He is a great leader. He is well-respected. He puts in the work. Him and his dad really got after it during the pandemic that allowed him to get things better with his feet.
“Anytime you get a guy who has taken the reps he got last year and into this year, as he moves forward we think he does a really good job of staying poised. He doesn’t really get too high or too low or emotional. You really need that out of the quarterback position.”
Doege started 17 games at Bowling Green in his freshman and sophomore seasons of 2017 and 2018. He passed for 2,660 yards with 27 touchdowns and a dozen interceptions as a sophomore. His desire to play ‘Power 5’ Conference football led to his decision to join the Mountaineers in the summer of 2019.
“I wanted to try to play big time football at the highest level of competition,” Doege said. “So I jumped in the (transfer) portal. I had a few calls from all kinds of different schools. I had a relationship with Neal (Brown). He told me to come up here and visit. I fell in love with it and committed.”
Doege is a native of Lubbock, Texas and remembers well the day when Texas Tech handed No. 5 West Virginia their first loss of the 2012 season in resounding fashion, 49-14. Jarret’s older brother Seth Doege threw for 499 yards and 6 touchdowns in that win. Tech’s offensive coordinator for that game was Neal Brown.
“I remember that game like it was yesterday,” Doege said. “I ended up rushing the field. I was about seventh or eighth grade. Now hopefully I can swap the roles here this year.
“I went to camps. Me and (former Baylor quarterback) Charlie Brewer used to go and Neal would take us to the stadium. It would just be me and him throwing. Coach Brown would be evaluating just us two.”
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