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Education Secretary DeVos hears challenges, pride in West Virginia return-to-school effort

West Virginia students, teachers, custodians, cooks and parents told the U.S. education secretary that although this has been a school year like no other, they’ve taken pride in working together to overcome challenges.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had a listening session today with people in the Jefferson County public school system. DeVos made some comments but mostly asked the people gathered about their experiences this year, often prompting discussion.

“I am excited to hear from all of you how you’ve worked together,” she said. “I am looking forward to listening to you and learning from you and how you did it.”

Jefferson County Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson told DeVos efforts by everyone in the school system have been “unfreakingbelievable.”

“It’s that they care about each other,” Gibson said.

Back-to-school has been a nationwide challenge this year, with DeVos at the center of national debate over how best to do it. She has acknowledged there is no perfect way, but says there are a lot of good ways. 

Over her tenure, DeVos has been known for — and often criticized for — her support for charter schools and school voucher programs. She was in national news today for officially yielding on an effort to direct federal coronavirus funds to private schools.

None of that came up during her interactions with representatives of the Jefferson County school system or during a 5-minute interview with West Virginia reporters.

Instead, DeVos focused on how the unprecedented school year is going. She began by greeting eighth grade science students at Charles Town Middle School over a video teleconferencing system.

“I wish I could come and say hello to you in person and actually shake all your hands, but we’ll do that again some day,” DeVos told the students, emphasizing the need for adjustments such as the use of facial coverings in schools. “This is a great time to learn to be resilient and do the things you need to do with a view to the future.”

DeVos then met in person with almost 30 people from all aspects of the local school system. DeVos and everyone else wore facemasks the entire time, with Gibson’s mask urging “Be Kind.”

Clayton Burch

One of the participants was West Virginia schools Superintendent Clayton Burch, who said he was deeply worried when schools closed because of the pandemic on last March. He grew more confident when he saw the return-to-school plans submitted by counties like Jefferson.

“Our schools are so much more than a building they come to just for academics,” Burch said.

Principal Jennifer Moss of Wildwood Middle School acknowledged apprehension as the school year approached but said students, teachers and administrators were happy to see each other.

“We want noise in the hallway. We want to see the glow in your eyes,” she said.

J.P. Lynch, the band director at Jefferson High School, said the return has been rewarding.

“The kids love being back. I thought we would have to continually have to remind them about the mask. I just told them from the beginning, ‘You don’t wear the mask, we don’t get to see each other.’ It hasn’t been a problem,” he said.

Lynch said he has felt safe because of hard work and sometimes complicated precautions.

“I don’t even feel like I work for a school system any more. I feel like I work for NASA,” Lynch said.  “All of us in education have been really stressed. But if we don’t work the problem, kids don’t come back to school.”

A senior at Washington High School, Brogan Dozier, had worried about how the school year would unfold but became more confident after seeing the county plan for returning.

“I expected social distancing. I expected masks to be a mandate, and I’m lucky enough that they have been,” she said. “I feel safe in my school, and that’s saying a lot because my family took a lot of extra precautions when this covid pandemic broke out.”

Custodian Jimmy Padgett of Washington High School said teachers and students have made it easier to achieve heightened standards for cleanliness. Teachers, he said, are willing to sanitize desks or clean up when they have a spare moment.

“It give us more time to hit the door knobs and the touchpoints and the bathrooms more frequently,” he said. “Students walk up to custodial staff and say thank you. That means a lot to us.”

DeVos thanked school staff like Padgett.

“There is no way the schools could be operating again without the important work that you do,” she said.

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Field set for WVSSAC State H.S. Golf Tournament

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The first WVSSAC state championship of the 2020-2021 high school sports season is set for next week on the Jones Course at Oglebay Resort in Wheeling. 24 teams and several individuals have qualified through regional competitions earlier this week. The 36-hole event begins Tuesday and concludes on Wednesday.

Shady Spring’s Todd Duncan was low medalist in Class AA.

Two of the three individual champions return to defend their 2019 titles. Brooke’s Ryan Bilby is the defending Class AAA champion and Todd Duncan of Shady Spring won the Class AA title.

Brooke’s Ryan Bilby is hoping to defend his Class AAA state championship.

Only one of the three team champions is back in the field. St. Marys is seeking their second consecutive Class A championship.

Class AAA Teams:

  • Buckhannon-Upshur
  • Cabell Midland
  • George Washington
  • Jefferson
  • Parkersburg South
  • Washington
  • Wheeling Park
  • Woodrow Wilson

Class AA Teams:

  • Herbert Hoover
  • Keyser
  • North Marion
  • Point Pleasant
  • Roane County
  • Robert C. Byrd
  • Shady Spring
  • Winfield

Class A Teams:

  • Moorefield
  • Notre Dame
  • Pocahontas County
  • Sherman
  • St. Marys
  • Wahama
  • Webster County
  • Williamstown
St. Marys won the Class A championship.

Check out tee times and individual qualifiers here.

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Revenue collections surge to first quarter records; Justice administration says pandemic relief funding has played role, not sure how much

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state’s revenue collections exceeded estimates by more than $10 million in September and set records in doing so, according to the Justice administration.

The overall $423.6 million collected included nearly $194 million in Personal Income Taxes and $129.3 million Consume Sales Tax. State Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy said at a Thursday media briefing the three month, first quarter, total of those taxes was recording breaking.

Dave Hardy

“We collected nearly $1 billion (over three months) and we set records on both of those numbers,” Hardy said.

Those two taxes makes up approximately 75 percent of the state’s revenues. Personal Income Tax collected $614 million for the quarter and Consumer Sales Tax brought in $351 million.

Gov. Jim Justice was pleased with the numbers and said West Virginia continues to “surprise the world.”

The state is now $90 million ahead of estimates for the fiscal year. Justice said Thursday the state has an excess cash flow of nearly $298 million.

Neither Justice nor Hardy will able to completely explain what impact the nearly $3 billion the state has received in federal funding linked to the pandemic has positively impacted revenue collections. Hardy said the $1.25 billion from the CARES Act and the nearly $1,75 billion in targeted (bucket) grants for various entities is difficult to quantify.

“That’s very complex and it would probably take decades to try and model out to the penny what affect that has on the collection numbers that we see here today,” Hardy said. “But remember the underlying premise–they are here because of economic damage to begin with.”

Justice said the next step the state needs to take is to cut taxes.

“Do you know what we need to do more than anything as we move forward with this state? We need to get on a glidepath to eliminate our state income tax,” Justice said.

Chamber endorsement

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce this week announced its endorsement of Justice in his reelection bid against Kanawha County Commissioner, Democratic nominee Ben Salango.

Steve Roberts

The Chamber backed Republican Bill Cole in the race against Justice four years ago when Justice was a registered Democrat. Chamber President Steve Roberts said Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline” Justice now has a record.

Steve Roberts, WV Chamber of Commerce President, speaks with @HoppyKercheval about the Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement of Governor Justice. WATCH: https://t.co/wkudfIRZCB pic.twitter.com/ygXUpXrnEz

— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) October 1, 2020

“We now have almost four years of experience with Jim Justice and frankly, nobody here has built the number of roads and nobody has managed health care (like him),” Roberts said.

The Salango campaign countered Thursday with its announcement that the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Salango.

“When the Charleston Chamber endorses a candidate, we believe that he or she will make a strong partner and advocate for policies that advance Kanawha County and West Virginia,” Chamber president/CEO Steve Rubin said in a release.

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Fall forest fire season arrives in W.Va.

CHARLSTON, W.Va. — The 2020 fall forest fire season has arrived in West Virginia. From now through the end of the year, all outdoor burning must be confined to the hours of 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. Jeremy Jones, Fire Staff Assistant for the West Virginia Division of Forestry said burning within those hours is critical at this time of year.

“It makes a difference because through the middle of the day the sun is up, the air dries out, the humidity drops, and it’s usually windy. Fires are more likely to escape during those daylight hours than they are in the evening when the humidity starts coming up and the dew falls,” he said.

Those who choose to burn also need to remember additional restrictions. A person must stay with a fire the entire time it is burning. You’re also required to clear away any flammable fuels in a 10 foot ring around the fire and the landscape should be down to barren soil. Jones said while not a requirement, having a water hose close buy is a strong move as well.

The potential for forest fire is always prevalent in West Virginia, but this year the risk seems to be smaller than some we’ve experienced.

“We’re a lot different than where we were this time a year ago. Thankfully we had a lot of rain in the summer months. Although we are starting to dry out a little, we’re nowhere near where we were a year ago,” he said.

According to Jones there are three key reasons for forest fires in West Virginia. The biggest cause is debris burning which will accidentally get out of hand through high winds or just carelessness by the property owner. Arson is second and the third is downed powerlines.

“On those windy days when trees are falling and causing power outages, if it’s dry enough, those downed power lines will also cause a forest fire,” Jones said.

Anyone cited for burning in violation of the restriction could face stiff penalties including the possibility of a $1,000 fine

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Anheuser-Busch makes a donation aimed at keeping election safe in W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —  Anheuser-Busch is getting involved in West Virginia’s general election. The company, best known for its beer products, Thursday donated 43,000 ounces of hand sanitizer to the Mountain State to be placed in polling locations and areas where election workers will be busy in the upcoming vote.

“We really see this as a way we can step up and use our unique capabilities to help serve the community and our partners in times of need,” said Audrey Porter, Director of Corporate Communications for the company on MetroNews Talkline.

She was in Charleston as part of the company’s effort to deliver and distribute the material to all 50 states ahead of the November vote.

The hand sanitizer is produced at the company’s operations in New York and California.  Anheuser-Busch  shifted production back in April when the need grew and first responders found their materials in short supply.

“We actually gave a half-million eight-ounce bottles earlier this year that went to community organizations, emergency management agencies, food banks, health care systems, and a lot of those front line responders as well,” Porter explained.

The hand sanitizer delivered to West Virginia this week is packaged in eight ounce bottles and the large gallon sized bottles with the large pump on top. Those are to be placed in precincts around the state for use by voters and election workers.

“Making sure voters and election officials feel safe when they vote this fall. We at Anheuser-Busch along with lots of other folks think it’s part of the election process for people to feel safe to come out and vote,” she said.

The donation is part of a broader program in collaboration with the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED), the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), where the brewer is donating more than eight million ounces of hand sanitizer to election offices across the country.

This week, the brewer teamed up with local wholesaler partner, Spriggs Distributing Company in South Charleston, W.Va.  and utilized their collective logistics expertise to deliver the sanitizer locally to support polling locations and election offices.

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West Virginians have another year to get a REAL ID

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Oct. 1 was to be the deadline for residents across the U.S. to get a federal identification, called REAL ID, but the pandemic has pushed back the deadline a year to Oct. 1, 2021.

Natalie Holcomb

The West Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles has been offering REAL IDs to state residents for more than a half dozen years and many residents have taken advantage of the opportunity, according to DMV Public Information Specialist Natalie Holcomb.

“We have over 40% of our driver’s licenses, ID cards, are for federal and are REAL ID compliant,” Holcomb told MetroNews.

According to the federal office of Homeland Security, “The REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005, enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation that the Federal Government “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.” The Act established minimum security standards for license issuance and production and prohibits Federal agencies from accepting for certain purposes driver’s licenses and identification cards from states not meeting the Act’s minimum standards.”

Holcomb said the REAL ID will most frequently be needed for anyone planning to fly. Holcomb said because of the pandemic those without REAL ID have another year to get one but it’s probably a good idea not to be put it off. The federal Transportation Security Administration does accept other forms of ID for air travel including passports.

REAL ID compliance is signified with a gold star in the top right corner of a West Virginia driver’s license.

Those not compliant are labeled “Not For Federal Identification” and have no gold stars.

There is also a $10 REAL ID surcharge on top of standard license fees.

DMV Regional Offices Open

After being closed for several weeks at the beginning of the pandemic, DMV regional offices across West Virginia have reopened and are offering all services.

“Every regional office is open for business. We do encourage you to make an appointment. We obviously encourage you to do you business online because that’s more convenience for you as a customer,” Holcomb said.

The DMV is observing social distancing guidelines at the regional offices.

“We do have to limit the numbers of people inside the office for social distancing purposes,” Holcomb said. “That’s why the encouragement on my part to go online if you can and go to one of those (DMV) kiosks,” Holcomb said.

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One dead, deputy injured in officer involved shooting in Raleigh County

WHITBY, W.Va. — One person is dead and a Raleigh County Sheriff’s deputy is in the hospital but expected to recover following an officer-involved shooting early Thursday morning.

According to authorities, the deputy was shot twice in the chest during an altercation around 9:00 a.m. in the Fireco/Whitby area following a vehicle chase. The deputy was shot and then shot back and killed the suspect, according to the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association.

“The individual was fighting with the deputy and then pulled out a firearm, fired upon the deputy, hitting him twice in the chest and the deputy returned fire at that point,” Rodney Miller, Executive Director of WV Sheriff’s Association told MetroNews.

Miller said the two individuals were the only ones on the scene during the incident.

The association, Raleigh County Sheriff’s Department and Gov. Jim Justice all confirmed the deputy’s life was saved because of the vest he was wearing.

“Fortunately the deputy was wearing his vest. They do work, they do save lives and this is another example of that,” Miller said.

Prayers from across WV are sent to the Raleigh Co., WV Deputy Sheriff who was shot twice in the chest in an early morning incident today. He survived because of the vest he was wearing. Specific details have not been released yet.

— WV Sheriffs’ Assoc (@WVSheriffs) October 1, 2020

Gov. Jim Justice said during a stream event Thursday, “They are the very people that we call first. They do an incredible job for West Virginia. I love them with all my soul, I thank them and I ask you for your prayers for this individual.”

The Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office Detective Bureau and the West Virginia State Police are investigating the incident at this time. Names are currently not being released.

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Missouri native Chase Behrndt is a man on the move on the WVU O-Line

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Chase Behrndt has seen the stats and heard the talk. Last year, the WVU ground game was statistically one of the worst in college football. Although the Mountaineers have played just two games so far, they have shown marked improvement, averaging just under two hundred rushing yards per game. Behrndt says the front line remains a work in progress.

“We have definitely shifted things around,” Behrndt said. “I think we are still trying to figure things out. We are really coming a long way. We are getting young guys a lot of playing time. I would say we are really trusting the process. We are trying to get the best five out there. I think we are in the middle of that and we are still sorting through some stuff. We are coming in strong and trying to get the best offensive line we can get.”

Junior Leddie Brown has has posted back-to-back hundred-yard rushing efforts. Behrndt says the relationship between the line and the running backs is much stronger this fall.

“We have definitely been behind some good running backs on this team with my career so far. Leddie is doing it stronger than anyone I have seen in my career here. He is one of the strongest running backs we have had, maybe that we have seen in the Big 12 in a little bit. To have someone that you know on every run he is going to get back to at least the line of scrimmage helps you out as an O-Line.

“Every running back, whether it is the fifth-string or the starter, all of us are really close.”

On the flip side, the Mountaineers struggled at times in pass protection in Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State. Quarterback Jarret Doege was sacked five times by the Cowboys. Doege has impressed Behrndt with his toughness to take hits and keep pushing forward.

“It is disgusting to turn around and see him on the ground. The fact that he can get up time and time again and still come back with the same composure, still compete the same or maybe even compete harder, it is amazing to watch,”

In his four years in Morgantown, Behrndt has played all across the Mountaineer offensive front.

“I am perfectly fine moving anywhere. Anything that can help the team out, anything that can get other guys more reps to get the best five out there possible, I am willing to do anything with that.

“I am perfectly fine playing anywhere, whether that be center, guard, tackle, anything.”

Behrndt is starting now at the center spot and he is playing ahead of true freshman Zach Frazier. The Fairmont Senior graduate has made a strong impression on Behrndt in his first season.

“He is a very hard-working kid. I think he still has ways to go and some things to learn. I am doing my best personally to try to lead him through that process and help him be the best player he can possibly be right now.

“He is going to have a good career. We are trying to get him to be a key part of this offense right now.”

Behrndt has played in eleven games in each of the last two seasons. Last year, he played through pain the entire season after suffering a shoulder injury in preseason camp.

“I played every game with it torn. I tore it in training camp last year. It really helped me figure out how you can work the offensive line position, being able to play, I guess without all your extremities. When something is not a hundred percent, you have to overcompensate with some stuff. You work on leverage. You work on body position. Once you lose some of your strength, you have to figure out ways to use your footwork and use your technique to overpower a lot of the strong D-linemen we have in this league.”

Behrndt wrapped up his undergraduate degree in advertising and public relations in the summer. As he enters what could be his final season in the WVU program, the Missouri native believes he made the right choice by becoming a Mountaineer.

“I love everything that this program instilled. I love the mindset. I love the hard-working atmosphere. I love this town and I love this state. I don’t know if it could ever take away from home. It is definitely my second home. I love this place with every bit of me. Coming out here, I didn’t know what to expect. But I can definitely say the five years has proved to me I made the best choice possible. Because I love this place.”

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DHHR: Active COVID-19 cases go back above 4,000

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state went back above 4,000 active COVID-19 cases in numbers released Thursday by the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

The state added 176 new cases putting overall active cases at 4,068.  The state topped 4,000 active cases for the first time on Monday. There were 2,146 active cases on Sept. 1.

Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday that as testing increases across the state there are going to be additional cases identified including outbreaks in individuals schools. Justice said those new cases shouldn’t cause further shutdowns.

“We’ve got to go on. We have got to go on. So as we have outbreaks and we will, we will, then we’ll run to the fire and contact trace and do all of the things we need to do,” Justice said.

There were also four additional deaths including f a 70-year old female from Ohio County, a 79-year old male from Berkeley County, a 61-year old male from Kanawha County, and a 48-year old female from Marion County.

The state’s daily positive test rate for COVID-19 dipped to 2.67% in Thursday’s numbers. It marked the second lowest daily positive rate since Aug. 24.

There were 173 people in the hospital statewide Thursday with COVID-19 including 57 in ICU with 34 patients on ventilators.

.@WV_DHHR reports as of 10:00 a.m., October 1, 2020, there have been 567,801 total confirmatory laboratory results received for #COVID19, with 16,024 total cases and 354 deaths. https://t.co/uHvWYJuomR pic.twitter.com/Jz1HCDce8H

— WV DHHR (@WV_DHHR) October 1, 2020

Overall confirmed cases of COVID-19 per county since the pandemic began include:

Barbour (83), Berkeley (1,049), Boone (240), Braxton (13), Brooke (114), Cabell (858), Calhoun (25), Clay (37), Doddridge (28), Fayette (634), Gilmer (48), Grant (162), Greenbrier (129), Hampshire (109), Hancock (150), Hardy (92), Harrison (402), Jackson (278), Jefferson (439), Kanawha (2,772), Lewis (38), Lincoln (179), Logan (627), Marion (292), Marshall (182), Mason (144), McDowell (90), Mercer (430), Mineral (174), Mingo (392), Monongalia (2,059), Monroe (151), Morgan (58), Nicholas (114), Ohio (375), Pendleton (53), Pleasants (18), Pocahontas (59), Preston (158), Putnam (590), Raleigh (538), Randolph (259), Ritchie (13), Roane (55), Summers (56), Taylor (131), Tucker (37), Tyler (16), Upshur (91), Wayne (407), Webster (7), Wetzel (61), Wirt (12), Wood (375), Wyoming (121).

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St. Marys-Williamstown highlights Week 5 schedule in Class A

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Greg Carey and Joe Brocato discuss the top Class A matchups in Week 5.

  • St. Marys (4-0) at Williamstown (2-1)
  • Doddridge County (4-0) at Wirt County (3-0)
  • Midland Trail (0-0) at Meadow Bridge (0-0)

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