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Children get creative during library Paint Party

HUNTINGTON — Brushes dripping with brightly colored paint were put to canvas as children of all ages stretched their creative muscles during a Paint Party at the Cabell County Public Library on Friday.

The library hosted the event and provided the materials — a canvas, paintbrush, palette and paint — but the rest was left up to each child’s imagination. Face coverings were encouraged for participants, and painting was set up in a socially distant manner.

Although some of the library’s programs have moved to a virtual format during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said it was nice seeing children in the facility for an in-person event. They recommend checking the library’s Facebook page for more information regarding additional children’s programs.

Milton Middle School teacher scrutinized for in-class comments

MILTON — A health teacher at Milton Middle School has caused a stir in the community after an audio recording surfaced of remarks she made in class pertaining to her personal beliefs and the Bible.

Teacher Karen Ashworth’s commentary, which continued for about three minutes, occurred during a lesson seemingly aimed toward the subject of abstinence but that took a turn to religion when she addressed topics such as sexual orientation and same-sex relationships to her students.

In the audio recording shared by Owen Morgan, the father of a student, the teacher seems to imply that non-Christians are not and cannot be brought up with “morals and values.”

Ashworth admitted that she is aware she is not allowed to promote her personal religious beliefs in class and can be heard in the recording saying she “tries to squeeze it in a little bit without getting in too much trouble.”

She also said she doesn’t “believe in” same-sex relationships when teaching students about hormonal changes during puberty.

“The thing is you have to choose — what are you going to do with those feelings and thoughts? And if you’re brought up with morals and values, then God’s going to be there to help you make better decisions,” Ashworth said in the recording.

Morgan responded Tuesday to the audio recording provided by his daughter on his YouTube channel, TellTale, which includes several videos criticizing evangelical culture.

In a profanity-laced video, Morgan said he didn’t plan to make the information public yet, but made several threats to ruin Ashworth’s career in the video, which had surpassed 80,000 views by Friday morning.

A Cabell County Schools official said the administration was aware of the situation and that “a district-level investigation has been completed.”

“As with all investigations, if issues are found, they are addressed. We expect no further issues related to this matter,” the official said.

A public Facebook group called “Support an Excellent Cabell County Teacher” now has 1,600 members, and the group leader organized a protest at the bottom of the hill leading to the middle school, which happened early Friday morning.

A Milton gas station changed their company sign in support of the teacher, adding the phrase “Team Ashworth” at the bottom of the message board.

Morgan reportedly contacted the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nationwide nonprofit created to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state.

In a media release, the FFRF stated it has written a letter to Cabell County Superintendent Ryan Saxe asking that the district ensure Ashworth stops preaching her religious beliefs to students, teaching from the Bible or denigrating non-Christians.

“Because this teacher has admitted that she is aware of, and yet unwilling to follow, the law, which prohibits religious indoctrination in the classroom, she has admitted that she is not fit to be a public school teacher,” said FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line in the release. “She understood the law and deliberately violated it, imposing her religion on other people’s children in the process.”

A message left for Ashworth seeking comment on the situation was not returned.

West Virginia announces 20 more unreported COVID-19 deaths

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Friday that 20 coronavirus deaths went unreported, on top of the 165 deaths he announced last week that were previously not publicized.

The Republican governor vowed a “complete investigation, all the way down, to pinpoint exactly where the shortcomings are.” Those words appeared to suggest the problem may run beyond hospitals and nursing homes not reporting deaths to the health department, as officials said last week was the cause of the 165 unreported deaths.

“We got to do better. We are disrespecting great West Virginians,” Justice said. “There’s no excuse for it.”

Bill Crouch, cabinet secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, said part of the issue was facilities not reporting the deaths but that “in some cases, the information was transmitted to the local health departments,” which are supposed to then send it to the state department.

“We’re going to fix that,” he said, and “streamline this process somewhat.”

Justice did not say when the deaths occurred. Last week he said 84% of the batch of 165 deaths were from December 2020 and January.

At his Friday news conference, the governor also announced the state would establish three new clinics in the state that would allow anyone 65 and older to receive a vaccine, even if they show up to the site while on a wait list. He said 64% of senior citizens have received a shot, and he wants that number to be at least 85%.

State schools Superintendent Clayton Burch said the more than 38,000 public and private school employees who accepted the offer for a vaccine have received a shot.

“If you asked and wanted a vaccine, we got it to you,” he said. He didn’t disclose how many teachers and staff members declined.

In total, 23.5% of the state’s 1.78 million residents are partially vaccinated, while 14.5% are fully inoculated against the illness that has killed 2,600 people, according to state data.

Justice said he may announce within weeks when the state will open up vaccine eligibility to anyone who wants a shot. Currently, all residents age 50 and older can receive a shot, in addition to people 16 and older with underlying medical conditions and essential workers of all ages.

This week, the state has witnessed a small bump in hospitalizations, rising from 155 patients to 199 on Friday. The seven-day average for new confirmed cases is steady at 214.

Justice has kept a statewide mask mandate in effect while he lifted capacity limits earlier this month at bars, restaurants and businesses and allowed social gatherings of up to 100 people.