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Cabell County students, families to have back-to-school options

HUNTINGTON — Families and students in Cabell County will have the option to choose from three different scenarios regarding school re-entry should classes in the Mountain State resume Sept. 8.

The Cabell County Board of Education on Thursday approved the tentative back-to-school plan, which offers a choice between five-day, face-to-face traditional school weeks; a blended learning model; and full-time virtual education.

Although registration for families opened Thursday evening, the plans will take a three-phase approach, meaning the five-day model won’t be implemented until it’s safe to do so.

“The five-day traditional model — that is our ultimate goal. Our ultimate goal is to bring students back to five-day, in-school instruction, because we know that’s what’s most effective,” Superintendent Ryan Saxe said. “But we also know that the timeliness of when that can occur varies.”

Phase 1 will entail all students participating in virtual education, Phase 2 will engage students remotely or in a blended, two-day model, and students will be able to return to a traditional in-person schedule in Phase 3.

“If we were to enter Sept. 8 in Phase 2, the school district will be working diligently to make sure that we have the latest updated information so that we can assess when would be the right time to enter into Phase 3,” Saxe said. “That being said, if we were to enter in Phase 3 on Sept. 8 and (COVID-19) has additional community spread and guidance from the West Virginia Department of Education, the Governor’s Office or the health department comes out in October that things are more concerning, we may have to go back to a Phase 2 scenario.”

Students who were previously enrolled in five-day instruction at school would shift to the blended model, where groups of students will attend in-person classes two days each week in rotation. Instruction for those in the blended model would remain the same, and those participating in full-time virtual learning would also see no change.

Regardless of when or how students return to school, the district will follow protocol from the state regarding masks. Under current guidance, students in grades 3-12 will be asked to wear a face covering when social distancing is not possible.

Students in Pre-K through second grade will be encouraged to wear a mask or face shield, and some students will also use portable plastic desk shields — these materials will be provided by the district if necessary.

Additional staff such as a chief health officer, licensed practical nurses and 13 new custodians will be considered, and individual changes by school and programmatic level — elementary, middle and high school — will vary.

The school experience will likely be different for staff, too. They’ll be screened in designated areas upon arrival, similar to that of students, and will be trained on new virus-related protocols prior to their tentative start date of Aug. 25.

“Due to the screening requirements and the expectation that employees do not report to work when they have any of those symptoms, personnel will work with those employees to take those absences when necessary,” said Tim Hardesty, assistant superintendent of district support and employee relations. “The federal government has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act for employee sick leave. That would provide up to two weeks of paid sick leave. It would not dock their pay.”

Hardesty said the situation for each employee would be different, but part of their job is to work with those individuals during this unprecedented time.

The board also approved calendar changes Thursday to ensure students are not in school throughout the month of June.

During Thanksgiving week, students will participate in nontraditional remote learning days Nov. 23-25. During spring break, students will engage in remote learning March 22-25.

Saxe said the district also has a waiver request submitted with the WVDE for the start of the school day to be pushed back 30 minutes, allowing teachers to be in their classrooms when students begin arriving so kids can head directly to their first period and avoid group settings.

More information, as well as registration information for each learning option, can be found at

Construction of first responder Wellness Center in Huntington to begin this month

HUNTINGTON — After nearly two years of planning, a wellness center tailored for Huntington’s police officers and firefighters will finally come to life on the fifth floor of the Huntington Police Department.

The center will be one of many resources available to the city’s first responders through the Compass Program, an initiative designed to combat compassion fatigue and burnout for those on the front lines of the opioid epidemic.

“The Compass Wellness Center is a critical component of a much broader effort, and I’m proud to announce today that the first phase of construction is about to begin,” Mayor Steve Williams said Thursday during a news conference. “The construction is going to begin on the first phase of the wellness center — the exercise center — before Aug. 1.”

The first phase will cost $440,000, with $250,000 contributed from the city and the remaining $190,000 raised from grants and private donors.

The exercise space will differ from a typical gym — it will include specialized equipment, open exercise space and group areas, Compass physical fitness coach Amy Henshaw said.

“Functional training does not take place in one plane of movement,” she said. “So the open workout area of the wellness center will utilize plyometric equipment such as boxes, sandbags, kettlebells and power sleds.”

Henshaw will work with mental fitness coach Amy Jefferson to develop integral action plans for both body and mind wellness.

The initiative began in 2018 when Huntington was awarded $1 million from the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ U.S. Mayors Challenge to begin the process of “helping the helpers” in the face of crisis, a pivotal moment for the community, Williams said.

“None of us ever imagined that two years later we’d be in the middle of a global pandemic, and full of national social and civil strife, with the police departments around the country right in the middle,” Williams said. “We are reforming public safety, because what we are doing with the Compass program, we’re providing an outlet for our first responders to be able to deal with the stresses that they deal with on a day-in, day-out basis.”

Williams said assisting first responders and their families is the first step in making a difference in the lives of residents and improving civilian interaction.

“It’s something that our residents deserve,” Williams said. “This is important for the residents in our neighborhoods to know that we are providing something that nobody else in the country is doing, so they can do their job in the way we know they are capable of doing.”

The model of merging mental and physical health can also be used for emergency room workers, schoolteachers or anyone facing ongoing occupational stress or burnout.

Fundraising will continue for the next three phases of the Wellness Center, which include office space, a nutrition center and new restrooms.

Judge clears way for extensive financial record exchange in Blackjewel bankruptcy

HUNTINGTON — Clearing a path through multiple motions and countermotions — and several courtroom hearings — the judge presiding over Blackjewel LLC’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case ruled Tuesday that the debtors have the right to continue to seek discovery of documents from former Blackjewel CEO Jeff Hoops, his family and 19 other associates.

The decision handed down by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Irene C. Berger, in the Southern District of West Virginia, allows Blackjewel debtors to continue receiving documents from United Bank, despite the objections of Hoops, the founder of Blackjewel, and the “Hoops Parties.”

Berger referred to an earlier ruling by U.S. District Judge Omar J. Aboulhosn, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, who said his “patience has been tested by the Hoops Parties.”

The Hoopses had argued that the judge had no evidence of an intricate relationship among the 28 different individuals and entities and the debtors should not have access to documents from each.

The magistrate judge determined that “despite the Hoops Parties’ suggestion that they are comprised of distinct entities and individuals, there is insurmountable evidence that the Hoops Parties as a collective, along with the debtors and United Bank, have enjoyed and continue to enjoy an intricate business relationship that justifies the debtors’ discovery requests.”

In seeking the documents from United Bank, the debtors alleged the “Hoops Parties engaged in tens of millions of dollars of related party transactions with the Debtors that frequently are unexplained or not documented in ordinary manner” and they needed documents from United Bank to sort through those transactions.

United Bank had initially cooperated freely with Blackjewel in producing documents related to Hoops’ finances but then began not cooperating, prompting further court action compelling the bank to continue to cooperate in the discovery.

Court actions against Hoops and associates heated up last week when Blackjewel and affiliated debtor Revelation Energy sued Lexington Coal, owned by a trust affiliated with Hoops and members of his family.

The adversary proceeding, filed in the bankruptcy court, seeks to recover damages for alleged injuries that Blackjewel and Revelation said were caused by Lexington’s “improper actions in using and profiting from plaintiffs’ assets, including mining permits, inventory and equipment, without providing adequate consideration in return.”

Blackjewel and four affiliated debtors each filed for Chapter 11 status July 1, 2019, in the West Virginia court. Blackjewel at that time cut business ties with Hoops and certain family members.

Courtesy of the Ohio Arts Council via Facebook This crosswalk in downtown Ironton was designed and painted by artists from the STAR Community Justice Center as part of a community art project spearheaded by the nonprofit Third and Center.

First COVID-19-related death reported in Cabell County

HUNTINGTON — The first death related to COVID-19 has been reported in Cabell County.

The Cabell-Huntington Health Department on Thursday confirmed the death of an 84-year-old man.

The health department said the man’s death was a solemn reminder of the seriousness of this new disease.

“The Cabell-Huntington Health Department strongly encourages everyone to practice the measures in place for their protection,” a release said. “These measures include frequent hand-washing, face coverings to include a mask, avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth, avoid close contact, and cover coughs and sneezes. Special measures must also be taken to protect individuals at increased risk of severe disease — people who are older or have other medical conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, chronic lung disease and others.”

Of the 202 total cases, 75 are active in Cabell County.

The health department is operating a call center to address general questions and concerns about the novel coronavirus; hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday at 304-526-6544. Calls from 4 to 6 p.m. are routed to an after-hours answering service for distribution and return calls.

The death has not yet been confirmed by the state. The Department of Health and Human Resources on Thursday reported the 99th death in the state — an 84-year-old man from Jackson County.

Statewide, 100 new cases were reported Thursday, for a total of 4,657, and 1,266 tests were received by the state. The daily positive percentage rate was 5.79%.

Total cases per county (case confirmed by lab test/probable case) are: Barbour (24/0), Berkeley (536/19), Boone (50/0), Braxton (5/0), Brooke (31/1), Cabell (202/7), Calhoun (4/0), Clay (14/0), Fayette (95/0), Gilmer (13/0), Grant (21/1), Greenbrier (74/0), Hampshire (44/0), Hancock (47/3), Hardy (48/1), Harrison (133/1), Jackson (148/0), Jefferson (257/5), Kanawha (463/12), Lewis (23/1), Lincoln (15/0), Logan (40/0), Marion (120/3), Marshall (74/1), Mason (26/0), McDowell (12/0), Mercer (67/0), Mineral (68/2), Mingo (39/2), Monongalia (633/15), Monroe (14/1), Morgan (19/1), Nicholas (19/1), Ohio (162/0), Pendleton (17/1), Pleasants (4/1), Pocahontas (37/1), Preston (88/21), Putnam (96/1), Raleigh (85/3), Randolph (193/2), Ritchie (3/0), Roane (12/0), Summers (2/0), Taylor (26/1), Tucker (7/0), Tyler (10/0), Upshur (31/2), Wayne (141/2), Webster (1/0), Wetzel (38/0), Wirt (6/0), Wood (191/10) and Wyoming (7/0).

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine mandated that masks be worn in public in the 19 level-3 alert counties, which includes Scioto County. DeWine reported nearly all the new cases in Scioto County are from outside the congregate setting, which indicates “significant” community spread. He said there was an outbreak at a day-care center and at least one workplace.

Lawrence County remained at level-2 alert. Athens County is nearing level 4.

Statewide, 1,290 new positive cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday, for a total of 70,601, and 28 new deaths, for a total of 3,103.

In Kentucky, the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department said four new positive cases were reported — a 65-year-old man, 16-year-old girl, 22-year-old woman and 19-year-old man, all isolating at home. There are 41 active cases in the county.

Statewide, 413 new positive cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday, for a total of 21,083, and five new deaths, for a total of 650.

More than 67,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported across the U.S. on Thursday, bringing the nation’s total number of cases to 3,483,832, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 136,938 deaths related to the virus.