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Mingo County Schools agrees to Title IX improvements

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Education is requiring the Mingo County school system to make changes in how it reviews sexual assault complaints under Title IX.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights has announced a resolution agreement with the system following a recent investigation. The agreement “commits the district to take the steps needed to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in all of its education programs and activities,” according to a Department of Education news release.

Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government.

OCR began its investigation in Mingo County after the school system “did not complete an investigation of serial misconduct and that it did not respond equitably to complaints of sexual assault during the 2017-2018, 2018-2019, and 2019-2020 academic years.”

The federal education agency said one of the reviews focused on how “male respondents may have been treated less favorably than female respondents.”

MORE Read U.S. Department of Education letter to Mingo County here

Among other issues, the OCR investigation discovered Mingo County Schools didn’t have a Title IX coordinator before August 2020, didn’t adopt and publish Title IX grievance procedures, had bad record keeping for Title IX and had a confusing Title IX policy for parents and students.

“In addition, the district’s files were often incomplete or kept in a manner that did not allow OCR to assess the adequacy of the district’s response to Title IX complaints and, ultimately, determine whether the district complied with Title IX,” a U.S. Department of Education news release said.

The resolution agreement includes:

–Designating and identifying its Title IX coordinator(s) and providing Title IX training.

–Reviewing and revising its Title IX policies and submitting to OCR case file documentation sufficient to show that the district’s revised Title IX policies are compliant and effective.

–Publishing a compliant notice of nondiscrimination.

–Reviewing all complaints of student and staff Title IX misconduct during the 2017-2018, 2018-2019, 2019-2020, 2021-2022, and 2022-2023 school years to determine – with OCR review and approval – whether additional actions need to be taken to comply with Title IX.

–Surveying students and parents to assess a need for additional changes.

The district has also agreed to further review the complaints from 2017 to 2020 and take additional action if necessary.

“Mingo County Schools’ commitments today to ensure consistent and equitable investigation of and response to possible sexual assault of students in the district’s charge, as well as training, staffing, and policy development that fulfill the Title IX mandate, are crucial to ensuring student safety,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon.

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Flash flooding in Bluefield

BLUEFIELD, W.Va. — More than three inches of rain in a very short period of time caused flash flooding in Bluefield on Memorial Day.

The National Weather Service said as much as 3.5 inches of rain hit Monday morning. A flash flood watch remained in effect until 3 p.m. Monday.

Bluefield City Manager Cecil Marson said the city’s storm drains were unable to handle that much rain that quickly.

“Storm drains are fine but they’re not built for this amount of rain–it hit us pretty good,” Marson said. “Unfortunately we got hit pretty solid down here.”

The City of Bluefield put a public notice on its Facebook page:

“Due to major flooding issues throughout the City of Bluefield, WV, residents are encouraged for their own safety to limit travel today as storm water crews work to reduce the high levels of water throughout the city. The city thanks you for your patience during this time.”

Marson said he believed downtown buildings would survive the high water without much major damage. He said a few communities surrounding the downtown will have plenty of residential basement flooding.

“There are a few homes in a couple of areas that have had some pretty high water that have gotten up to their porches and we’ve had some cars that have gotten covered up in a couple of spots but it’s predominately basement flooding that’s the big issue that we’ll have to wrestle with,” Marson said.

The city started getting calls about the high water Monday morning. Marson said they jumped into action.

“We all live here and when there’s an issue everybody gets up and gets after it,” Marson said. “The priority is is to make sure everybody is okay and we’ll mess with the cleanup afterwards.”

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Young selected to lead West Virginia Department of Health

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The new head of the state Department of Health is a familiar face to Charleston and Kanawha County.

Dr. Sherri Young was appointed by Gov. Jim Justice to fill one of the three secretary positions of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

Three new cabinet secretaries were named by Gov. Justice last week. Dr. Cynthia Persily was named as secretary of the Department of Human Services, Michael Caruso as secretary of the Department of Health Facilities, and Dr. Young as secretary of the Department of Health.

Sherri Young

Young has spent a lot of her professional work in Charleston, most notably as the director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department where she helped Kanawha County during the time of the COVID pandemic. Young was most recently Associate Chief Medical Officer for CAMC hospitals.

Now, she will lead the entire state’s health department. Young said she sees this position as a huge opportunity.

“I see a lot of opportunities there,” Young said about getting back into the public health sector. “I’m excited to work with Secretary Persily and Secretary Caruso.”

Young said that a lot was learned about the community during the time of the pandemic, which she believes has shaped her into a good choice to lead in this new role.

“Through COVID, we got to see a lot of great response with how we handled the pandemic, the public health response was phenomenal.”

Young said there’s still work to do on the health care gaps in West Virginia.

“As far as closing gaps and making sure people are getting their cancer screenings and right treatment, we have a lot of work to do,” she said.

When addressing these issues, it needs to start at a young age, according to Dr. Young. She wants to make sure young children are learning at an early age the ways to properly take of themselves from a health perspective.

“We need to get out in the communities and teach them better ways to take care of themselves,” Young said. “If we don’t start somewhere, it’s going to be a never ending cycle.”

House Bill 2006 was passed earlier this year which divides the DHHR into the three separate agencies.

The full division of the DHHR will take effect in 2024.

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MetroNews This Morning 5-29-23

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — We have a Memorial Day edition of MetroNews This Morning for you on MetroNews the Voice of West Virginia.

Today’s podcast features a MetroNews update from Carrie Hodousek, sports from Joe Brocato and Hoppy Kercheval’s commentary.

Listen to today’s MetroNews This Morning here.

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Ravenswood remembers those who have given the ultimate sacrifice

RAVENSWOOD, W.Va. — A pause Sunday in Ravenswood for a Memorial Day service at Ravenswood Cemetery.

Pastor Christopher Skeens helped organize the service. He spoke with MetroNews affiliate WMOV Radio. He said it’s a community priority to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

“It’s so important to remember those who have given so much—as far as even giving their very lives–for the cause of freedom. It’s our desire to remember them, to memorialize them,” Skeens said.

Jackson County native retired Navy veteran Jeffrey Elkins was the special speaker. He said Memorial Day represents a multiple of things but there’s one that outweighs them all.

“We know that schools are letting out, vacations are starting, there are family events all weekend long but we want to make sure that we take a little bit of time out to remember those who gave their lives for this country,” Elkins said. “It’s important that we remember that we are breathing freedom air.”

Elkins, who served 30 years in the Navy, is now giving back through the VFW.

“I had an opportunity to still serve and grasped on to that opportunity,” Elkins said.

Sunday ceremony included several special speakers, a wreath laying and participation from a local Boy Scout troop.

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Expedited approval of Mountain Valley Pipeline is part of debt ceiling package

The debt ceiling deal hammered out by the president and House Republicans includes provisions to speed the remaining permitting of the long-delayed Mountain Valley Pipeline.

The expedited permitting is receiving praise from West Virginia’s congressional delegation, which has pushed for the pipeline’s completion, and criticism from environmental groups.

Joe Manchin

National news outlets reported that the pipeline provision was directly linked to Senate Energy Chairman Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

“Last summer, I introduced legislation to complete the Mountain Valley Pipeline. I am pleased Speaker McCarthy and his leadership team see the tremendous value in completing the MVP to increase domestic energy production and drive down costs across America and especially in West Virginia,” Manchin stated Sunday evening.

“I am proud to have fought for this critical project and to have secured the bipartisan support necessary to get it across the finish line.”

Shelley Moore Capito

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, who has also worked on permitting reform to speed the pipeline’s completion, agreed.

“After working with Speaker McCarthy and reiterating what completing the Mountain Valley Pipeline would mean for American jobs and domestic energy production, I am thrilled it is included in the debt ceiling package that avoids default,” said Capito, R-W.Va., ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“Despite delay after delay, we continued to fight to get this critical natural gas pipeline up and running, and its inclusion in this deal is a significant victory for the future of West Virginia,”

Carol Miller

Congresswoman Carol Miller, R-W.Va., also expressed support for the legislation.

“Finally, Republicans and Democrats are coming together to finish the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which will create more jobs, lower energy costs and protect our environment,” Miller stated Sunday evening. “This bill is a bipartisan win for every American.”

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a proposed 303.5-mile interstate natural gas pipeline that  would cross nine West Virginia counties to transport natural gas to East Coast markets. The pipeline’s developers have said they intend to bring the pipeline into service in the second half of 2023.

The $6.6 billion pipeline project first got authorization from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2017, but its completion has been delayed by regulatory hurdles and court challenges.

Environmental groups contend the pipeline will affect forest habitats, gunk up streams and disrupt outdoor recreation. There’s also an overriding concern about the effects of fossil fuels like natural gas on climate change.

“Changes to environmental laws and favors to fossil fuel companies have no place in a bill to raise the debt ceiling.” said Chelsea Barnes, director of government affairs and strategy for Appalachian Voices, an environmental advocacy organization. “Congress should reject this legislation and pass a clean debt ceiling bill.”

West Virginia Rivers is among the environmental groups promoting a June 8 protest in front of the White House. And West Virginia Rivers sent a letter last week to President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, urging rejection of the pipeline.

West Virginia Rivers executive director Angie Rosser noted on MetroNews’ “Talkline” that part of negotiations around the federal debt ceiling have also involved permitting reform that could ease the pathway to approval for projects like Mountain Valley Pipeline.

“A deeply troubling provision is to expedite permitting without further public involvement or judicial review,” Rosser said. “This is quite a bold, unprecedented step that we think creates a dangerous precedent and also sends a message that we’re not worthy of equal protection under the laws.”

This month, the U.S. Forest Service approved Mountain Valley Pipeline’s passage about three and a half miles through the Jefferson National Forest through West Virginia and into Virginia.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has twice knocked down earlier Forest Service approvals for the pipeline, in 2018 and then again last year.

Environmental groups have contended the project will result in harm to biodiversity and lands held in the public trust.

“What the court keeps coming back to is that the agencies are not complying with the law,” Rosser said. “That, from our point of view, is a fair expectation that no federal agency decision is above the law. If these decisions and permits were granted correctly in the first place, there probably would have been a pipeline built by now.”

Jennifer Granholm

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has publicly advocated for the pipeline’s completion in recent weeks. Granholm last month submitted a letter to regulators in support of completing the pipeline. She followed up with remarks during an energy summit sponsored by Politico, a national publication that focuses on politics and power.

“We know there is a real desire to have energy security in areas where there is huge demand for power. We also know we have got to accelerate investment in clean (energy),” Granholm said during the energy summit. 

“So we are in this transition, and while we still have to have pipelines — and pipelines for CO2 and hydrogen, as well — we want to make sure that we are also accelerating the clean. That is an energy security play — natural gas, obviously, but we’re also doubling, tripling down on clean.”

Granholm was asked specifically if she believes congressional action is necessary to complete Mountain Valley Pipeline. She suggested the pipeline project might be close enough to the finish line to be completed as it is already progressing.

“There’s been court challenges along the way, but I think it’s on a path to do that,” Granholm said.

Granholm also advocated for permitting reform, which could affect natural gas pipelines but also the approval process for other forms of energy and infrastructure like transmission lines.

“We have an urgent need to move on permitting. We really do,” Granholm said. “We all feel a huge sense of permitting about it. It is insane that it can take 10 years or more for a transmission line.”

Her remarks were interrupted by climate protesters who made reference to Mountain Valley Pipeline and liquefied natural gas by chanting, “No MVP, No LNG, Granholm you are killing me.”

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Model pays tribute to B-25 crew killed in West Virginia

CROSS LANES, W.Va. — A hobbyist in Kanawha County has created a unique tribute to the crew of a B-25 bomber who died in West Virginia.

Allen Harmon of Cross Lanes is a history buff and was intrigued when he learned about the crash of the military aircraft at Spruce Knob in 1950.

“They crashed up there on June 14th at 3:30 in the morning. They were on their way back to Hill Air Force Base in Utah from Pennsylvania. Somehow, they got off course and flew straight into the tallest mountain in our state,” said Harmon.

Harmon did a lot of research and managed to find and visit the crash site where parts of the plane are still strewn about. A farmer had hauled off one of the engines years ago, but a friend located it about ten years ago and gave Harmon the base of one of the propellers. Harmon, who is a scale model builder, went to work incorporating the authentic material he had collected into a memorial to the nine men who perished on the flight.

“I took a piece of plywood and mounted the propeller hub on it. Then I took pieces of the aluminum I found on the hillside where the plane crashed and straightened those out and put them on the board. I had a plaque made at a trophy shop with all of the men’s names and ranks,” Harmon explained.

He built a 1/32nd scale model of the exact B-25 involved in the crash. Through military archives he was able to find the plane’s exact numbers and markings to put on the model. He also learned the names of the crew members who died. He attempted to contact some of the families through the years, but had no success.

“I tried to contact those who had applied to the military for honorary markers, but they were all dead,” he said.

The crew members were from all over the United States. Harmon decided to display the memorial in model shows around the country which he attends as a tribute to the men who died. The model has won three awards in the past year.

“People really enjoy it when I take it to shows. I built it as a memorial to those guys. I don’t care if it wins a prize, I’m just happy to have it to help remember those guys who gave their lives,” he said.

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Mountain State Art and Craft Fair to return for 61st year

RIPLEY, W.Va. –An over 60 year Appalachian art and craft tradition is again making its way to the Mountain State, but this time its adding something new specifically for scholars of the arts.

The 61st year of the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair will return to the grounds of the Cedar Lakes Conference Center, where its been the site of the fair since its inception in 1963, however, this year the fair has incorporated the Mountain State Art and Craft Fair Scholarship Fund to the mix. The scholarship and grant fund is way to continue to grow appreciation of visual art, heritage music and dance education in West Virginia, and qualified participants are given the opportunity to academically explore those arts.

“This is a tradition that started back during the state centennial I believe, and it has been a larger event at times and a smaller event at times, and we’re still going,” Vice President of Publicity and Advertising for MSACF, Buddy Davidson told MetroNews.

After taking a year off from the event during the peak of Covid, Davidson said MSACF made a full comeback last year for its 60th anniversary.

Now it returns with the same traditional crafts, including wood turning, stained glass and pottery making, basket weaving and even kite making for the kids.

Davidson said the fair has become popular over the years because people are not only given a firsthand look at how the Appalachian art and craft is made, but they get to participate in making it.

“What makes our event special is that people can come and see some of the best artisans and crafters around actually making the products they sell, and we also have a lot of opportunity for people to come in and actually take part in making the craft themselves,” he said.

Davidson said they expect to have up to about 70 different artesian vendors alone.

However, along with that, a number of food vendors, a quilt show, chances to win raffles, cooking demonstrations and more will be dispersed throughout the three-day event. Davidson said the West Virginia Marketplace will have a tent set up selling many locally-grown products.

In addition, he said some of the best bluegrass pickers and heritage music throughout Appalachia will also be performing during the entirety of the event.

Davidson said while it’s a juried show and the artisans must meet quality requirements to sell their products, he said it’s also about taking it back to the basics and appreciating where and how these crafts came to be.

“The items that you’ll see there are of the highest artistic value, but this is also a heritage event, this is a way we preserve the traditional ways of making things that we relied on in years past,” Davidson said.

The fair will take place from June 30 through July 2 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Admission to the fair is $5 for people 12 years and older and free for kids 11 years and younger. Free parking is also available.

People can find out more by visiting MSACF on its website, where applicants of the scholarship fund can also visit a page there to learn more about that program. Applicants must be 18 years or older and a resident of West Virginia to apply for the scholarship program.

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Tyler earns top seed, Charleston Catholic looks to defend Class A state title

Complete state baseball tournament schedule

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Tyler Consolidated enters the Class A state tournament with the No. 1 seed and with an extensive list of impressive performances throughout the year. The Silver Knights went 31-6 with Little Kanawha Conference Tournament and sectional tournament wins against Williamstown. Tyler also rallied from a four-run, seventh-inning deficit in the decisive regional game to earn their first state tourney berth.

“They’ve been in a lot of big situations,” said Tyler Consolidated head coach Rob Jones. “We went down to the Mingo Bay Classic in Myrtle Beach and we won that championship with 40 teams down there. Then we were able to defend our conference title. Then we won the sectional against Williamstown again. This team has been battle-tested.”

The Knights will face Petersburg in the opening semifinal. The Vikings are making their first state tournament appearance in 37 years. Petersburg heads to Charleston riding a seven-game win streak and they outscored their five playoff opponents, 45-10.

“They’re a pretty laid back group of kids that have a lot of fun,” said Petersburg head coach Mike Landis. “When kids like each other, you become a team. These kids rally around each other all the time.”

Charleston Catholic makes the short trip to GoMart Ballpark 52 weeks after winning the state title against Wahama. The Irish did so with a losing record for the year. Elevated expectations have been with the Irish throughout the 2023 season.

“This year’s team had much more confidence going into the season than last year’s team,” said Charleston Catholic head coach Will Bobinger. “Last year’s team was trying to understand their role. They were trying to figure out how they fit and how everything would play out. This year’s team came into the year with last year’s experience.”

Wahama is 5-0 in elimination games this year after losing early games in sectional and regional tournaments. The White Falcons are seeking their fifth state title and a sweep of the baseball and softball championships.

“The tradition we have had and the success we have had over the decades and through the years, there’s always that raised bar of expectations and getting to the state tournament and winning championships,” said Wahama head coach Billy Zuspan.

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WVU transition begins to come into focus

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A comprehensive review of programs and personnel is underway at West Virginia University as officials prepare for a $45 million budget cut for next fiscal year.

During a campus conversation earlier this week, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Paula Congelio explained the number will be reached by accessing $24 million in funds from the WVU Foundation to offset expenses and cutting $21 million across the institution.

Paula Congelio

“Those budgets have all been submitted by the units, and we’re rolling them up and preparing our overall budget that we will take to our board of governors for our June board meeting,” Congelio said.

Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, Rob Alsop, explained the review is comprehensive, data-driven, thoughtful, and deliberate. But he confirmed that the tough decisions will change the university fundamentally.

“We’re at the point where we’re going to have to start saying “no” to some things that, in an instance where we had more enrollees or more revenues, we might not be doing,” Alsop said. “They’re hard, so there may be some time when you say, gee, why wouldn’t you keep that?” he said.

Rob Alsop

Other cost-cutting measures to be pursued are a building temperature control plan to cut energy costs, the voluntary Work-Time Reduction Program, and quickly identifying reiterations planned over the next year. Alsop said 23 have been approved to participate in the program, and another 83 have expressed interest. Those reductions in labor costs are expected to begin on June 4.

“There is a structure coming from this merger that will really serve ITS well moving forward as an institution,” Alsop said. “So, we’ll be ready very soon to provide additional details about that merger.”

Maryanne Reed

As the program review process continues, options like consolidating colleges and departments are being explored. One option could be a potential merger of the Statler College of Engineering with the engineering program at WVU Tech.

“Yes, we’re having conversations; we’re beginning to discuss possible mergers,” Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs for West Virginia University Maryanne Reed said. “Nothing has been decided yet, and there’s nothing to share at this point.”

Vice President for Research at WVU, Fred King, said the university is committed to remaining an R-1 research institution.

As part of increasing competitiveness, the WVU Energy Institute will be divided into the WVU Institute of Sustainability and Energy Research, and the West Virginia Water Research Institute will become a stand-alone entity, according to WVU Vice President for Research, Fred King.

The WVU Institute of Sustainability and Energy Research, led by Sam Taylor, current Assistant to the Director of the WVU Energy Institute, will focus on fossil energy resources and advance the all-of-the-above energy strategy supported by the federal government. The West Virginia Water Research Institute will be led by Paul Ziemkiewicz and will focus on acid mine drainage and extracting rare earth minerals.

Fred King

“It’s focus will be on water and brownfield remediation,” King said. “A major project will continue to be the work of addressing acid mine drainage and exploring processes where we perhaps can recover critical minerals from these waste sources.”

The June Board of Governors meeting is schedule for June 22.

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