JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Board of Commissioners held its regularly scheduled meeting on June 1 at 9 a.m. on the third floor of Ashe County Courthouse.
There was not a meeting space available for the public to attend due to COVID-19, but the meeting was streamed live on the Ashe County Government website and is available for the public to watch at their leisure.
There were no public comments during the meeting.
Ashe County Manager Adam Stumb presented the CARES Act Plan for submission to the state.
The proposed grand total for this coronavirus relief plan for the county is $692,602. There expenditures categories include medical expenses, public health expenses, payroll expenses, expenses of actions which facilitate compliance with COVID-19 related public health measures, expenses associated with the provision of economic support due to the virus and grants to municipalities and nonprofits.
In terms of grants to municipalities and nonprofits, the proposed amount for both the Town of West Jefferson and the Town of Jefferson is $6,926.02. For the Town of Lansing the proposed amount is $3,463.01. The proposed grant amounts for Wilkes Community College is $13,852.04 and Ashe County Schools is $69,260.20. Finally, the proposed grant amount for Ashe Services for Aging is $13,852.04.
Proposed amounts for grants for healthcare providers are $34,630.10 for Ashe Memorial Hospital and $176,613.51 for AppHealthCare.
It is important to note that these are all “preliminary distribution” amounts among community partners and the BOC may change any amount prior to final approval.
There will be a deadline for the agencies to spend the money, which Stumb anticipates to possibly be Oct. 31.
The meeting in its entirety along with each presentation and its accompanying attachments can be found by visiting ashecountygov.com, clicking on the “commissioners” tab and selecting “Meeting Agendas, Minutes and Videos.”
The Ashe County Board of Commissioners began holding the FY2020-21 County Budget work sessions immediately following the meeting on June 1 and the meetings ran through June 2.
The meetings were held in the conference room at the Agricultural Services Building on the Ashe County Courthouse Campus. There is no meeting place where members of the public can be physically present and no public comment period during the work sessions.
The public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed budget at the June 15 regular meeting of the commissioners. The county said it is making every effort possible to ensure that the public is able to view this meeting while maintaining statutory requirements and keeping the public and staff safe.
A parade downtown may not have been the celebration seniors at Ashe County High School originally expected on their graduation day, but the sense of pride and love the community has for the Class of 2020 was evident on the evening of May 29.
The rain stopped and the skies cleared as families, friends and the community lined the streets of downtown West Jefferson to cheer for and congratulate seniors as they drove by in their cars in a parade beginning at 6 p.m.
The event was not affiliated with ACHS and was planned via Facebook by parents Susie Baldwin and Susan Lewis.
The purpose of the parade was to recognize the seniors and their hard work and accomplishments, especially because they had missed out on many memorable moments and events, including prom, due to COVID-19.
“Susan and myself just thought it would be a great idea to recognize them on this date because it was their original graduation date,” Baldwin said prior to the date of the parade. “Our hope is that it will put a smile on their face and a memorable moment in their hearts, for them to know how much we love each of them and support them.”
Baldwin later said it was a blessing to see the outpouring of love and support for senior students. She also thanked the Town of West Jefferson, WJ police department, WJ fire department, local businesses who handed out gift bags to seniors and Novant Health for leading the parade and allowing it to be held.
The celebration didn’t stop for the seniors after the parade, because the Project Graduation prize and scholarship giveaway was live-streamed and aired on SkyBest TV at 8 p.m.
Steve Wright of Steves Sports Shots filmed the parade from the roof of the Ashe County Chamber of Commerce building. The video is available for a $15 digital download. To access the video click HERE. This video can be accessed by visiting the website at stevessportsshots.com and clicking on the “STORE” tab.
For any additional questions about the ACHS Senior Parade 2020 video, please call (336) 846-7468.
JEFFERSON ― The Ashe County Board of Education met electronically via Zoom Communications Software on June 1 with the meeting available to the public on the Ashe County Public Schools Facebook page.
The meeting began at 6 p.m. and lasted nearly three hours, with a full agenda which included the announcement of the new Ashe County Schools Superintendent selected by the Board.
Vice Chairman Dr. Lee Beckworth moved that the Ashe County BOE elect Dr. Eisa M. Cox as Superintendent of Ashe County Schools for a four year term effective July 1. The vote was unanimous across the board.
Cox joined the meeting to introduce herself and shared some of her credentials and professional background.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to know the children and the parents and the teachers and administrators and staff of Ashe County community,” Cox said. “I’m looking forward to my family and I coming up there and truly becoming a part of the community.”
Cox is originally from West Virginia and her grandmother was an elementary school principal who worked for 42 years. Her father owned his own business and her mother was a teacher’s aide in a special needs classroom. She and her siblings grew up with a very strong sense of family and community, with high expectations in regard to education.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education at West Virginia University which was in Secondary Education for Health and Science. She has taught science and biology in middle and high schools. She holds a master’s degree in Educational Leadership from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and served as an assistant principal at Mooresville High School.
More recently, she earned her doctoral degree from Wingate University in 2016 in Educational Leadership and her dissertation was on the profile of a digital superintendent.
For the past seven years Cox has been with the Rowan-Salisbury school district. She first served as the executive director of Secondary Education and most recently as executive director of Programs where she has overseen exceptional children, the academically gifted, federal programs and several large departments.
Cox has been married to her husband, Kevin, for almost 22 years and together they have two sons, Spencer and Wyatt.
“Our family looks forward to coming to Ashe County for you to get to know us and for us to get to know you,” Cox said.
Prior to the announcement about Cox, Beckworth described the emotions the board is facing while welcoming a new superintendent and saying farewell to the current superintendent as she prepares to retire in July.
“We are trying to balance the excitement, the apprehension, the anticipation and the hope of what a new superintendent might bring and might add to our school system’s success, with the sadness and loss and dread and finality of the fact that we are soon to lose one of the finest members of our school family that we have ever had,” Beckworth said. “I have said on several occasions and am sincere in saying that this school system will never have another employee that has been more dedicated to Ashe County Schools than Superintendent (Phyllis) Yates.”
Also during the meeting, Barbara Heufel, third grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary School was recognized as one of 19 teachers from across the state who received the prestigious Kenan Fellowship through NC State University.
The Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership was founded in 2000 and addresses the critical need for high-quality professional development for educators, and is the largest (science, technology, engineering and math) STEM-focused teacher leadership program in North Carolina.
“I’m real honored to represent Ashe County as the 2020/21 Kenan Fellow, throughout the next year I’m going to be working with North Carolina christmas tree farmers through my partnership,” Heufel said. “And I will be learning all about the North Carolina christmas tree industry, all aspects of it and creating a digital agricultural Ag Mag that will be available for all teachers and students to use in the classroom.”
Kenan Fellows will allow Heufel to have 80 hours of professional development with an internship with Christmas tree farmers, and Heufel said she can’t wait to share the knowledge she gains with teachers and students in Ashe County.
Also recognized during the meeting county employees who were chosen for demonstrating excellence for the 2020/21 school year. Those recognized were Teacher of the Year for ACS Danny Eldreth, Beginning Teacher of the Year Dalton Lewis, Supervisory Support Staff Employee of the Year Lynette Stallings and Classified Employee of the Year Elaine May.
Ashe County High School Athletic Director David Koontz addressed the board about waiving the EKG requirements for student athletes.
According to Koontz, the state board granted a one year extension on physicals for student athletes.
After some discussion, the board voted unanimously to waive the requirement.
Curriculum Director Julie Taylor discussed plans for summer learning and re-entry of remote learning.
Taylor said they will re-write the current remote learning plan and make it stronger by working on it in June and July. The plan is due July 20 and the five remote days are in the calendar which is short-term and then a long-term plan if schools are unable to resume face-to-face in the fall and in case of another wave of outbreaks.of school closures occurs due to another outbreak.
“The basic skeleton of our plan that is in place works, we just need to beef it up,” Taylor said.
Taylor said right now they are in the process of forming the task force that will be working on the proposed plan.
A template will be provided by the state but the template would be filled in according to the individual needs of each county.
She said one thing that concerned teachers was the drop in participation by students when the state proposed they had to hold students harmless for their grades. It has also been a challenge for teachers to get parents to participate in their child’s remote learning as well.
Taylor said even when packets were provided by teachers, some children still didn’t participate. She also understands that COVID-19 has been straining on families and parents who work full-time and have several children experience difficulties when trying to help their children with remote learning in addition to other stressors.
Before adjourning, the board voted for the next meeting to be held on June 29 at 6 p.m.
The full video of this meeting can be accessed on the school system’s Facebook page @Ashe County Public Schools.
ASHE COUNTY — North Carolina is in Phase 2 of reopening amid the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) pandemic, as the statewide case numbers have increased by more than 5,000 in just one week.
As of presstime, there are six active cases in Ashe County, with a further 19 people being monitored.
After the first case confirmed in the county by AppHealthCare April 3, the number of confirmed cases grew to five by April 29. In the month that has followed, the number has increased rapidly, with 34 total now confirmed for Ashe.
The Ashe numbers include one death, AppHealthCare announced Wednesday, May 26. As of press time, it is the only death linked to COVID-19 in Ashe, Alleghany or Watauga counties.
On June 2, there were 29,889 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in North Carolina, with 921 dead, according to NCDHHS. This includes 24 confirmed cases in Watauga County, 14 active, and 20 in Alleghany County, with eight active, according to AppHealthCare. Presumptive and confirmed positive cases are in all counties across the state.
According to NCDHHS, which keeps an updating list of congregate setting outbreaks, a facility in Ashe on Old Highway 16 in Grassy Creek is the source of 15 resident cases. The facility is listed as “other,” meaning it is not a nursing home, residential care facility or correctional facility, but can be a homeless shelter, migrant farm worker housing facility or other location with a multitude of people living there.
Organizations from the international to the local level are encouraging people who feel sick or are symptomatic to stay home and receive medical treatment.
In a series of executive orders beginning March 14, Gov. Roy Cooper closed schools, limited the size of gatherings, instituted a stay-at-home order, shut down non-essential businesses, limited the capacity of businesses still in operation and barred dining in at restaurants.
Cooper began the reopening process with an executive order that took effect Friday, May 8.
Under Phase 1, most businesses can open, retail stores can open at 50 percent capacity, parks and trails are encouraged to reopen, close-contact businesses (such as gyms, salons and movie theaters) will remain closed, restaurants will continue to be open for takeout and delivery only, and gatherings are still limited to 10 people, but gathering outdoors with friends is allowed.
The state entered Phase 2 on May 22, opening up more possibilities for businesses. Restaurants offering dine-in options, personal care businesses (including salons and barbers) and public pools are all allowed to have a maximum 50 percent capacity with distancing and cleaning requirements. Employees of personal care businesses will be required to wear face coverings.
Bars, indoor fitness facilities and indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters and bowling alleys are still to remain closed.
Ashe County declared a state of emergency March 22. The county was followed by the towns of West Jefferson, Jefferson and Lansing.
An amendment to the county’s state of emergency declaration shortly after banned short-term rentals in the county, with the goal being a reduction in travel by non-residents. The amendment expired May 8, and was not extended.
The Ashe County Courthouse will remain open as usual, but residents are encouraged to take advantage of online resources or to call the needed office. The county also announced they would be limiting the number of visitors to 10 at a time.
The Ashe County Airport will remain open, but no public visitors are allowed. The landfill and convenience sites will remain open to the public.
West Jefferson Town Hall reopened Tuesday, June 2, following approval from the West Jefferson Board of Aldermen the night before.
At the Jefferson Board of Aldermen meeting March 16, the board voted unanimously to close Jefferson Town Hall to the public. As in West Jefferson, Jefferson Town Hall will continue to operate and fulfill its normal duties, and can be reached at (336) 846-9368.
According to Lansing Town Clerk Marcy Little, Lansing Town Hall has been closed. She added it is being recommended people do things over the phone at (336) 384-3938 or via the drop box located out front. The town also closed the public restrooms in the Lansing Creeper Trail Park.
Meanwhile, meetings of local government boards including different boards of aldermen and the Ashe County Board of Commissioners have seen their meetings canceled or changed to being electronic.
On March 12, Ashe Memorial Hospital’s expanded visitor restrictions went into effect. The hospital asks that those who are not members of a patient’s immediate family refrain from visiting unless absolutely necessary, regardless of the visitor’s age or health status.
Local assisted living centers Margate Health and Rehabilitation Center and Forest Ridge Assisted Living have enforced visitation restrictions to protect residents from possible exposure to COVID-19.
Margate announced they are limiting visitation, making exceptions for cases involving significant issues, emergencies and terminally ill residents.
Forest Ridge Assisted Living announced that all visitation has been restricted, at any Ridge Care Senior Living’s assisted living and memory care communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Exceptions to these restrictions will only be made for extenuating circumstances and must be approved and scheduled by each community’s executive director. These restrictions will remain in place until further notice.
The N.C. State Parks announced Elk Knob State Park, Grandfather Mountain State Park, New River State Park and Mount Jefferson State Natural Area are closed as of March 27. Grandfather Mountain announced it would reopen in a limited capacity May 15, with all ticket sales moving online.
Also closing are recreation facilities at recreation sites in the National Forests in N.C. were temporarily shut down. The closures include picnic pavilions, shooting ranges and all restrooms.
These shutdowns are in addition to previous announcements about developed campgrounds, several large developed day use areas, visitor centers and Off-Highway Vehicle trail systems, which remain temporarily shut down.
The Ashe County Public Library announced its plans to resumes limited public services on Tuesday, May 19. Initially, the building will still be closed to the public, but curbside delivery of library materials and printed items will be offered Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Ashe County Arts Council was closed from March 13 to May 9. The Arts Council has canceled all events in the foreseeable future, and are hoping to find dates to reschedule to.
The Florence Thomas Art School announced it would be reopening June 2. The art school has announced plans for events, classes and workshops beginning in July.
Ashe County Parks and Recreation has suspended all sports leagues until further notice, refunds will be considered if leagues are eventually canceled. Ashe county Park reopened May 11, however all facilities including bathrooms, playgrounds, courts, skate park and shelters will remain closed.
In line with major sports leagues around the world, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced Thursday, March 12, it would suspend high school athletics until at least Monday, April 6. It was later decided to cancel the season entirely, following Cooper’s decision to cancel schools entirely April 24.
Family Central’s park office is closed but staff can be contacted at (336) 982-6185 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The gym and workout room at Family Central will be closed until further notice.
At the Ashe County Detention Center, new inmates are being quarantined for anywhere from 15 to 30 days upon arrival. Air filters have been added in between the Detention Center’s four pods, hopefully keeping any disease contained should it arrive.
Ashe County Sheriff’s Office deputies are now doing as much as they can remotely, and have also been instructed to avoid entering confined spaces, instead opting to conduct business outside. Sheriff Phil Howell said the ACSO still wants people to know they are in the community.
According to Ashe County Emergency Management Coordinator Patty Gambill, citizens can call (866) 462-3821 for more information.
While schools have been closed since March 16, Cooper declared April 24 that the spring semester would not resume. Students have been taking classes online, while school boards at every level have been working on what is next.
For continued updates and more information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.ashepostandtimes.com.
Bailey Little contributed reporting to this story.