A1 A1
editor's pick featured
Local nonprofit works to provide Christmas stockings for High Country children

HIGH COUNTRY — With Christmas right around the corner, a local nonprofit which serves mothers and children of the High Country has been hard at work to provide those in need with gift-filled stockings.

The Motherboard nonprofit is a community for moms which provides engaging activities and events for those living in the High Country. Members work toward encouraging and empowering each mother by giving them the tools they need to succeed.

The home of The Motherboard nonprofit is the Facebook group @Mountain Mamas which is an online community for mothers in the High Country to receive advice and support in all aspects of parenting.

President Keshea Roland said this is the first year they have participated in a “Stuff the Stockings” event. According to Roland, they decided to pursue the project after a few board members asked about doing it in October.

After deciding to pursue the project, the board held meetings and Roland created a flier to circulate on Facebook to share their plans with the community.

“Our donations started coming in fast,” Roland said about the response from the community.

The cost to sponsor a child was $20.

Some local businesses that helped sponsor the project were Renegade Graphics, Tri-County Paving Inc., The Vintage Farmhouse General Store, The Farmhouse Juice & Wellness Shop, Copper Mine Grill, Taz Kim and the Boone VFW, Rash Auto Sales, Cottage Treasures, Elliott Sandblasting & Painting, LLC, Kristy Transport Services, LLC, Snap by Ang, Double A Boot Store, High Country Heating & Air, LLC, Creekside Finance, Inc., Bobby D’s, Roland’s Cabinet Shop, Triple Peaks Hemp and Sawyer Construction

In addition to monetary donations, The Motherboard also accepted donations of items to go inside the stockings.

Roland said a coat drive was held after they realized there was such a need within the community. The Motherboard was also able to help Badges of Ashe, which is another nonprofit that Roland serves as president, by donating $200 for Christmas with Cops.

According to Roland, their initial goal was only 24 children but by the end of the first week they had doubled their goal. By the end of November they were able to help 135 children.

In response, they decided to reach out to DSS in Watauga and Wilkes counties to help others in need.

According to Roland, after they took on Wilkes county they continued to receive more money and completed shopping for items to fill the stockings.

Roland said they did not have to put out a request for volunteers to help fill the stockings because members of The Motherboard and other community members happily donated their time.

Items used to fill stockings included age-appropriate books, various toys and stuffed animals, hats and gloves, candy and snacks, notebooks and pencils and personal hygiene products.

In addition to mothers and children in Ashe County, The Motherboard also supports those in Wilkes, Avery, Watauga, Alleghany, Yancey and Mitchell counties.

According to Roland, they achieved their nonprofit status this spring and have been building their group since then.

Other board members are Vice President Amanda Mulholland, Board Secretary Cierra Sawyer and Board Treasurer Mandy Rash.

“What you do makes a difference, you have a decision in life now to do that,” Rash said. “Helping others is a wonderful gift from the Lord. I’m humbled and truly amazed by our community here. They are helping all these children in need for a Christmas miracle.”

Other services provided by The Motherboard is the Giving Closet, where anybody needing assistance can put in a request on their website and the nonprofit will provide them with whatever items are available that will help them out.

For more information about The Motherboard or how to get involved, visit their website at www.themotherboardnonprofit.com or follow them on Facebook @The Motherboard.

Legal marijuana in North Carolina? Task force recommends state look to legalizing the drug, follow others' leads

HIGH COUNTRY — While much of the focus was on the U.S. presidential race in the 2020 General Election, voters in five states also approved the legalization of marijuana, bringing the total to 36 states that have legalized it for medical use, if not recreational.

Many states have gone through a step-by-step process toward legalization, starting with medicinal use and going up to regulated legalization. However, South Dakota went from illegal to totally legal in only one election.

North Carolina’s legalization efforts have stopped at allowing CBD hemp, a low-to-to-no-THC form of the plant. In the past 10 years, the state’s stance on the still federally illegal drug has gone from the norm to an outlier, with neighboring Virginia even moving for legalization. With an already more tolerating legal stance, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced in November a plan to legalize marijuana in the state by the end of 2021.

However, the discussion of legalization is not stopping at the state level. On Dec. 4, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the MORE Act with a 228-158 vote. A large part of the MORE Act is the focus on how non-white Americans have been disproportionally affected by marijuana laws.

The North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice, which was convened by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper via Executive Order 145 on June 9, focuses on such issues. The task force made preliminary recommendations on Nov. 18 to help deal with oversights, discriminations and other problems minorities face when it comes to the state’s law enforcement and judicial systems.

These recommendations included the decriminalization of possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana. According to the task force, there were 31,287 charges and 8,520 convictions for up to half of an ounce in 2019, 61 percent of those convicted were nonwhite. Meanwhile, there were 3,422 charges and 1,909 convictions for the possession of between a half-ounce up to 1.5 ounces, 70 percent of those convicted were nonwhite.

While the focus of the task force is on law enforcement, Ashe County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Danny Houck said, in Ashe at least, the legalization of marijuana would not have much of an effect.

“It would depend on how they legalize it, the amounts and things of that nature,” Houck said, noting most arrests for marijuana in Ashe County are for less than half of an ounce, but they do occasionally find people with more than that.

According to Houck, many arrests in Ashe County that include a charge of marijuana possession also include other charges, with a lot of those arrests not being initiated by the drug’s possession but by something else. He also noted that many people arrested purely for marijuana possession spend time in the Ashe County Detention Center.

But whatever marijuana’s legal status in North Carolina, Houck said the ACSO has even larger concerns. Houck pointed to methamphetamine and other hard drugs as more prominent and problematic for law enforcement in Ashe.

According to the ACSO, 77 people were arrested with drug charges from Jan. 1 to Dec. 7. During those arrests, marijuana or a derivative in some form was seized 50 times.

Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman added that for many years, in concert with local district attorneys, small amounts of possessing marijuana are often addressed through a citation or criminal summons; individuals are often not formally taken into custody.

Hagaman also guessed that most of the legal smoke shops would be located in the corporate limits of municipalities in Watauga County — which the sheriff noted is a dry county — if marijuana were legalized. He said that likely any revenues would probably be received by those municipalities with the smoke shops, much like how ABC alcohol revenue remains with those respective municipalities.

“I am sure there would have to be strict oversight,” Hagaman said.

Opposed to the drug’s legalization is Avery Sheriff Kevin Frye, who points to marijuana’s reputation as a “gateway drug.”

“In every interview I’ve done with people we’ve arrested for drugs, they’ve started out with marijuana before they ever went to something else. They’re saying that it’s not a gateway drug, but you can hardly find anyone that starts out using methamphetamine. It’s a gradual process, and it’s a psychological process of using anything to numb or alter your perceptions, feelings or emotions. It starts you down a bad pathway,” Frye said.

Frye said he could understand Congress moving marijuana to a less stringent scheduling federally, yet he remains “totally against the legalization of marijuana.” Additionally, legalization would make it more difficult for police to enforce other drug laws. While the Avery County Sheriff’s Office does make charges solely for marijuana-related offenses, similar charges are often tacked on to arrests made for the distribution and possession for heroin and methamphetamine. Often the odor of marijuana leads to the search for and discovery of other substances in offenders’ vehicles.

“The thing that really concerns me is that we do have alcohol sensors and if you’re driving and are above a certain alcohol level, we know that you’re drunk. How do we know if you’ve been smoking marijuana? There is no test for that,” Frye said. “(Also, legalization) would ruin our probable cause to search. The odor of marijuana gives us probable cause to search if our dogs hit on it, and the other thing is, legalization would ruin the use of all the dogs we have, because they’re all trained to hit on marijuana.”

Many states have begun the process of legalizing marijuana with medical uses only. Medical cannabis has been used to reduce nausea in patients going through chemotherapy, improve appetite in HIV/AIDS patients and deal with chronic pain.

AppHealthCare Health Director Jen Greene said her agency was taking time to review the recommendations included in the task force’s report. She noted that there’s a distinction between decriminalization and legalization, and she’d like to have more conversations with other community partners in law enforcement, education and healthcare as the recommendations are reviewed.

Greene said AppHealthCare recognizes the importance of utilizing a health equity lens for public health, meaning in many cases the agency needs to tailor its approach to help improve the public’s health for everyone. Greene noted that AppHealthCare has worked hard to acknowledge the importance of linking individuals who have substance use disorder to resources and support through its peer support program for opioid use disorder and through our partnerships with others in our community working together to address substance use.

“I hope that there is ongoing dialogue about public health research as it relates to brain development, youth initiation of substance use and health equity to have open dialogue about risks and benefits,” Greene said. “We want to see a vibrant, healthy community for all people, and especially those that may be from a historically marginalized population.”

If marijuana were to be legalized in North Carolina, it would have a far-reaching impact on law enforcement, the economy and how marijuana is treated by the general public, according to other officials. Education at the local level would feel the effects, and Ashe County Schools Superintendent Eisa Cox said “there would be a comprehensive change in schools.”

At Ashe County High School there are Drug and Alcohol Testing Procedures, which have been in place since 2013, and which apply to all high school students who elect on a voluntary basis to operate or park a motor vehicle on campus.

According to procedures, to be eligible to operate or park a motor vehicle on campus, students and their parents or guardians must agree in writing on a form adopted by the ACHS administration to submit to random alcohol and drug testing. Also according to the procedure handbook, up to 5 percent of the eligible high school students shall be selected, at random, for testing on a periodic basis as established by the ACHS administration and approved by the Ashe County Board of Education.

“Students may be tested for the presence of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, anabolic steroids, amphetamines and any other drugs that ACHS administration deems appropriate,” the procedure reads.

The cost of testing is paid for by the Board of Education, and it is stated that any positive test results will not result in suspension from school.

The economic impact if N.C. legalized marijuana would also be felt. According to Forbes, Washington, California and Colorado all totaled more than $250 million in tax money from marijuana sales alone in 2018, with Washington and California rising above the $300 million mark. In states that have already legalized the drug, marijuana has led to not only additional tax dollars, but new jobs at dispensaries and farms.

According to Ashe County Extension Executive Director Tavis Birdsell, parallels can be drawn between the potential legalization of marijuana and the 2018 legalization of hemp for CBD purposes.

He said the first year of CBD hemp legalization saw many wanting to grow it, but that the number of licenses had dropped “dramatically” due to a variety of causes. Supply chain prices dropping due to the abundance, people still not having sold all of their crop and legalization in other states all contributed to the fall.

Richard Boylan, the small farm management agent for Watauga County Cooperative Extension, already fields the agency’s questions from local farmers in regard to hemp. He said the enthusiasm from locals about hemp early-on was fueled partly by “unrealistic notions” about ease of cannabis cultivation, and the “unrealistic expectations” regarding the price of the crops.

“In other states that have legalized it, that’s happened with recreational marijuana. Any time you have something new that can potentially make money, everyone’s going to try it, the market will crash and then it will level out,” Birdsell said.

Birdsell said that in the event of marijuana’s legalization, the Extension would help with education on growing, as they do with all other crops. He added that research on the growing production systems for CBD hemp are still being researched, meaning they can be that much ahead should recreational marijuana be legalized.

“I suspect there would be similar growing pains. You’d have to set up how you are going to monitor it for safety protocols, supply chain and everything else. There’s no doubt that there would be money to be made,” Birdsell said.

Birdsell said that like any plant, marijuana would have to deal with High Country weather. However, he noted it would be the same as anyone growing hemp, which many already are in Ashe, as the only difference in the plants is on a chemical level.

If marijuana were legalized, Boylan said Watauga Extension would surely provide guidance regarding management options for soil fertility, crop planning, pest management and marketing to an extent — as has already happened with hemp.

“The cannabis supply and inputs market — spanning fertilizers, pesticides and more — is an area of innovation but too frequently also one of hype and price gouging,” Boylan said. “Extension’s mission of empowering growers with unbiased and research-based information would hopefully be broadly useful to cannabis growers, just as we are for corn, tomatoes, strawberries and all other crops.”

Boylan added that the reality of cannabis cultivation is that disease and insect pressure is quite high for outdoor and greenhouse production. The common diseases (Fusarium, Hemp Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew and others) and insects (borers, earworms and other caterpillars in outdoor production, and mites and aphids in greenhouses) require active management via cultural controls and the presently limited allowable pesticides, according to Boylan.

“As for prices, local dried flower material to be used for cannabinoid/oil extraction must compete against material produced in locations with lower disease and insect pressure,” Boylan said. “This has exerted a downward pressure on local prices to the point that hemp production has not seemed particularly profitable to many local growers compared to the Christmas tree or vegetable crops that they also produce.”

On Monday, Dec. 14, the Task Force delivered its report to Cooper.

“Today’s report is a next step towards the actions that North Carolina must take to end racial disparities in the criminal justice system, not the final word,” Task Force member and N.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls said. “The implementation chart listing all the recommendations will help direct our work ahead and monitor our progress. I am grateful for the hundreds of people from diverse perspectives who gave us their best thinking on what needs to change; to be successful, we will need their continued involvement going forward.”

Of the 125 proposed “solutions” in its report, the Task Force made three recommendations related to marijuana, all falling under the “Eliminating Racial Disparities in the Courts” section and involving policy or legislative change. The full list of recommendations can be found HERE.

The first called for the deprioritization of marijuana-related arrests and prosecution, which would require state, local agency and prosecutorial policy changes. Second was the decriminalization of the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana, which is currently a misdemeanor under N.C. G.S. 90-95. The final recommendation was to “Convene a task force of stakeholders to study the pros and cons and options for legalization of possession, cultivation and/or sale of marijuana.”

While the Task Force has made its recommendations, it would ultimately take legislative action for any such changes to take effect.

More information about the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice’s recommendations can be found HERE.

Ian Taylor, Kayla Lasure, Luke Barber and Bailey Little contributed reporting to this story.

Mountain View Elementary celebrates 30th anniversary

JEFFERSON — On Dec. 17, 1990, Mountain View Elementary School in Jefferson, opened its doors to students. As the school prepares to celebrate the 30th year of operation, student demographics, staff members, administrators and the building have changed, but the school’s commitment to providing a world class education to students and a stable presence in the community remain resolute.

Mountain View students, parents, faculty and staff are proud of the school, and all give tireless effort to help make all school stakeholders successful. Mountain View looks forward to a time free of the current COVID-19 restrictions when we can invite the community into the school and celebrate the efforts made by everyone to help Mountain View Elementary be successful.

“This week, we celebrate the rich traditions and successes of Mountain View Elementary School over the past 30 years” said Dr. Eisa Cox, Superintendent of Ashe County Schools. “We look forward to continuing the celebration post-COVID and for years to come.”

Mountain View has consistently produced academic and social honors such as School of Distinction, a school that exceeds expected academic growth, a Title 1 Reward School and PBIS Exemplar School.

More important than awards and accolades are the relationships formed between the school and the community. The efforts parents put forth to help support what the student has learned in the classroom instills the value of education and the importance of always doing your best.

Parents play a key role in helping our school carry out annual events that create memorable experiences for our students and support school goals. They can be counted on to assist with the Fall Festival, as well as organizing and leading May Day Play Day festivities. Parents help throughout the year with grade-level activities.

Traci Richardson Phipps, the little girl who 30 years ago cut the ribbon for the opening of our school, shared her thoughts.

“Mountain View Elementary school holds lots of special memories for me,” Phipps said. “I made so many friendships that I still hold dear today and met some great teachers that played a part in making me who I am today. What makes it extra special is that now I have three boys that walk the same halls as I once did and even share some of my same amazing teachers. Thankful they get the opportunity to make memories in this school just as I did so many years ago.”

Mountain View is blessed to have strong community support from many organizations and individuals. Whether it’s climbing on a fire truck to learn about fire safety or exploring science with Ranger Tom, students encounter many people from the community that help them learn and grow.

Classes on safety and nutrition are just a few of the ways the community helps our students develop life skills. Donations of food and school supplies provide for our students’ physical needs, and they have all they need to be successful. Arts programs ensure that our students learn about other cultures. Volunteer readers help tutor and support students while helping to develop a love for reading.

As Dr. Kimberly Simmons, former MVES principal, said at the twentieth anniversary of the school: “I am always amazed with the community support from outside and within our school. Needs are greeted as opportunities to help each other. Mountain View Elementary School exemplifies a culture of community and family.”

Ten years later, this community continues to grow stronger.

“Whatever it takes, our kids are worth it!” These are the first words students see when they enter our building. We strive to create memories they will carry with them throughout their lives. Whether it’s a trip to the Ashe County Museum or Washington, D.C., students experience the world around them. Competing in Battle of the Books or Chess Club are just a few of the opportunities students have to grow as leaders. Dressing up for Book Character Day gives students a connection to a favorite book they can share with a friend.

Our future artists and writers often display their work through the Soil and Water Conservation Poster and Essay Contest.

Former student Monica Uribe-Francisco said in reflection, “Looking back at my time in Mountain View, I remember how welcoming and supportive all my teachers were towards me along with initiating my passion towards innovation and creativity. Such passion and dedication to further my education led me to receive a full-ride scholarship to George Washington University located in the nation’s capital where I am majoring in Systems Engineering and minoring in Computer Science. My curiosity to know how the world works which started with my science fair project in fifth grade about the relationship between balloons and the weather has now advanced to furthering my knowledge on how systems work together.”

MVES’ success is due to the shared vision that decisions we make help students become lifelong learners, so they will be successful in life.

“It is an honor to serve as the principal of Mountain View Elementary School,” said Principal David Blackburn. “I am always impressed by the efforts our students, parents, community, and staff put into making our school the best it can be. I look forward to starting the 30th year of the school on December 17, 2020, and I can’t wait to see what wonderful achievements we will accomplish here over the next 30 years.”

breaking featured
Cooper announces modified Stay-at-Home order in North Carolina

RALEIGH — In response to the dramatic rise in numerous key metrics due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced the enactment of a modified Stay-at-Home order statewide effective Friday, Dec. 11, and continuing until 5 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2021.

“As cases across the country continue to rise, we’ve seen rapid increases in our key metrics here in North Carolina,” Cooper said. “Our case counts have broken single-day records on three separate days in just the last week, and the percent of tests returning positive has increased to more than 10 percent. A month ago, we were deeply concerned to see daily case counts go above 3,000. Now we’re shocked that the number has doubled, with some daily counts at more than 6,000.”

The order requires that North Carolina residents to stay at home from the hours of 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., and will require businesses to close by 10 p.m., with alcohol sales capped at 9 p.m. in an attempt to curtail mass gatherings to help slow the spread of the virus as a vaccine continues the development and approval process.

NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen provided an update on the metrics and trends in North Carolina, reporting a stark picture of virus spread at an alarming rate. This includes rates of more than 6,000 new cases on both Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 2 and 3, a record number since the pandemic began.

“To put the numbers in perspective, these are more cases in a single day than the entire population of Gov. Cooper’s hometown of Nashville, in Nash County,” Cohen noted. “We need to work exceptionally hard to get our numbers back down. ... We have a lot of work to do.”

The latest trends according to NCDHHS indicate that more than 80 percent of North Carolina counties were experiencing “substantial (orange)” or “critical (red)” COVID-19 community spread, according to the County Alert System developed by the organization.

“If you are in a red or orange county, you should limit going out to essential activities,” Cohen remarked. “You should avoid people that you don’t live with.”

According to the most recent order, individuals in North Carolina must stay at home or at the place they will stay for the night, with a number of exceptions, including:

  • Travel to or from a place of work when a worker’s presence is required by the worker’s employer

Travel for work purposes

  • Performing work at the workplace or other location directed by the employer when the worker’s presence is required by the worker’s employer
  • Travel to obtain groceries, take-out food, medical care, fuel, health care supplies or social services
  • Travel from a business that closed at or after 10 p.m.
  • Travel to a business that will open at or after 5 a.m.
  • Travel to take care of a family member, friend or pet in another household
  • Travel necessary for purposes of personal safety
  • Travel into or out of the state
  • Travel required by law enforcement or court order
  • Using or providing shared transportation (including without limitation taxicabs, ride shares, buses, trains, airplanes, and travel to airports, train stations or bus stations)

The curfew does not apply to groups traveling to or attending a religious service or other activity exempted under Subsection 1.2 of the Executive Order, as well as collegiate and professional sporting events, the media, law enforcement, fire, paramedics and all other first responders and emergency responders, and the US government, state government and local governments.

According to the latest Executive Order, “events or convenings outside the home must end or pause no later than 10 p.m. At or before that time, guests must leave and travel home or to the place where they will stay for the night,” and that “live entertainment performances, entertainment events such as movie screenings, and youth and amateur sporting events must cease no later than 10 p.m. or be paused at that time.”

“The virus is upon us with a rapid viciousness like we haven’t seen before. Though we’re all frustrated and weary of the fight, it’s more important than ever to take this virus seriously,” Cooper said. “With these additional actions, we hope to get our numbers down. Our top priority is, and must be, saving lives and keeping our healthcare system from being overwhelmed.”