Overwhelmed by what it described as the “unrestrained spread” of COVID-19 across the state, the Barren River District Health Department announced Tuesday that it will no longer conduct contact tracing in its eight-county region – meaning local school districts will be picking up the slack.
“It just shows again that more is being put on the school system to basically fill the role, or part of the role, of the state public health system,” said Bowling Green Independent School District Superintendent Gary Fields, describing a pattern of unfunded state mandates placed on local school districts, this time in the middle of a pandemic.
At Warren County Schools and the Bowling Green Independent School District, employees have already been conducting contact tracing internally. Even after Gov. Andy Beshear ordered schools across the state to pivot to virtual learning starting Monday, they must continue to report any new virus cases.
Fields said the big change is that his district will now notify families about how to quarantine and then run through a checklist with individuals before they can be cleared and allowed to return to school. Additionally, his district has reassigned a staff member to assist the district’s school nurses in the effort.
WCPS Superintendent Rob Clayton said his district is also working to manage the change.
“We were already conducting contact tracing internally as a secondary measure because it’s a safety concern. Contact tracing is a critical process, and we cannot allow any mistakes to be made,” Clayton said. “Fortunately for our students and families, our staff have become experts in finding a way to minimize the impact of unfunded mandates each year.”
Local schools in both districts will continue to provide vital services to families during the closure.
At WCPS, Clayton told the Daily News that the district will permit staff who can perform their duties virtually to do so until at least Dec. 4, after which the district will reassess. At BGISD, “Employees will report to schools to work from their classrooms and offices. Healthy at School guidance remains in effect including temperature checks upon entry, masks required, and social distancing mandatory. School offices and family resource and youth services centers will be available by phone or by email. Finally, the district’s transportation staff will be assigned to school sites to assist with needs as determined by school principals,” according to the district’s website.
WCPS will continue to distribute food, with meals available for pick up at all school locations on Mondays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
“Every child will be given three breakfasts and three lunches on each of those days. Children do not need to be present during the pick up of these items,” Clayton wrote in a district message Thursday. “Additionally, all schools will offer delivery routes for food through our Transportation Department. That information will be shared directly from your building leader. Please note that for the week of Thanksgiving Break, meals will be provided Tuesday, Nov. 24.”
Clayton added that district schools will continue to offer free Wi-Fi hotspots in their parking lots.
“Several community churches and businesses are also partnering with us to provide supplemental internet access. You may reach out to your child’s teacher for a more comprehensive list of these additional locations,” Clayton wrote. In addition, students receiving special education support services will be contacted directly to discuss their educational plans and how the district can best support them, Clayton wrote.
For BGISD students, meals will also be available at all schools and the Bowling Green Learning Center at 503 Old Morgantown Road on Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Weekly meals will be available at all schools and the Bowling Green Learning Center on Dec. 4, Dec. 11 and Dec. 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The district announced on its website Friday that health and counseling services will also continue to be offered via telehealth. Curbside testing for flu, strep throat and COVID-19 will be available at Bowling Green High School by appointment by calling 270-418-2714. According to the district, students or employees needing to speak with a student and family counselor may schedule a telehealth appointment with either Tanner Steelman or Amy Carter, both social workers, by calling 270-599-1610.
BGISD recently purchased wireless access points to install on school buildings for outside access to the district’s wireless network. The installation will begin on Monday, Nov. 30, the district said. The district will notify families after the project is complete with details on the location of each school’s access points.
Even with the transition to remote instruction, BGISD is asking all students and employees to report cases of COVID-19 and quarantines due to exposure to schools. Individuals should report case information to the district’s school health clinic at 270-418-2714. Callers should leave a voicemail if calling after hours or on weekends.
Fields said his district was notified about the contact tracing change Tuesday, but whether school districts will receive any additional funding for contact tracing remains an open question. Still, school systems will find a way to make it work, Fields said.
It would be nice, Fields said, “For our staff members who are working so hard to do this to just get a thank you from our state leadership.”
“Schools will embrace it because that’s what we do and we have to do it,” Fields said, admitting to some frustration at school districts being designated the new “quarantine police.”
During Gov. Andy Beshear’s news conference Tuesday, Franklin County Health Department Director Judy Mattingly said local public health departments have been “overwhelmed” by the rise of COVID-19 across the state.
“With this higher than ever number of positive COVID-19 cases, also comes a simply overwhelming number of contacts to these cases that may literally be hundreds upon hundreds of additional calls each day,” Mattingly said. “At this point, it is becoming impossible for our local health departments to call each and every one of these contacts in a timely fashion, which is necessary for contact tracing to be effective.”
As a result, she asked those in the public who test positive for the virus to notify their contacts themselves.
Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of an individual with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes and it can occur 48 hours before symptoms show in the individual or before a positive test result, whichever comes first. Beshear also noted that the exposure does not have to occur in one setting and can apply to multiple exposure events that add up to 15 minutes.
One key challenge that Fields’ district is continuing to grapple with is how it will make sure exposed students notify their school if they’ve come into contact with an infected individual outside of a school setting.
“We have no way of knowing that student has been notified,” that they should self-isolate and monitor for symptoms, Fields said.
“To our parents and our students, if you are told to quarantine – first of all, do it – follow that guidance,” Fields said. “Secondly, please inform us at the school level.”
“It can happen to anybody, and we just need to make sure that they communicate that with us so that we are not having students who should be in quarantine … potentially exposing a lot of people,” Fields said.
Five decades ago, Joe Denning kicked off a series of Bowling Green firsts as he became Bowling Green’s first Black police officer in 1969. Following him in integrating the police force months later was Ralph Bailey.
Now, Ralph Bailey’s nephew Carlos Bailey is set to follow Denning’s lead as Bowling Green’s first Black city commission member. Bailey edged Denning, 7,372 votes to 7,101, in the November election to earn the fourth and final seat on the commission.
“I stand on his shoulders ... his footprints made it easier for me to follow,” Carlos Bailey, an attorney, said of Denning.
The loss in the city commission race has likely put an end to Denning’s unprecedented 50-year public service career.
Asked by the Daily News if he would seek public office again, Denning, 74, said, “I don’t think so. I’ve been blessed. ... I think I’ll just go out to pasture,” he said, adding with a laugh, “I might take up fishing.”
Denning graduated from Bowling Green’s African American High Street School in 1964 and went to work for the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, but he said he always wanted to be in law enforcement. When he turned 21, he applied to the Bowling Green Police Department and on June 4, 1969, he was sworn in as the city’s first Black police officer.
In 1970, he left the BGPD and joined Kentucky State Police, becoming the second African American trooper in Kentucky. He became the first Black member of the Bowling Green school board in 1975, serving through 1991.
A year later, he again made history by becoming the first Black member of the Bowling Green City Commission, serving through 2004. He then served another stint on the commission from 2007 to 2011.
In 2011, Denning was appointed as the first Black mayor of Bowling Green after then-Mayor Elaine Walker resigned when she was named secretary of state by then-Gov. Steve Beshear. He then rejoined the commission after Bruce Wilkerson was elected mayor.
Denning said he was most proud of the growth and progress the city has made during his career.
“When the history book of Bowling Green is written, I hope it says I played a part in making the city what it is today,” he said. “I’ve never been an individual who wants their name on a pillar. I’ve always just tried to serve all citizens to the best of my ability (and) told it like it was.”
Carlos Bailey said Denning’s legacy will be on his mind as he takes his commission seat and he plans to follow Denning’s principle that “we need to represent all the people, not just the ones who voted for me,” he said.
Denning said he and Carlos Bailey have talked regularly and he has known the Bailey family for a long time.
“I think he will do a good job,” Denning said.
Denning said one aspect of his commission job he will not miss is having to campaign every two years.
“It is somewhat of a relief – It is very costly even in local races, especially now since we have money coming in from many partisan, outside sources,” Denning said.
Even though they were at times on the opposite side of votes, Wilkerson said he “will miss Joe terribly. He’s a strong voice for the community.”
Wilkerson said Denning’s legacy “will be unmatched. I hate to see him go.”
In looking back on his public service career, Denning said “I have no regrets ... people have been kind to me.”
He also harkened back to his childhood in a segregated Bowling Green.
“As a little Black boy in Bowling Green, there were only one or two places I could go,” he said. “We’ve come a long way.”
A Smiths Grove man facing trial in a homicide case is seeking evidence that shows his co-defendant expects a deal from prosecutors for cooperating with authorities and testifying against him.
Lawyers for Antonio Marsonel Wilson, 41, have filed a flurry of motions in his criminal case, in which he is charged with murder by complicity, tampering with physical evidence and abuse of a corpse.
Wilson is charged in the death of Smajo Miropija, 49, whose badly burned body was found Feb. 8, 2019, at a building on Porter Pike.
Wilson is accused of paying Jeffery Smith, 48, of Bowling Green, to kill Miropija, who was the father of Wilson’s girlfriend and had previously been in a physical altercation with Wilson, according to court records.
Smith is charged with murder, tampering with physical evidence and receiving stolen property.
Defense attorneys Rob Eggert and Ted Shouse filed eight motions Nov. 16 on behalf of Wilson, including a motion that seeks a court order requiring the Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to produce any evidence supporting Wilson’s innocence or that tends to negate any guilt.
Included in that motion is a request to produce evidence that Smith expects a deal for cooperating with authorities or testifying against Wilson.
“The defense will object to any situation where Mr. Smith gets on the stand and states that he is merely telling the truth and has no idea what’s going to happen to him after he testifies,” Eggert and Shouse said in their motion. “The defense respectfully submits this would be a sham and a deception.”
Wilson’s defense team argued that a jury should know whether Smith has received a deal, whether any deal is in writing and whether there have been any formal or informal promises to Smith for his cooperation.
A separate motion seeks the prohibition of any testimony from so-called “snitch witnesses” with a motive to cooperate with the prosecution and “shade the truth.”
Wilson’s attorneys argue that such testimony would be unreliable and request a hearing prior to trial to determine the reliability of the testimony from those witnesses.
Additional motions seek the suppression of evidence collected in the case, including evidence that a trip Wilson made to the Philippines shortly after Miropija was found dead suggests he fled authorities.
According to the Bowling Green Police Department, police made contact with Wilson on Feb. 9, 2019, the day after Miropija’s body was found, but he declined to speak with officers before saying he would come in later that day for questioning.
Further attempts to contact Wilson were unsuccessful, and police learned Feb. 11, 2019, that Wilson had made a trip to Chicago on the previous day and flew to the Philippines, where he was arrested the following month.
Eggert and Shouse said in their filings that Wilson has relatives in the Philippines.
“There is no evidence that the defendant was fleeing to avoid prosecution,” Eggert and Shouse said. “Counsel would respectfully request that any evidence of flight be excluded ... here, since Mr. Wilson has relatives in the Philippines, his trip there is unremarkable and not probative of guilt.”
One of the filings from Wilson’s defense team mentions that, during the investigation, a dog alerted to the alleged presence of accelerants inside a vehicle.
Wilson’s attorneys say that no accelerant was found and the alert from the dog cannot be considered reliable.
Another filing mentions that Smith claimed Wilson threw a cellphone from a car window in the area of Ky. 3145 on the right side of the ramp and that police found an apparent shattered glass screen and a digitizer in the area six weeks after Miropija’s death.
Eggert and Shouse argue that those items can’t be proved to have been part of a cellphone allegedly thrown out by Wilson and that they should not be admitted as evidence.
“Nobody knows for sure what the alleged items are or how long they had been at the location where they were found and whether or not they have anything to do with this case,” the motion says.
Other motions seek the suppression of evidence recovered from Wilson’s Smiths Grove address on the basis that they were the fruits of a faulty search warrant, the exclusion of cellphone tower location data due to questions of relevance and the prohibition of witnesses from testifying over video app Zoom on the grounds that it violates Wilson’s rights to confront his witnesses face to face.
Wilson is scheduled to appear in Warren Circuit Court on Tuesday. The case had been set for a Dec. 8 jury trial, but an emergency order issued Friday by the Kentucky Supreme Court in light of an upsurge in COVID-19 cases postponed all jury trials until after Feb. 1.
A 215-lot residential development planned for Morehead Road in southern Warren County and opposed by many of its neighbors will move forward.
Warren Fiscal Court’s six magistrates, meeting Friday via Zoom teleconference, all voted to approve a rezoning that gives the go-ahead for developer Barrett Hammer to proceed with the subdivision planned for a 48-acre tract near Nashville Road.
The vote came after the magistrates heard from a representative of residents along Morehead Road and from Hammer’s attorney in a hearing held before the fiscal court meeting.
Emily Graham, who lives on Cleveland Drive near the proposed development, filed the notice of opposition that prompted Friday’s hearing.
Speaking Friday, Graham told magistrates that she had spoken with many of her neighbors and found that “everyone of them is in agreement that this is not good for our neighborhood.”
As she and others did at the Oct. 1 City-County Planning Commission of Warren County meeting during which Hammer’s development was approved in a 9-2 vote, Graham pointed out Friday that the homes planned for the subdivision aren’t compatible with many of the homes along Morehead Road.
Hammer’s development plan calls for a maximum of 215 homes, each with at least 1,200 square feet of living space and two-car garages.
The development will connect to the 42-lot McLellan Crossings subdivision that Hammer is developing and is described in the rezoning application as an extension of that development.
While it may be compatible with McLellan Crossings, Graham said that doesn’t mean Hammer’s new development is in sync with the rest of the area.
“We’re concerned about insufficient road infrastructure out here for additional homes,” she said. “This development doesn’t fit with Morehead Road.”
Although the homes planned for the development are smaller than many of the homes along Morehead Road, attorney Kevin Brooks argued on Hammer’s behalf that the subdivision meets a need in a housing market with current low inventories.
“Fiscal court has had a policy of fostering economic progress,” Brooks said. “That policy calls for more housing. The question is, where do we put it? This seems like a natural area for more housing. This is not a remote location. This is right where there’s already development.”
Brooks countered Graham’s concerns about the impact on traffic, pointing out that the development will have four ways in and out.
“Having multiple access points is good planning for public safety and flow of traffic,” Brooks said. “This is the way you need to do developments.”
A motion by Fifth District Magistrate Mark Young to deny Graham’s appeal passed 5-1, with Sixth District Magistrate Ron Cummings casting the lone dissenting vote.
After the hearing, all magistrates voted to rezone the 48 acres from agriculture to single-family residential.
The magistrates approved another high-density residential development on first reading during Friday’s meeting, voting 5-1 to approve rezoning 92 acres along Moorman Lane in the northern end of the county from agriculture, residential estate and heavy industrial to single-family residential.
Only Fourth District Magistrate Rex McWhorter voted against rezoning the property. The vote cleared the way for builder Jody Allen to develop a 330-lot subdivision.
Seven residents of the Moorman Lane area spoke against the development at the Oct. 15 planning commission meeting, but the rezoning passed that body with an 11-0 vote.
“This has become a heavily populated area,” McWhorter said at Friday’s meeting. “This concerns me. Maybe we need to first develop the infrastructure on Moorman Lane.”
Among other items approved by the magistrates Friday:
Warren County Public Works Director Josh Moore said he expects the roundabout project that is now open to come under the $129,637 budgeted amount “by about $15,000.”
“This has been a very smooth project,” Moore said.