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WCPS to start school year without mask mandate; school board hears criticism of CRT
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Just like the Bowling Green school district, Warren County Public Schools will not require masks, regardless of vaccination status, when students return next month.

“Based upon current conditions, Warren County Public Schools will not require students nor staff to wear face coverings when returning for the 2021-22 school year, though all students and staff have the option to wear face coverings should they choose to do so,” WCPS Superintendent Rob Clayton wrote in a districtwide message Friday.

“Though masks are not required, WCPS does encourage those that have not been vaccinated and children younger than 12 years of age to wear masks. Pursuant to (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) mandate, WCPS will require all students and staff (even if vaccinated) to wear masks when riding buses; this includes transportation to and from school, field trips, athletic events, etc,” Clayton wrote.

During a county school board meeting Monday at Greenwood High School, board Chairman Kerry Young reiterated that decision, stating it would be impossible to enforce because principals and teachers aren’t allowed to ask students if they’re vaccinated. The vaccine also isn’t available to children younger than 12, he said.

“We’ll try to maintain the 3 feet of distancing,” Young said, referencing CDC guidance. “There is one place that this board doesn’t have the say in. … It is mandated that you must wear a mask while on a school bus because a school bus is considered public transportation. So if a child or an adult is on a school bus traveling from home to school, on a field trip, on an athletic event, until that is changed, that is not a recommendation. That is a mandate, so Warren County schools will follow the law.”

Clayton added during his own comments at the board meeting, however, that “the information changes daily” and those plans could shift over time.

“We remain committed to continuing to communicate with our school community as things evolve if there are changes,” Clayton said. “We are optimistic that we’ll be able to continue with the current process … and we’ll continue to keep close communication with our local health experts” and consult public health guidance, Clayton said.

The decision comes as the delta variant, a highly contagious coronavirus strain, spreads in Kentucky.

Monday’s board meeting also saw several local parents and residents share their concerns about whether critical race theory is being taught in schools.

Critical race theory’s adherents hold that “the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic and political inequalities between Whites and non-Whites, especially African Americans,” the Encyclopedia Britannica said.

Responding to parents’ comments, Clayton said he was unable to make a sweeping statement, in large part because perceptions of the framework vary widely between individuals.

“First and foremost, curriculum is determined by law in the state of Kentucky at the school level. However, parents, students, staff, everyone in our community has access to that curriculum,” Clayton said.

“In terms of critical race theory, CRT and some of these other terms, to my knowledge, I haven’t seen them listed in any curriculum in the state of Kentucky. In terms of what is and what is not taught in our school classrooms, we focus on the most essential concepts and standards. Now, being in a school district that’s very diverse … there are numerous conversations that come into our classrooms. We train our teachers to be developmentally appropriate with the level of instruction that occurs inside the classroom, and we want our teachers to present any and all subject matter in an objective manner.”

Clayton said he believes the district’s educators do a good job of navigating political issues or current events that may come up during classroom discussions, and he invited those with questions about content to speak with school-level principals.

That said, a handful of local parents and residents said they were concerned about critical race theory and “Marxist ideologies” being taught in schools – though they offered no evidence to support their claims.

Larry Causey, a former member of the Warren County Board of Education who served for 12 years, wanted to “warn” the board that he would have his two grandchildren pulled out of attending WCPS.

“I have no intention of them being told that they’re bad people because of the color of their skin, and that’s exactly what it’s about,” Causey said.

Gary Peller – a law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center and a leading member of the critical legal studies and critical race theory movements – said that’s exactly not what the theory is about.

He recently told the Daily News that the framework doesn’t teach that White people are inherently oppressive. The theory hones in on systems, not individuals, and how they perpetuate racial inequality and racism.

“We don’t believe in blaming or shaming anyone,” Peller told the Daily News.

Another public commenter, Brian Witty, who identified himself as a business owner and a volunteer said he views critical race theory as a “dangerous ideology.”

“I believe it’s segregating our kids” and teaching them that “the color of their skin is something that should divide them,” Witty said.

Another speaker, Cynthia Ribeiro, also took issue with critical race theory and more specifically the 1619 Project and the Wit & Wisdom literacy curriculum, which cover topics like slavery, school integration and the Civil Rights movement.

“These are things that we’d like to know about as parents,” she said.

Ribeiro also questioned whether the school system was becoming “transgender friendly” and what that might mean. She was also concerned about the possible return of masks, she said, “because there’s a lot of bad results from wearing masks, emotionally and mentally.”

The board heard from one last speaker during its public comment period – Bristow Elementary School Principal Chris Stunson.

Stunson was attending the meeting with students participating in Western Kentucky University’s Young Male Leadership Academy, “which develops leadership skills in young males of diverse backgrounds by exploring the teaching profession,” according to the program’s website.

Stunson, who is African American, said YMLA students recently earned recognition at a national Educators Rising conference for their solutions to address such classroom issues.

“Our young men came up with a solution to this dilemma that included debating the topics, speaking with our school board members. Our children have solutions to our problems that adults can’t solve. Warren County Public Schools is preparing our children to solve these problems. The very dilemma we are facing tonight, our students solved to the point where they were recognized at the second place in the nation,” Stunson said. “We have solutions. We are preparing our students.”

– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @NewsByAaron or visit bgdailynews.com.

Half Off Retail opens on 31-W Bypass

A disease gave rise to what is turning into a healthy Bowling Green-based business model for partners Matthew Mudd and Chris Robertson.

Mudd, an Edmonson County native who worked in retail or in the restaurant business his entire career, decided last year to start buying and selling pallets of excess items from such retailers as Walmart, Target and Home Depot.

“As COVID-19 started, a lot of people were doing online auctions or flea markets,” Mudd said. “They would buy pallets of items and resell them.”

That gave rise to BG Pallet Liquidation on New Porter Pike, where Mudd’s pallet-selling business in turn led to his newest venture, the Half Off Retail store at 637 U.S. 31-W By-Pass.

Mudd was leasing warehouse space from Robertson, who saw the potential for a retail business to arise out of BG Pallet Liquidation.

“So many people were coming into the pallet place wanting to purchase individual items,” said Robertson, a Warren County native.

So Mudd and Robertson obliged.

They opened Half Off Retail last week in the 3,000-square-foot former home of the Container World store that closed in 2018, offering exactly what the business’ name implies.

“We wanted to get straight to the point with our name,” Mudd said. “Most stores have apps you can use to scan items and see what the retail price is. We then mark it at half that price.”

That simple concept was on display Tuesday at Half Off Retail, where a large green sign showing an image of a dollar bill being ripped straight down the middle of George Washington’s face was bringing in customers just minutes after its opening.

They were browsing everything from tools and toys to bedding and living room furniture, all at the bargain-basement prices that are possible because of the retailer’s unique business model.

Robertson, who owns Robertson Auto Sales at 1049 U.S. 31-W By-Pass along with a number of investment properties, said most of the store’s inventory is practically brand-new even if it has been jettisoned by a big-box retailer.

“When you return stuff to Walmart or other stores, they have to liquidate it,” he said. “They don’t put it back on the shelf.”

Those returned items mix with seasonal items and consumer products that have become outdated to form those pallets that Mudd said contain mostly “brand-new merchandise.”

Because of its business model, the inventory at Half Off Retail changes from day to day, but Mudd said some favorites are emerging just a week after opening.

“Furniture and toys are popular items,” he said. “We can’t keep furniture on the floor.”

Response to Half Off Retail has been such that Mudd and Robertson are already looking to change their business model.

Although it has been promoted only through social media so far, the store has attracted a steady stream of customers.

“People from all walks of life are coming in,” Robertson said. “We’ve seen people on bicycles and people driving Cadillac Escalades. The first week exceeded our goals, to say the least.”

Mudd, who has enlisted the help of his wife, Michelle Mudd, to help at the store, said the response from customers is forcing him to hire more people and extend the hours.

“Our original business model was to be open Tuesday through Saturday,” he said. “We came in on Sunday to work on our merchandise displays, and we had to turn people away.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to be closed those two days. We have six employees now, and we’re about to hire a couple more. In the near future, once we get the new people hired and trained, we’ll go to seven days a week.”

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdaily news.com.

Fauci, Paul clash on virus origins, trade charges of lying

WASHINGTON (AP) – Dr. Anthony Fauci angrily confronted Republican Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday in testimony on Capitol Hill, rejecting Paul’s insinuation that the U.S. helped fund research at a Chinese lab that could have sparked the COVID-19 outbreak.

Paul suggested Fauci, who is director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, lied before Congress when in May he denied that the National Institutes of Health funded so-called “gain of function” research – the practice of enhancing a virus in a lab to study its potential impact in the real world – at a Wuhan lab. U.S. intelligence agencies are exploring theories that an accidental leak from the Wuhan lab could have led to the global pandemic.

“I have not lied before Congress. I have never lied. Certainly not before Congress. Case closed,” Fauci told Paul before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Fauci said a study the senator mentioned referenced a different sort of virus from the one responsible for the coronavirus outbreak.

“Senator Paul, you do not know what you’re talking about, quite frankly,” Fauci said. “And I want to say that officially. You do not know what you’re talking about. ...

“If anybody is lying here, senator, it is you.”

Paul told Fauci: “There will be a responsibility for those who funded the lab, including yourself.”

It was the latest in a series of clashes between Paul and Fauci over the origins of the virus that caused the global pandemic.

COVID-19 numbers rise locally while vaccinations still low

COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise nationally with the arrival of the delta variant, and the impact is now being felt in southcentral Kentucky. Local vaccination rates, meanwhile, continue to remain below 50%.

During a news conference Monday, Gov. Andy Beshear said the state has now had three straight weeks of increasing COVID-19 cases while the positivity rate is also spiking.

“If more adults don’t get vaccinated, it’s not just adults who pay the price. It’s our kids who will,” Beshear said. “Many of them can’t get vaccinated yet, and they count on us to make good decisions and do the right thing.”

The Kentucky Department for Public Health said the current incidence rate of the virus is considered “accelerated” or “critical” in seven of eight counties in the Barren River District. The only exception is Butler County.

The incidence rate in the state is currently 9.90, and those seven local counties – Warren, Barren, Edmonson, Hart, Logan, Metcalfe and Simpson – have incidence rates in the double digits.

Med Center Health Vice President Dr. Melinda Joyce said The Medical Center now has 12 patients with the virus after going weeks treating only a couple of individuals with COVID-19.

Joyce said the reason for the recent spike is that the delta variant is more dangerous and vaccination numbers have hit a plateau.

“It seems with this variant that it’s more easily spreadable and the viral load is larger,” Joyce said. “That means it’s easier to get sick, which means this variant is much worse. Just like in other parts of the country, the vast majority of people we are seeing are not vaccinated.”

The Barren River District Health Department reported Monday the majority of the region remains unvaccinated. The department’s numbers show none of the eight counties in the district have greater than 41.37% of its total population vaccinated.

Joyce said if vaccination numbers don’t change both locally and nationally, there would be disastrous consequences.

“On a larger scale, if things didn’t change, then I think we will see our numbers of COVID-positive patients and deaths go back to what it looked like in the winter time,” she said. “And that’s terrible. We will likely see mask mandates come back. It has a very serious nature. It’s not painting a very pretty picture. ...

“The thing that the public needs to know the most is that if you are fully vaccinated, we can stop the spread of the variant,” Joyce said.

Through Monday, The Medical Center had administered 86,829 doses of vaccine with 76,479 doses being applied at the hospital’s vaccination clinic in Bowling Green.

Joyce said there have been some rare instances of an individual being completely vaccinated and still contracting the virus.

“But those cases are not nearly as severe, and they are not the people that are likely to die,” she said. “Right now, what we are seeing is that people who are most at risk are those who are not vaccinated. The worst-case scenario from COVID is much, much worse than what you would get with the vaccine.”

Joyce said the clinic was still seeing good interest in the vaccine from individuals age 29 and younger. However, she said there is “absolutely” no renewed interest in adults between 30 to 50 years of age.

“I wish I had an answer to those people that are so hesitant,” Joyce said. “We have given 86,000 doses and people are fine. People need to think about making a sacrifice for the people around them. They just need to get the vaccine.”

Barren River District Health Department Director Matt Hunt said his agency had administered around 24,000 doses of vaccine — most of which are Moderna. However, like Joyce, Hunt sees the region’s vaccination numbers as discouraging.

“We have more vaccines in this area than most places across the state,” he said. “We do have a poor vaccine rate, and that’s why we are seeing infection rates increase. They go hand-in-hand. People have had plenty of opportunities. This (spike) has been across the board for us.”

– Kentucky’s vaccination numbers are available at dashboard.chfs.ky.gov.

– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

Woman sentenced to eight years in BG overdose case

A woman who admitted her involvement in a heroin trafficking case that authorities said was associated with two fatal overdoses was sentenced Tuesday to eight years in prison.

Stephanie Silvano, 43, was sentenced in Warren Circuit Court on a count of reckless homicide and three counts of first-degree possession of a controlled substance.

Local law enforcement investigating the 2019 deaths of Joshua Kinkade and Matthew Dobring developed Silvano as a suspect in both deaths.

Kinkade, 32, and Dobring, 38, were found dead two days apart at their homes in Bowling Green and Louisville, respectively.

Silvano was detained by police shortly after Kinkade died and, while in custody, provided information that she provided heroin to Kinkade and Dobring and identified Tracy Boyd as her supplier for heroin.

That information came out during the trial for Boyd, who was found guilty by a Warren Circuit Court jury of engaging in organized crime, first-degree trafficking in heroin, first-degree trafficking in methamphetamine and being a first-degree persistent felony offender.

Silvano was originally charged with two counts of second-degree manslaughter but accepted a plea agreement that dismissed the manslaughter count connected to Dobring’s death and reduced the other charge to reckless homicide in exchange for her truthful testimony against Boyd.

A third co-defendant, Scott Bernauer, was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of reckless homicide by complicity and first-degree possession of a controlled substance. He also testified against Boyd.

During Boyd’s trial, Silvano testified about obtaining packages of heroin at Boyd’s uncle’s apartment as well as about traveling with Boyd to Ohio for a resupply of drugs and about receiving advice from Boyd about how to effectively deal drugs without arousing suspicion from law enforcement.

“You got poison from Tracy Boyd and gave it to two young men who didn’t deserve it,” Warren Circuit Judge Steve Wilson said of the two overdoses tied to the investigation. “You made a business out of it. ... I hope it gets around that if you get caught in Bowling Green or Warren County doing this there is a steep punishment to come.”

Silvano’s attorney, Dennie Hardin, requested probation for his client, arguing that Silvano has done well while residing in a drug treatment center in Russellville, earning significant jail credit toward her eight-year sentence.

Wilson directed Silvano in December to go on a two-way program, allowing her to leave jail to receive treatment for drug addiction but requiring her to spend her nights in custody.

“I don’t believe she’s going to commit another offense,” Hardin said. “She is certainly on the right trajectory at this point.”

Warren County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Adam Turner opposed probation, saying the plea agreement he reached with Silvano did not allow for probation as an option.

Turner pointed out that Silvano was cooperative with law enforcement after her arrest and provided valuable information during the investigation.

“I feel I’ve been pretty candid with her from the get-go what my position is,” Turner said. “I feel Ms. Silvano has been honest with me ... we still had two homicides in this case and I feel to change my position (against probation) would be unfair.”

– Follow courts reporter Justin Story on Twitter @jstorydailynews or visit bgdailynews.com.