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Most students return for in-person learning (part-time)

About 35% (a little over 3,100) of the students in the Wilkes County Schools returned to their classrooms Tuesday as the school district transitioned to a combination of in-person and remote learning (Plan B).

It was the first face-to-face classroom teaching in Wilkes public schools since Gov. Roy Cooper closed all public schools statewide due to COVID-19 back in mid-March.

Among three options (Plans A, B and C) Cooper later told school districts to be prepared to use in the 2020-21 academic year, the governor chose B as the base plan. This limits school facilities to 50% of capacity, with students in their schools on portions of each day, week or month and engaged in remote learning (usually at home) when not in schools.

Under the version of Plan B used in Wilkes, students in each school who didn’t opt for fulltime remote learning were divided into two groups — Group A and Group B. The two groups are alternating between remote learning and in-person learning each school day.

This began Tuesday with all Group B students in their schools and all Group A students learning remotely. On Wednesday, it will be reversed and so on. A school year calendar showing this in greater detail is on the Wilkes School District website at

About 25% (a little over 2,300) of the students in the Wilkes schools chose to use remote learning every school day for the first nine weeks after Cooper ordered that this option be allowed. Wilkes school officials say students engaged in remote learning each day have the same expectations as those students enrolled under Plan B.

Under Plan B, there is additional cleaning of school buildings each day after school and during transitions. Social distancing guidelines are in place and both students and staff must wear cloth face coverings. Daily temperature and health screening checks are required.

Every school is required to conduct symptom screening of any person entering a campus building, including students, teachers, staff and other visitors. The Wilkes schools are using an attestation forms concerning student health for parents to complete and sign each day children come to school. Buses are running with one student per seat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a waiver extending the operation of the Summer Meals Program through Dec. 31, which means all children ages 1-18 receive free lunch and breakfast meals. School meals are being served outside cafeterias

The N.C. High School Athletic Association announced on Aug. 11 that no prep sports practices or tryouts will start before Nov. 4. Regular season games for the 2020-21 athletic year are now scheduled to begin Nov. 16 and conclude June 11.

Under the plan, the first cross country and volleyball contests will be Nov. 16. Basketball games will start Jan. 4 and the first football contests will be on Feb. 26. The football season will be limited to seven games and many other sports will have a limit of 14 games.

The Wilkes Board of Education planned to start the school year with Plan B, but opted to use Plan C (all students in full-time remote learning) at the board’s Aug. 10 meeting. This decision, a week before the new year started, was based on Wilkes Health Director Rachel Willard’s advice.

Willard said she was influenced by COVID-19 cases spiking with about 100 the prior week. Delaying implementation to Plan B would allow two COVID-19 incubation periods so local officials would know better if conditions have improved.

On Tuesday, Willard said she is glad students were able to return to in-person learning in their schools this week.

Plan B also includes:

• designating hallways and entrance/exit doors as one-way

• keeping students and teachers in small groups that stay together as much as possible

• discontinuing activities that bring together large groups

• placing physical barriers such as plexiglass at reception desks and similar areas.

• requiring frequent hand washing throughout the school day and provide hand sanitizer at entrances and in every classroom

• limiting nonessential visitors and activities involving external groups

• discontinuing use of self-service food or beverage distribution.

Cooper’s Plan A has students attending schools as they normally would, but with social distancing, daily temperature checks and other COVID-19-related measures. The governor said this isn’t an option.

Plan C is how public schools statewide operated for the last 2 ½ months of the 2019-20 school year after Cooper ordered school buildings closed to students due to COVID-19, effective March 16

Bid approved for new airport taxiway

A company already building a new hangar for Samaritan’s Purse at the Wilkes County Airport has been awarded the contract for building a new taxiway connecting it to the runway.

A $1,106,533 bid from James R. Vannoy & Sons of West Jefferson, the lowest of six submitted for the taxiway, was unanimously approved by the Wilkes County commissioners during their Sept. 1 meeting.

The new taxiway will be funded with a $1.5 million state economic development grant awarded to the county last year. No local matching funds were required.

Construction on the taxiway should start this month, said Jimmy Luther, aviation program manager for W.K. Dickson & Co. The Charlotte-based company handles engineering for Wilkes Airport projects.

The next two lowest bids were $1,109,385 from Mathis & Son Grading of North Wilkesboro and $1,193,853 from Tri-County Paving of West Jefferson. The other bids were from Carl Rose & Sons Inc. of Elkin, $1,200,126; Mountaineer Contractors Inc. of Kingwood, W.Va., $1,224,115; and Rifenburg Construction Inc. of Troy, N.Y., $1,239,183.

Construction is well underway on the new 22,000-square-foot Samaritan’s Purse hangar, which County Manager John Yates said will house a long-range Gulfstream G550 business jet.

Samaritan’s Purse already owns and occupies a hangar nearby that Lowe’s Companies Inc. occupied until the Lowe’s aviation department was moved to the Statesville Regional Airport in Iredell County. In March 2019, Lowe’s announced that its aviation operation was moving again, this time to Charlotte Douglas Airport.

Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse recently renewed its lease for the land beneath the 19,738-square-foot former Lowe’s hangar from Wilkes County government.

The new taxiway will also service a 10-bay T-hangar planned by county government near the new Samaritan’s Purse hangar. Work on this new facility hasn’t started yet, but the bays will be available for lease individually. An existing taxiway at the airport was recently repaved.

Yates said bids have been received for additional paving in the area of the new 10-bay T-hangar. He said this work will also be grant-funded.

Meanwhile, Samaritan’s Purse’s 47,000-square-foot Wilkes Ministry Center on N.C. 268 East in North Wilkesboro is nearing completion and is expected to be virtually fully occupied when it opens.

Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony for the new office building in May 2019, Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham said about 160 people will work there. These are in addition to about 200 people already employed by the Christian disaster relief ministry in Wilkes.

James R. Vannoy & Sons is also the contractor for the new Samaritan’s Purse building on N.C. 268 East.

Motorcycle operator dies in wreck on N.C. 18 South Sunday

A Watauga County man died in a motorcycle accident on N.C. 18 South in the Boomer community Sunday afternoon.

Scott McDonough, 62, of Vilas was operating a 2012 Harley-Davidson motorcycle southbound on N.C. 18 South when it went off the right side of the two-lane road and struck a guardrail. McDonough was ejected and landed on the other side of the guardrail.

The motorcycle continued along the guardrail about 50 more feet before stopping just beyond where the guardrail ends.

According to the report of Trooper Jacob Cardwell of the N.C. Highway Patrol, a witness in a vehicle behind the motorcycle saw the Harley-Davidson veer off to the right, leave the highway and hit the guardrail.

The wreck occurred about 2:20 p.m. on a straight section of N.C. 18 South about 1,500 feet east of the Thankful Church Road intersection with N.C. 18 South.

The Boomer Fire Department provided traffic control. Wilkes Emergency Medical Services also responded.

Felony drug charges against 45 announced

Wilkes Sheriff Chris Shew has announced felony drug charges filed against 45 people as a result of investigations conducted over the past three months.

Shew said many of the investigations were initiated after citizens reported seeing suspicious activities in their communities.

These latest cases, announced Sept. 3, resulted in the seizure of 988 grams of meth with a street value of about $35,000, 12 grams of heroin worth about $1,800, 157 prescription pills (mostly Oxycodone pain pills) worth about $5,000 and 28 grams of cocaine worth about $1,200. About 29 grams of marijuana were seized.

Capt. Craig Dancy, who heads the sheriff’s office’s narcotics unit, said meth is still the dominant illegal drug in Wilkes.

“People tell me they are afraid to use heroin because of fentanyl” it often contains, he said. “I’ve had people come in and help us (by providing information on drug activities) because a buddy overdosed on heroin.”

Dancy said arrests of other people as a result of recent drug investigations were delayed as part of efforts to keep the Wilkes County Jail inmate population down during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said these arrests with additional charges will be made soon.

Dancy also said that targets of recent drug investigations locally are carrying firearms or have them nearby more than normal.

The recent cases include one in which Kevin Scott Townsend, 43, of Robin Lane, North Wilkesboro, is charged with level three trafficking in meth as a result of the amount involved. This is the highest level. Townsend is also charged with possession with intent to sell and deliver (PWISD) meth and maintaining a dwelling for keeping a controlled substance.

Dancy said Terrell L. Dixon, 34, of Westfield is charged with two counts of trafficking in meth, PWISD meth and maintaining a vehicle for a controlled substance.

Reports of suspected drug activities in the Cabin Creek section of Hays led to arrests of five people. Dancy said William Thomas Johnson, 62, of Cabin Creek Road was identified as the supplier of the other four. He is charged with trafficking in meth, maintaining a dwelling for controlled substances and PWISD meth.

One of the other four, John Scott Davis, 44, of Zacks Fork Road in the Kings Creek community of Caldwell County, is charged with PWISD meth. Bethany Brooke Cornett, 40, of Russell Gap Road, Moravian Falls, is charged with possession of meth. Jessica Renee Wolfe, 35, of Cabin Creek Road, is charged with PWISD pain pills and Kristen Annette Jarvis, 31, of Boomer Road, Boomer, is charged with possession of pain pills.

Dancy said four people are charged as a result of an investigation that began after reports were received of possible drug activities in a concentrated area of Moravian Falls. He said Shannon Marie Kilpatrick, 42, of Moravian Falls Road, Moravian Falls, was identified as the supplier and was initially charged with PWISD pain pills.

He said the other three are Garry Auston Walker Jr., 35, of Farm Brook Drive, Millers Creek, charged with PWISD meth and PWISD marijuana; Dustin Clinton Call, 28, Old Homestead Road, Wilkesboro, PWISD meth; and Cody Andrew Bolick, 24, PWISD meth and maintaining a vehicle for controlled substances.

Dancy said Kilpatrick was also charged with PWISD meth, maintaining a dwelling for keeping a controlled substance and possession of a firearm with an altered serial number after she was arrested Friday morning.

Three people from Lenoir charged with PWISD meth in the same Wilkes Sheriff’s Office investigation are Aaron Wolfgang Upton, 24; Dalton Lee Storie, 23; and Shannon Lynn Dubose, 33. Dubose is also charged with giving false information to law enforcement.

Traci Lynn Call, 29, of Country Square Drive, Wilkesboro, and Trisha Marie Nelson, 44, of Statesville, are charged with conspiring with each other to sell meth. Call, Nelson and Jessica Marie Brody, 32, of East Bend are all charged with PWISD meth and with selling meth as a result of the same investigation.

Matthew Neil Rose, 36, of Culpepper Lane, Ronda, and Brandi Mae McGee, 24, of Dennyville Road, Ronda, are charged with PWISD meth and pills in the same investigation. Rose is charged with maintaining a vehicle for keeping a controlled substance and an additional count of PWISD pills.

Rex Randall Whittington, 55, of Winkler Mill Road, Wilkesboro, and Charles Lewis Spears, 57, of Purlear are charged with PWISD meth in the same investigation. Spears is also charged with maintaining a vehicle for a controlled substance.

Other meth cases

Charged with PWISD meth in cases not directly related to each other are Melinda Mahan Rhodes, 44, of Ruff Road, North Wilkesboro; Jacob Richard Owens, 25, of Kent Drive, Millers Creek; Jeremy Smith Eldreth, 36, of Lansing; Jimmy Dean Pilkington, 42, of Harts Drive, Purlear; and Lance Harrold McManus of Man Harrold Road, Hays. McManus is also charged with maintaining a vehicle for controlled substances.

Charged with PWISD meth and selling meth in separate cases are Damon Bill Agee, 26, of Yadkinville; Jacob Lee Anderson, 20, of Hackett Street, North Wilkesboro; and Dillon Lee Davis, 20, of Traphill Road, Traphill.

Dillon is also charged with maintaining a vehicle for controlled subtances. Matthew Allen Wilson, 26, of Water Tower Lane, North Wilkesboro, is charged with PWISD meth, possession of a firearm by a felon and maintaining a vehicle for a controlled substance.

Heroin cases

Gregory Alan Wellington, 47, of West Jefferson and China K. Martin, 38, of Camp Joe Harris Road, North Wilkesboro, were both charged with PWISD heroin in the same investigation. Wellington was also charged with maintaining a vehicle for a controlled substance.

Christopher Antonio-Nadre Scott, 28, of N.C. 18, North Wilkesboro, and Anthony Charles Palazzolo, 28, of Industrial Drive, Wilkesboro, are charged with conspiring with each other to sell heroin and with PWISD heroin. Scott is also charged with selling heroin.

Joshua Anthony Allen, 33, of North Ridge Road, Roaring River was charged with PWISD heroin and with selling heroin.

Tressa Elizabeth Wandling, 36, of Homestead Drive, Hays, is charged with PWISD heroin and with selling heroin.

David Allen Chambers, 55, of 10th Street, North Wilkesboro, is charged with PWISD heroin and with selling heroin, as well as with PWISD pain pills and selling pain pills. He also is charged with maintaining a dwelling for controlled substances.

Other cases

Charged with PWISD cocaine and selling cocaine in separate cases are Curtis Lee Taylor, 36, of E Street, North Wilkesboro (three counts); Robert Lewis Hairston, 56, of Bell Court Drive, North Wilkesboro; and Harvey Lee Fowler Jr., 49, of Curtis Bridge Road, Wilkesboro. Hairston is also charged with maintaining a vehicle for a controlled substance.

Charged with PWISD pain pills are Richard Wayne Cox Jr., 36, of Vannoy Road, Millers Creek; Matthew Daniel Lovette, 27, of Winding Trails Place, Moravian Falls; Crystal Gail Adams, 44, of Oak Ridge Church Road, Hays; William Jessie Penley, 34, of Reidsville; and Cynthia Regina Bennett, 45, of Russell Drive, Ronda.

Russell and Bennett are also charged with PWISD marijuana; Lovette is also charged with maintaining a vehicle for a controlled substance; Adams is also charged with PWISD meth and maintaining a vehicle for a controlled substance; and Penley is also charged with PWISD crack cocaine and marijuana and attempting to destroy evidence.

Dancy said the N.C. Highway Patrol and the Alexander and Yadkin sheriff’s offices assisted. He said Det. Tim Sims of the Alexander Sheriff’s Office, with that agency’s drug dog, provided valuable assistance.