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Helicopter clips wire and crashes, killing pilot
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A Virginia man was killed Sunday afternoon when his helicopter clipped an electrical wire and nosedived into the ground.

The Union County Sheriff’s Office identified the pilot as 57-year-old David Michael Montague of Rapidan, Virginia. Montague was reportedly dusting fungicide on farmland off Belk Mill Road when the crash occurred.

Steve Braswell, of Belk Mill Road, said he had just gotten home from church when he heard the helicopter buzzing overhead. He said he stepped outside and witnessed the ordeal.

“He (Montague) hooked that wire and it threw him down like a rag doll. It was a rough deal,” Braswell said.

Braswell said he immediately ran toward the crash site, arriving first on the scene.

“He was hanging by his seatbelt, bleeding badly,” Braswell said, adding that he wasn’t responsive.

Montague’s wife, who reportedly assists her husband on the ground, was also quick to arrive on the scene along with another worker.

“She was talking to him and rubbing his side, but he wasn’t responding,” Braswell said. “I asked her if he was still breathing and she said didn’t know.”

USCO said Montague, who was well know in the local farming community, was in the area crop dusting and was the only occupant onboard the aircraft. Montague was pronounced dead at the scene, according to a spokesman with the Sheriff’s office.

Braswell said it appeared the small helicopter’s landing gear clipped the wire.

Deputies responded to the scene at 1:13 p.m. At the time of the reported incident, the victim had not been identified. USCO said it had completed its investigation of the incident and the Federal Aviation Administration came out to the site on Sunday. The National Transportation Safety Board was expected on Monday to conduct its investigation.

UCPS 2021 Teacher of the Year and Beginning Teacher of the Year announced
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UNION COUNTY — Union County Public Schools (UCPS) announced Porter Ridge Elementary teacher Hannah Park is the school system’s 2021 Teacher of the Year. Recognized alongside Park was her colleague from Porter Ridge High School, Dylan Chavis, who was named the 2021 Beginning Teacher of the Year.

The two educators, along with the finalists for the awards, were recognized during a virtual celebration on April 29 by UCPS Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan, principals, senior leaders, and Board of Education members.

“What we’ve all been through collectively as a school system, I can’t tell you how proud we are of all of you — of our teachers, our school administrators,” said UCPS Superintendent Dr. Andrew Houlihan as he addressed the candidates. “You have gone above and beyond for our children whether you’ve been a virtual teacher or in-person teacher or all points in-between. Your leadership and dedication to our families and commitment to this wonderful school system is certainly noticed.”

Adding to the excitement of this year’s awards, both recipients are alumni of the Union County Public School system.

According to UCPS, Hannah Park has been educator since 2016. Following her graduation from Central Academy of Technology and Arts in 2008, Parks graduated from Pfeiffer University. Of her time in the classroom, UCPS said “Hannah provides research-based teaching and learning in a safe, virtual space while facilitating classroom sessions with small groups of students.”

“Every day I get the opportunity to work with some really amazing women who inspire me,” said Park in a release from the school system. “I would not be here without my Porter Ridge family, thank you guys so much you are amazing and I love all of you.”

Dylan Chavis spent his entire K-12 education in Union County, graduating from Porter Ridge High School in 2016. Following his high school education, Chavis graduated from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. As a social studies teacher at Porter Ridge High School, UCPS said Chavis has been an educator since 2020. In his classroom, UCPS said “Dylan strives to lead by example through educating and inspiring his students every day.”

“I’m so thrilled and honored. I will do everything I can to represent Porter Ridge and the county as best I can. I’m incredibly overwhelmed, thank you so much,” said Chavis in the release.

UCPS said each year it recognizes educators who show the capacity to inspire students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn and who establishes an environment in line with pursuit and achievement of academic excellence. Park and Chavis, who were selected from a pool of 53 school-wide candidates, will go on to represent UCPS in the regional teacher program.

According to UCPS, in addition to their countywide recognition, the Union County Education Foundation will award Park with $1,000 and Chavis with $500 for their personal use.

County passes 24,000 cumulative cases of COVID-19
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UNION COUNTY — With restrictions on outdoor masks lifted last Friday, the state continues to watch trends with COVID cases and progress on vaccinations. Across North Carolina, 7,300,216 doses of the vaccine has been administered with 49.6% of the adult population in the state having received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Here in Union County, 64,010 have received at least one dose of the vaccine through Sunday, May 2. This represents 26.7% of the county’s total population. There are now 52,423 who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

According to NC DHHS data updated on Monday (May 3), the total of cumulative cases of COVID-19 in the county is at 24,071 This figure accounts for all reported cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Cumulative cases indicate both those who have tested positive and those who have come out of an isolation period.

The Union County Government COVID-19 online dashboard reports 753 active cases and 22 current hospitalizations. The county positivity rate, reported by NC DHHS, was 6.4% on Monday. The state’s positivity rate was reported at 6.0%.

According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, any positivity rate above 5% is classified as “too high” and indicates that “more testing should probably be done.

Across the state, there have been a total of 974,319 COVID-19 cases per NC DHHS, and 12,691 virus related deaths.

Mom of UCPS students advocates for parental rights
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UNION COUNTY — In early August when students are buying new school supplies, backpacks and lunchboxes will face masks be on the list?

Some parents like Britney Bouldin are trying to prevent masks from making the list.

Bouldin and her husband have three children — one in kindergarten, one in fifth and one in eighth grades. They recently moved back to North Carolina from Maryland. This is her kids’ first year in Union County Public Schools. Prior to Maryland, they were enrolled in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

In Bouldin’s opinion, requiring students to wear face masks all day at school is a violation of parental rights. She believes parents should have the choice whether or not their child wears a mask at school. For her, having the ability to choose if her three children will wear a face mask or not is more important than the masks. In the same way, Bouldin believes parents should have a say in the curriculum public schools use in the classroom to teach their children.

“Moms are not liking the schools thinking they can be the moms and deciding,” Bouldin said.

Bouldin nearly started an organization in Union County that would have focused on parental rights; however, she learned about Moms for Liberty — a national group of families and community members “that have a desire to stand up for parental rights at all levels of government,” according to their website. The group was started by Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich, both of Florida, who were former members of a school board.

She decided instead to start a Union County chapter of the national organization.

Bouldin said there are groups of parents and guardians in the county who are working together to remove face masks from public school campuses in the district and advocate for parental rights. She said instead of being competitive to see which group can attain the largest membership, they are working together for a common cause.

The first action they will take will be speaking at the Board of Education regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, May 4.

Bouldin clarified saying she believes the Union County Board of Education “has led the way” as far as she is concerned “in trying their best to preserve our children’s freedoms and liberties.”

“They’ve done everything within the realm to make it be as normal and least restrictive as possible and I am very appreciative of that,” Bouldin added.

As of now, Bouldin is wrestling with the idea of sending her children to a private school. She doesn’t want to send them to another school and have them start all over at a new school, but she also doesn’t want to send them to school in masks.

UCPS lists the following current requirement on its website regarding the wearing of face coverings for the reopening of schools for the 2020-21 school year: “According to state guidelines, all students from Kindergarten through 12th grade and all teachers, staff, and adult visitors are required to wear face coverings in school buildings on buses and on school grounds when they are or may be within 6 feet of another person. Unless the person (or family member, for a student) states that an exception applies, is eating, or is engaged in strenuous physical activity and able to maintain 6 feet distance from other people.”

The Enquirer-Journal contacted UCPS to see if the school system had determined guidance for the 2021-22 school year with regard to face coverings. UCPS said they have received no guidance from the state for the 2021-22 school year, but are expecting updated guidelines (from the state) for the current school year on Tuesday (May 4).

Remote Learning

Bouldin said her children were “ecstatic” to return to school in person. So much so that she had to remind her two younger children to not brag about going four days a week when her eldest could only go for two days a week, because it was upsetting to the eldest.

Bouldin said her children did not learn as much from doing school online as they would have in the classroom.

She said remote learning worked for smaller schools, but not so much for larger school districts. She used boating illustrations to prove her point.

For private schools, adapting to remote learning was like turning a speed boat in another direction, but for large, public school districts adapting was like trying to turn the Ever Given container vessel that was stuck in the Suez Canal last month.

Bouldin wonders if remote learning will make the education community reconsider having large school districts that can’t turn on a dime and adjust to new forms of providing instruction.

“It seems to me, it’s a pretty big consensus just from talking to other parents that have kids in private schools...It seems to me the consensus is that the private schools did a much better job not because they are necessarily a better school, but because they were smaller,” Bouldin said.