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Lawsuit targets schools, health department
  • Updated

RUTHERFORDTON — The Rutherford County Board of Education and Foothills Health District are being sued because of COVID-19 mitigation protocols in the Rutherford County Schools (RCS). A lawsuit was filed in Superior Court this week.

Kelly Wiggen, Shellica Wood, Michael Osborne, and group known as North Carolina Citizens for Constitutional Rights, LLC are listed as plaintiffs in court documents. Defendants in the suit are the Board of Education, Superintendent David Sutton, Foothills Health District, and Foothills Health District Director Karen Powell.

The plaintiffs are claiming that school quarantines have been illegally ordered by RCS per state law. They claim that RCS does not have the authority to order quarantines, and that “severe harm” has come about as a result of the quarantines.

The plaintiffs also claim “...The actions of the defendants have been arbitrary in issuing quarantines, in the scope and matter of quarantining students, and administering quarantines in a haphazard format.”

The plaintiffs are seeking injunctions, “...forever barring defendants from issuing quarantines as their actions are arbitrary and capricious and in violation of North Carolina General Statute 130A-145.”

The plaintiffs are also asking for financial compensation, “ for damages in excess of $25,000,” as well as attorney fees.

In addition, the plaintiffs are asking for a trial by jury.

This isn’t Wiggen’s first time expressing her discontent with RCS. In September, 2021, Wiggen and others angrily addressed a Board of Education meeting, which led to some being ejected from the meeting by security.

At that meeting, Wiggen told the board she had removed her children from Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy because of that school’s mask mandate. She also criticized the RCS quarantine procedures, and called the board members dictators.

Other school boards across North Carolina are dealing with similar complaints. Defenders of the state’s guidance say “quarantine” isn’t the correct word. School systems are “excluding” students or staff from school when they are sick or have the potential to spread illness because of close contact, which attorneys say is within their right.

A true “quarantine” would mean restricting people to a particular location, thereby restricting any movement.

School officials say they cannot comment on pending litigation.

School board honors REaCH for its 100% grad rate
  • Updated

FOREST CITY — Rutherford Early College High School (REaCH) was honored this week for once again reaching an achievement few schools ever do. REaCH’s Class of 2021 graduated 100% of its students.

This is the 11th consecutive year the school has accomplished the feat. A part of Rutherford County Schools (RCS), REaCH is a partnership between the public school system and Isothermal Community College (ICC). Located on the campus of ICC in Spindale, REaCH students take classes from high school as well as college instructors. Most graduate with a high school diploma and have college credit as well.

REaCH was honored by the Rutherford County Board of Education Tuesday evening.

RCS Superintendent David Sutton noted that State Superintendent Catherine Truitt sent a letter of congratulations for REaCH “achieving commendable graduation results with the Class of 2021, who achieved a 100% four-year cohort graduation rate last year.”

Sutton and the board members congratulated Principal Jeremiah McCluney, who was at the meeting along with Angel Ledbetter, a history teacher representing the REaCH faculty.

REaCH has approximately 190 students in grades nine through 12. McCluney says the school’s family-oriented culture is a primary contributor to the school’s success.

“Our kids want to be here...and we want them to be here,” McCluney said. “Obviously we’re a school, but we’re also a family,” he continued. “We are smaller in size, which our students like. And they get a taste of the college experience, here at ICC.”

McCluney says it has been more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain the relationships, and the school culture, that he says are so important.

“But the staff stepped up,” he said. “They certainly rose to the challenge. We want our students to be engaged, and to feel like this is where they belong. We have worked hard to make things as ‘normal’ as possible while keeping everyone safe. We want the students to have an outstanding high school experience.”

McCluney added that he is hopeful that the Class of 2022 will also have a 100% graduation rate.

REaCH was established, and accepted its first students, in fall, 2005.

ICC nursing program endorsed by state
  • Updated

SPINDALE — The Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) program at Isothermal Community College was approved by the North Carolina Board of Nursing on Thursday.

The college has offered the program for more than 25 years as part of the Foothills Nursing Consortium. However, the member colleges of that partnership decided recently it was best to move forward with independent programs.

“This will give us the opportunity to better serve our nursing students in Rutherford and Polk counties by focusing on the needs specific to this area,” said Dr. Kim Amos, Isothermal’s ADN director. “It will mean shorter travel times for students in clinical settings and enhanced individualized instruction with the expansion of technology and integrated simulation experiences.”

Students will begin in the standalone program in August of this year.

“We are very excited to have earned the North Carolina Board of Nursing’s approval for this program,” said Ava Yamouti, dean of Health and Public Services at Isothermal. “Nursing is a wonderful profession for so many dedicated and caring professionals. The pay has never been better and the demand for new nurses is higher than ever. We are so pleased we are able to serve our community by helping our students attain a rewarding career.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a registered nurse with an associate degree is $64,850 in North Carolina. Registered nurses can work in a wide variety of healthcare setting from hospitals and medical offices to hospices and long-term care facilities.

The bulk of the nursing classes take place at the Rutherfordton Learning Center, which has recently been outfitted with state-of-the-art simulation and training equipment.

“This program offers immense value for our students and the health care systems within our region,” said Isothermal’s president, Dr. Margaret Annunziata. “The instruction is top notch, and residents of Rutherford and Polk counties can attend tuition-free with the Powers Promise. With so much support for students and so many opportunities for graduates, now is the perfect time to pursue a degree in nursing.”

Students can start the application process for Fall 2022 now.

To learn more about the program, contact Dr. Amos at or 828-395-1741. You may also contact Tina Porter, the college’s pre-health sciences advisor, at or 828-395-1621.