NEWS BRIEFS for Thursday, April 11, 2019

Competency review hearing held for murder suspect

LOVELL (WNE) — A trial involving a man who allegedly killed his ex-wife Carol Barnes more than a year ago will move forward after a hearing on April 2. 

A competency review hearing was held in Big Horn County Fifth Judicial District Court to go over the evaluation that was performed on Donald Joe Crouse at the Wyoming State Hospital. 

At his Dec. 18, 2018, arraignment, Crouse pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental illness. 

Due to the plea, Judge Bobbi Dean Overfield had ordered that an evaluation be done at the Wyoming State Hospital to determine whether he was competent to stand trial.

Crouse appeared in person with his attorney, Timothy Blatt, at the hearing on Tuesday. The victim’s family was also present in the courtroom.

Big Horn County Attorney Marcia Bean told Overfield that Crouse has been found competent to stand trial. She recommended proceeding to the trial that is tentatively set in June. 

Bean informed the court that she would have a decision on whether her office will seek the death penalty within 30 days.


Board of Medicine suspends physician’s license

GREYBULL (WNE) — The Wyoming Board of Medicine has suspended the license of a Casper physician who spent nearly two decades of his career at South Big Horn County Hospital before his resignation in March of 2017.

The order of summary suspension against Demar “Dusty” Hill alleges that he failed to comply with the terms of a monitoring agreement with the Wyoming Professional Assistance Program (WPAP) by returning to his job at Cedars Health in Casper before he was discharged from a treatment program for an opioid addiction at the Professional Renewal Center in Lawrence, Kansas.

The suspension order, dated March 27, 2019, also sheds light on an investigation that began while Hill was employed by South Big Horn County Hospital, where he’d worked since the summer of 1998.

His resignation in March of 2017 sent shock waves through the community and hospital district. 

The suspension order's findings of fact states that the Board of Medicine received a written complaint against Hill from the executive director of the Wyoming Board of Pharmacy in August of 2016, advising that possible diversion of oxycodone was occurring in the Basin-Greybull area.

The order states, “It was alleged that Dr. Hill would prescribe oxycodone 15 mg or 30 mg to patients who were opiate naive, then when the patient called to report that the medication was making them sick, he would tell the patient to bring the remainder of the prescription back and he would ‘trade’ it for another prescription that the patient could tolerate.” 

The document also alleges that Hill “would go into the patient’s home, give the lower dose of pills or a prescription for them, and retrieve the higher dose of pills.”


Department of Education, Microsoft partner for computer education

CHEYENNE (WNE) — School districts will have some help from Microsoft in their mandate to offer computer science to all students by the 2022-23 school year.

The Wyoming Department of Education on Tuesday announced a new partnership with Microsoft and CSforALL, an organization with the mission of incorporating computer science into K-12 education. Microsoft’s TechSpark initiative is giving the state more than $95,000 to train school districts on implementing computer science curriculum.

The training is called SCRIPT, or Strategic CSforALL Resource and Implementation Planning Tool. It was designed by CSforALL to train teams of district administrators and educators to create or expand computer science education in their districts.

Students in every school district in Wyoming will have the option to take computer science courses by the 2022-23 school year, per legislation passed last year. Wyoming is the first state to require such education. Given the challenges in implementing an entirely new subject area, the training is needed, said Laurel Ballard, Student/Teacher Resources Team supervisor for the state Department of Education.

“There was a lot of confusion about what’s going on,” Ballard said.

She’s been the liaison between the state and individual districts, focusing on addressing what districts say they need to meet computer science requirements.

Ballard said districts have raised concerns about funding and teacher credentialing. She said once districts go through the training, the whole process will be less overwhelming, and districts may have an easier time facing their other challenges.


UW proposes cutting a week from winter break

LARAMIE (WNE) — University of Wyoming administrators are proposing revisions to the school’s academic calendar that would give students a full week off for Thanksgiving Break while shortening winter break from five weeks to four, with spring semester beginning the day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The proposed calendar changes would go into effect in fall 2020 and run through spring 2023.

The calendar committee that produced the proposal was chaired by Honors College Dean Donal Skinner and included numerous faculty and administrative representatives, as well as leaders from Staff Senate, the UW Alumni Association and ASUW — the school’s student government.

“From a student travel perspective, this was seen as advantageous,” Skinner told trustees about the proposal for a full week off for Thanksgiving. “Also, a lot of students (leave for a full week) anyways. This is kind of acknowledging the existing situation.”

In recent years, classes have begun on either a Monday or Wednesday, sometimes after Labor Day.

The proposed calendars would have classes always start on a Monday, and always two weeks before Labor Day.

The proposal would also build in a three-day weekend during the middle of both fall and spring semesters, while ensuring final exams in both semesters occur in a single week, and not two weeks, as was in the case in the last two fall semesters.

In total, the calendars would mean six more instructional days each year.


Northwest College faces budget Cuts

POWELL (WNE) — Community colleges across the state are struggling with falling enrollment figures, and Northwest College is not immune to the trend.

The issue was on the agenda for Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting — and the declining numbers will most likely impact the school’s budget for the coming school year. 

“You all know our enrollment doesn’t look good,” NWC President Stefani Hicswa told the board. 

Fall 2018 enrollment numbers at NWC showed an unduplicated headcount of 1,524 students, a decline of 10 percent from the previous year. It was also the lowest headcount at Wyoming’s seven community colleges. 

Over the past five years, NWC’s unduplicated enrollment has dropped nearly 23 percent, whereas the state as a whole saw a 13 percent drop. In the past decade, the drop was nearly 16 percent for NWC and 11 percent for the state’s community colleges overall. 

As for full-time equivalent enrollment — which is the total credit hours taken by all students, divided by a full-time semester load of 12 credit hours — NWC had the equivalent of 1,359 students last year. That was a 12.3 percent drop over the prior year, while Wyoming’s other community colleges saw decreases of a few percentage points. 

As NWC enrollment falls, so does revenue from tuition. State funding, meanwhile, is based on average enrollment numbers at all of Wyoming’s community colleges. 

“We are, therefore, in the process of getting input from budget managers and doing analysis to determine what reductions will need to be made,” Hicswa said. 

Unfortunately, a shrinking budget may also hurt enrollment in the future: Without the funding to maintain competitive compensation, Hicswa explained, the school might lose good faculty and staff.