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Wyoming News Briefs NOVEMBER 18


November 14, 2019

Trustees approve computer science degree for UW

LARAMIE (WNE) — The University of Wyoming's board of trustees unanimously approved a new computer science education certificate program during November’s board meeting on Thursday, and gave the go-ahead for proposed bachelor’s degree programs in neuroscience and early childhood education to move forward.

The certificate program, which is planned to become available for the Spring 2020 semester on-campus and online, will be collaboratively offered by UW’s College of Engineering and College of Education – providing an opportunity for Wyoming K-12 teachers to be endorsed for the teaching of computer sciences, such as programming, to their own students.

Anne Alexander, associate vice provost for undergraduate education at UW, said the program will be especially relevant now that the Wyoming Legislature has mandated such teaching in K-12 schools.

“A couple years ago they added it to the ‘basket of goods’ that all students in Wyoming schools should get an education in – so now we need people who can teach it.” Alexander said.

The projected cost for the program is “extremely low,” according to a report from the Committee on Academic and Student Affairs presented during the board meeting. $7,000 was requested, and approved, in order to implement online teaching of the courses – including the hiring of an “instructional designer.”

Also unanimously approved by trustees for further action were two new proposals to eventually create bachelor’s degree programs in early childhood development and neuroscience, as well as one proposal for a master’s degree in “environment and natural resources in society.”


Woman charged in fatal July accident

GILLETTE (WNE) — A Casper woman who allegedly took anti-anxiety pills July 15 has been charged with two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide in the deaths of two Michigan men.

Sydney N. Peterson, 33, is accused of crashing into a minivan carrying the two men on Highway 50 about 23 miles south of Gillette.

Stephen Biddle, 29, and Alex Gill, 24, were traveling from South Dakota to the Tetons about 4:30 p.m. July 15 when Peterson’s Dodge Ram crossed into their lane of travel and hit them almost head on, according to an affidavit of probable cause filed in the case.

Biddle, who was driving, died at the scene of multiple severe blunt traumatic injuries, Campbell County Coroner Paul Wallem said in July. Biddle was wearing a seat belt.

Gill died several days later at a Colorado hospital, where he’d been taken for major head trauma. Gill, who was sitting in the backseat of the van, also was wearing a seat belt.

In the cab of Peterson’s pickup, a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper found a bottle of Clonazepam pills prescribed in her name. They had been refilled that day for 62 pills, and the bottle indicated Peterson was to take one pill twice a day for PTSD. Only 53 pills remained in the bottle, according to the affidavit.

A blood test showed a Clonazepam level of 72, which a physician with the Nebraska Regional Poison Center said was high and considered above the therapeutic level.


Fremont County suicides jump from 2018

RIVERTON (WNE) — Suicides in Fremont County this year have more than tripled from this time last year.

Fremont County Coroner Mark Stratmoen said the numbers are a concern. There were four suicides at this point last year, and there have been 13 so far this year, with two more cases under investigation.

"Those tend to go up and down. Last year was a remarkably low year for Fremont County, but this year everything is sort of blowing out of proportion," said Stratmoen at Tuesday's meeting of the Fremont County Commission.

"We do share our numbers with prevention organizations. That's about as proactive as (the coroner's office) can be in those situations," he added.

Commissioner Jennifer McCarty asked where Fremont County ranks, and where Wyoming ranks compared with other places in suicide frequency, and the coroner said: high.

"Wyoming ranks in the top five nationally," in most years, he said, and "Fremont County runs in the top one or two in the state, statistically."

The highest number in recent memory was 19 suicides in 2012.

The number dropped in subsequent years then rose again to 17 in 2016, 13 in 2017, and went back down to five at the end of last year.

As to this year's spike, Stratmoen said, "If I had a good reason for why that is I'd probably be a millionaire, because then I could solve the problem.”


Committee agrees to limit Hathaway funds for graduate students

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Interim Committee agreed Friday to sponsor a bill that would limit the funds available for graduate students through the Hathaway Scholarship program.

During the committee’s meeting Friday in Cheyenne, lawmakers unanimously supported the bill, which would change the program so that graduate students at the University of Wyoming cannot receive an annual scholarship award worth more than the undergraduate cost to attend UW minus $2,000.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, said the bill was a compromise to deal with the substantially higher tuitions in graduate programs.

“This basically says you don’t get more money out of the Hathaway because you’re in grad school than you would get if you’re an undergraduate,” Rothfuss said.

The scholarship program was originally designed for undergraduate education, Rothfuss said.

Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, who co-chairs the education committee, said the bill falls in line with lawmakers’ fiduciary duty with the scholarship fund.

“Every student that’s on Hathaway is entitled to eight semesters,” Coe said. “You’ve got a lot of students that might ... show up with 30 credits already. They’re still entitled to use those semesters, but we don’t do it at a higher level.”

Discussion of the legislation began Thursday during the first day of the committee meeting. But the bill’s original language would have unintentionally penalized certain students whose scholarships carry over to graduate school.

By delaying a vote on the bill until Friday, the committee managed to resolve that issue.


Teton County has half the dispatchers it needs

JACKSON (WNE) — Teton County’s communications center has half the dispatchers it needs to adequately answer emergency calls and that means trouble.

“We are one person away from not being able to answer 911 calls 24/7,” Sheriff Matt Carr told county commissioners during their meeting last week. “This is a crisis.”

The 911 dispatch center is considered fully staffed with 16 full-time dispatchers. Right now the center has eight.

Carr told commissioners that something has to be done or some emergency calls could go unanswered. To fill the gaps, dispatchers are working 12-hour shifts and mandatory overtime — and they have been for years.

“We need to retain the excellent staff we have now,” Carr told the News&Guide. “I can’t lose any more.”

Carr is proposing the county pay dispatchers the same salaries it pays detention officers and patrol deputies. As it stands, dispatchers make 10% to 15% less than jailers and deputies.

Starting pay for an entry level dispatcher is $46,791 with the possibility of making more than $66,000 on a step plan.

Commissioners didn’t vote on anything during their meeting.

Carr insisted it’s time to boost dispatcher pay for both retention and recruitment, but also because it’s what they deserve.

“They are the first link to the public,” Carr said. “They are walking people through CPR over the phone. They are often on the line with people in life-threatening situations. The role they play in this process is critical. Why shouldn’t they be at the same salary level?”


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