Teacher’s arrest causes tension as BOE considers resignation

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Last week’s news of a teacher’s arrest on charges of allegedly carrying out an inappropriate relationship with a student resulted in the following day a letter of resignation submitted to the Gilmer County Board of Education.

This culminated at the Board’s meeting when voting on personnel. Nathan Sutton’s, the teacher in question, resignation was a part of the agenda item.

Board member Ronald Watkins asked to vote on Sutton’s resignation separate from the other personnel changes. While the general personnel passed without issue, Sutton’s resignation was questioned.

Watkins said he wanted the Board to not accept his resignation as it allows him to part from the school board with a letter of resignation rather than being fired for the incident. Watkins referenced another recent resignation, saying it was similarly a situation of allowing a resignation before an investigation could prove any improper behavior.

While the Board was originally split with Board member Tom Ocobock saying he agreed that he wanted it to say on record that he was fired. Ocobock also indicated that he didn’t want Sutton “let off” with a resignation after the alleged incident. This was stressed even further as they both noted Sutton’s alleged confession.

resignation

Gilmer County Board of Education, Board Member Ronald Watkins

However, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs suggested to the board that the school system would proceed with whatever they voted, she counseled them to accept the resignation on the grounds that the if the Board wished to proceed with firing him instead, they would reject the resignation and continue paying Sutton as a teacher and keeping him as an employee, at least on paper, until the proceeding could go forward with the schools firing policy. With the investigation and the school board’s process to fire him. It could take up to a couple months or even 90 days was suggested as an extreme possibility.

Some of the complicating factors revolved around the victim not being a student anymore, new policy updates for Title 9 with the schools, and proceeding with the termination in face of a resignation letter.

Downs said that she has already filed paperwork with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) for an ethics complaint on record regarding the incident, and that the police would be moving forward with their investigation. The complaint with the GaPSC also requested to pull Sutton’s certificate for education.

According to the GaPSC website:

Title 20, Education, of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.), outlines the legal guidelines, which govern the state education program.

Title 20 creates the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) and assigns it responsibility for providing a regulatory system for “certifying and classifying” professional employees in public schools. Title 20 also requires the professional employees of all Georgia public schools to hold state certification.

Downs added that the resignation allows the board to separate from Sutton immediately without the full process of investigating themselves and firing Sutton on those grounds. She said that as far as him going to another school or getting another job, there was little difference in firing Sutton or accepting the resignation. The difference was in paying him until they could fire him or terminating the contract now.

resignation

Gilmer County Board of Education, Board Member Tom Ocobock

Ocobock said that he still wanted him fired, but with Downs saying she had filed the complaint and as long as he could not go to another school for a job, he was okay with the resignation path of separation.

However, Watkins still pushed for the official process saying that he was really discouraged that he has had two people know that will be allowed to resign instead of being fired. He stated, “I want to know how bad something has got to be to where I can fire someone.”

Indeed, with a motion on the floor to accept the resignation, Watkins made his official motion to proceed with the firing process. The motion did not receive a second and died. However, the Board then proceeded with approving the motion to accept Sutton’s resignation 4-0 with Watkins abstaining.

Watkins did make one comment saying he felt he was appearing like “the bad guy” because he abstained from the resignation, but was reassured by other Board members. Ocobock told him he wasn’t the bad guy saying, “You’ve got to think about what it’s going to cost the school and the disruption in the high school where now we’ve got to find another teacher to replace him.”

State Superintendent Richard Woods visits Ellijay Elementary

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Group at Ellijay Elementary

ELLIJAY, Ga. – On a tour through several schools in North Georgia, the State Superintendent Richard Woods visited Ellijay Elementary School last week to tour the school and speak with administrators on the beginning of the new school term considering much of the changes and challenges this year.

State Superintendent Richard Woods speaks with administrators at Ellijay Elementary during a tour of schools as they return to class.

State Superintendent Richard Woods speaks with administrators at Ellijay Elementary during a tour of schools as they return to class.

Woods arrived at Ellijay Elementary late in the day to see how the school handles transportation, social distancing, and cleanliness and prevention practices during that process.

Met by school administrators and Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, Woods toured part of the school and spoke about the challenges that schools are seeing as they return to class. Through the line-up, car window tags, and computer system for parents picking up students, Woods saw the stream-lined system the Ellijay Elementary uses to identify parents, call for the student, and allow students into cars one at a time with space between.

In addition to this, Woods viewed several classes lining up for buses. Through the redistricting that Gilmer did last year, less buses come through the elementary school and reach homes far faster. This means less time on the bus, and less time spent with students from other schools.

As a part of the loading process, school personnel and the bus drivers spray sanitizer on students hands before the enter the buses and use assigned seating for students on the bus. Administrators also told Woods that, when possible, family members are kept together on the bus as well.

Personnel and Bus Drivers spray hand sanitizer on students hands as they line up to get on buses at the end of the school day.

Personnel and Bus Drivers spray hand sanitizer on students hands as they line up to get on buses at the end of the school day.

Woods also asked about the sports program at stadiums with schools returning to football. Dr. Downs replied saying they would be requesting those displaying symptoms stay home, and would be encouraging social distancing with fans. Yet, they did not want to distribute limited tickets to families as they had dealt with similar issues in previous years at graduation.

Continuing along, Woods has been asking the schools he visits how he and the state could help.

Dr. Downs noted that teachers in the state are not considered essential employees by the governor. That moniker means something as teachers who may have a possible exposure through detailed contact tracing or similar means are being sent home to quarantine for 14 days. Gilmer has had issue here as people who aren’t sick are being forced to go home. Some flexibility in the area could mean a world of difference.

Dr. Downs said that someone who may have had a possible contact could come to work with an N95 mask and fall under daily monitoring and observation. This way, at the first sign of any issue, they could be sent home then, but many teachers have been identified as a possible contact and gone through quarantine without ever getting sick or showing any signs. Downs added that those who feel the need to quarantine could still follow that procedure.

Dr. Shanna Downs, Lauree Pierce, Richard Woods, and Melinda Fonteboa pose for a photo during Woods visit to Ellijay Elementary School.

Dr. Shanna Downs, Lauree Pierce, Richard Woods, and Melinda Fonteboa pose for a photo during Woods visit to Ellijay Elementary School.

Downs clarified that they don’t want to put sick people in school, but rather avoid stigma and over-reactions to extended contact tracing that is sending a large number of people home and putting a strain on the school system which is struggling to provide substitute teachers. This comes from a dwindling pool of substitutes as those “at-risk” have decided not to substitute for the schools this year.

As the visit neared its end, Woods said he understands that every county is adjusting to their own needs and a “one-size-fits-all approach” would never have worked. But he made the visits to see the schools and hear their needs.

Woods is set to return to the state department and share all that he saw and learned from his tour. He has said that he wants the state to continue supporting the counties in their individual responses.

Woods said, “Please let us know how we can help and things that we can do to support what you all are doing… Success happens her.”

Gilmer Schools returns to free meals with USDA funding

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County Charter Schools has stated today that they will begin offering free meals of both lunches and breakfasts to all students attending classes in person on Gilmer campuses.

According to their statement, “Effective Tuesday, September 8,2020 all Gilmer County Schools will begin serving free breakfast and lunch meals to all students attending in person classes.” This does not rely on applications or normal free and reduced lunches with the school’s normal program.

Gilmer Schools has operated for years in programs like “Seamless Summer,” pictured here, where they provide meals to students during the summer. Other programs like “Seamless Lunches” have branched off of the same idea due to needs arising, especially since the COVID-19 outbreak this year.

System administration said today that the USDA is the source of funding for lunches for the remainder of this semester only. Gilmer Schools has already moved to free breakfasts in the past in efforts to increase participation. They also provided lunches through bus routes in March, earlier this year, for students as a part of a “Seamless Lunches” program feeding kids during the school year. The school year was cut off due to COVID-19 outbreak. That program fed students as they adapted to classes at home and “distance learning” under quarantines as the outbreak first spread.

Today, the new program is set to continue free meals until December 31, 2020. The school system said, “This will allow the school nutrition program to serve nutritious meals to all students who attend in person classes, at no cost to families. Students who purchased a school lunch September 1-4, 2020 will be issued a credit on their meal accounts.”

The program ends over the break between semesters and usual meal prices will resume in January, 2021.

Administration said they “strongly encourage families to complete an application for free and reduced meals” before then.

Lunch price for elementary and middle school students is $2.15 and $2.30 for high school students. Reduced price lunches are $.40 for all grade levels.

Along with the information they gave, GCCS said, “We understand that these are trying times for everyone and are hoping this will relieve some of the financial hardship that is being felt by many in our community. If you have any questions, please contact the School Nutrition Office at (706) 276-5000.”

Community Paramedicine meets students in schools offering

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Paramedicine

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – As many are beginning to talk about the possibility of returning to school, some are still attempting to wrap up the previous year.

Paramedicine

Members of Gilmer’s Community Paramedicine offer masks and informational flyers for students and parents in schools.

In Gilmer, part of that process occurred this week as students returned to the buildings to collect left-behind belongings. Planned in April, the Board of Education and Superintendent had the day set in order to offer a better sense of closure to the school year as the virus ended normal classes mid-semester. But as they returned, they were met by some unexpected people.

Gilmer County’s Public Safety offered a statement today saying. “It’s nearly school-time with many preparations underway. Part of those preparations is helping our kids understand the importance of good health practices. Gilmer County Community Paramedicine, with the generosity of Parkside Ellijay Nursing Home, paired together for a fun project this week at our elementary and middle schools.”

Paramedicine

Students returned to school this week to collect belongings, but were met with Gilmer’s Community Paramedics offering a community support service during this time of viral outbreak.

The project was to meet students in the schools and hand out face masks and flyers. According to Public Safety, the Community Paramedicine team visited three of our schools across the county supplied with the generous donation of 1,000 face-covering masks donated by Parkside Ellijay, and 1,000 informational flyers in English and Spanish.

The team handed out all the masks and 700 of the flyers to students and parents who arrived over the three-day period to collect their end-of 2019 school year belongings.

Public Safety was grateful for its partners in the endeavor, saying, “Many thanks to Michael Feist, Director & Part-Owner of Parkside Ellijay for the wonderful donation of the face covering masks, and to Dr. Shanna Downs, School Superintendent, for allowing our Community Paramedicine team to conduct this very successful service to our school children.”

Seamless Summer officially begins in Gilmer

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Seamless Summer

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Bringing and official end to the Seamless Feeding Program with Memorial Day, Gilmer Schools have officially transferred this week into their Seamless Summer Program.

But this is more than just a name change on what the schools have already done, the Seamless Summer has many differences as the school system transitions into the normal summer cycle. The first and biggest difference will be delivery. Adapting to the needs of the county, the school system has run bus routes normally through the county during school to deliver work packets, food, and a second meal each day during the school year. Now, according to Gilmer Schools, the big purple bus (seen above) will be visiting site the way previous summer programs have held.

“The big purple bus will depart Mountain View Elementary to begin delivering meals… at approximately 11:00 A.M. Monday-Thursday each week this summer,” said the system’s social media post. The locations include:
-Gilmer County Health Department
-Boys and Girls Club
-Mulberry Street Apartments
-Ellijay 1st United Methodist Church
-Tower Road
-Carolyn Drive

Additionally, One change from Seamless Summer’s normal operation has lifted restrictions for on site consumption, meals do not have to be consumed onsite. This is also allowing Thursdays will be different as Lunch and Breakfast for the next day will be served. This means children will receive double meals to save for Friday. As per their usual program, any child 18 and under may receive meals.

This week saw Memorial Day as a holiday, but through Tuesday and Wednesday, Nutrition Director Linda Waters said the department has delivered 270 breakfasts and lunches to their sites and are now preparing for next week to bring on the Boys and Girls Club listed in their locations. Today, they are looking at double to cover Friday, meaning a delivery of 540 meals for lunch time.

The Nutrition Department goes through their numbers daily as they look to respond and adjust on a weekly basis to the county’s needs. For example, adjusting to incorporate the Boys and Girls Club next week, or adding in athletics summer programs beginning in early June when the add another 20 breakfasts for athletes and then 60 lunches as small groups practice with coaches throughout the day.

Waters said, “We will make it work.” She said she has had a great staff and has proven that as they adjusted to the needs during the COVID-19 outbreak and quarantines and they will adjust and adapt again to the developing needs.

In fact, the only thing holding the program back at this moment, said Waters, is a rising need for volunteers. Some sites are still very undermanned. But more than that, Waters said that right now, restrictions and regulations are setting boundaries for now, but what the program can grow into is all dependent upon the community. Normally, the Seamless Summer Program has daily events, reading with the children, playing, and other activities. Whether the program can return to that by summer’s end depends a little on state guidelines, but more on community volunteers who step up to lead and help with those activities. To reach that goal later, they still need those to answer the call now to receive and handout food at the current locations.

While the Nutrition Department is already preparing and planning for school in the fall and waiting to hear from State and County Boards of Education on how to proceed, they are continuing to juggle in the Seamless Summer Program and working towards making it a success in the eyes of the community.

BOE receives Financial Distinction award again

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – According to Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, Gilmer has won a Financial Distinction award again this year as it draws closer to the end of its 2019-2020 year.

Won it “again” because it is starting to become a common thing in Gilmer Schools Administration as the financial department, led by Director of Finance Trina Penland, won the award last year and the year before. They also received the award two years prior, meaning that while this is the third year in a row that Gilmer Schools and Penland have achieved this award, it is actually the fourth time in five years that they have gotten it.

While a representative from the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts was not at Gilmer’s meeting to deliver the award this year as they have done previously, Downs said this was due to the current outbreak situation, they did deliver their congratulations through Dr. Downs saying that they wanted to make the board aware of another year of excellence.

The “Award of Distinction for Excellent Financial Reporting for Fiscal Year 19,” as Down named it, is rare among the counties that are reported under this group. While the Board of Education and Penland did not know the numbers this year, previous reports on FYN confirmed that only 32 of the 159 entities audited in 2018 and only 27 of the 150 entities audited in 2017 received this award.

Dr. Downs accredited the hard work of the the entire Financial Department and Trina Penland as the Director to not only have achieved this goal once, but three times in a row. These awards are not just for one area, but include requirements from reporting, annual audits, and documentation.

Superintendent addresses schools after closure extension

Community

East Ellijay, Ga. – After the recent release from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announcing an extension of school closures, Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs offered an email for staff about the extension.

Downs said, “As you are aware, our schools will remain closed until at least April 26, 2020. This is an incredibly stressful time for everyone.”

Gilmer Schools originally closed until March 20, but mere days later, after an executive order from Kemp extended closures to March 31, Gilmer’s BOE went a step further extending it to April 3, 2020, butting up against their Spring Break, April 4 -12. Now, another order is extending it again.

Addressing concerns from students, parents, and citizens about upcoming events. Downs said that the board does not have answers for everything yet, but is working towards those answers while maintaining the current education cycle and Seamless Feeding Program for families.

Downs said, “I have received messages from students who miss their friends, have anxiety about their grades and graduation, and are worried about their own loved ones getting sick – all while still dealing with many non-coronavirus challenges in their lives. I have spoken to parents and caregivers who are worried about losing their jobs, paying rent, and providing 24/7 childcare for their children. I have heard from teachers and staff who have expressed how hard it has been to cope with the abrupt separation from their students while also dealing with their own family struggles. Sadly, things are likely to get even more challenging over the next several weeks. There are many questions about how extended school closures will affect school life like grades, promotion, prom, graduation, and so much more. We are working to develop the best answers possible to those questions.”

However, Downs went on to add a message of hope for staff. She thanked the educations staff, from teachers and administrators to office and support staff saying, “There is no doubt that we are in uncharted territory and an unprecedented time; however, fear will not take us anywhere. We need to be proactive and kind to one another as we stay as safe as possible. We are resilient people. We are all extremely proud of your commitment to our vision and mission during this most trying time.”

As the Superintendent, Downs said she was very proud of the teamwork and commitment being displayed not just to our school system, but to the community at large. She made special note of transportation and nutrition staff working in the Seamless Feeding Program.

Downs final note in the email came as a focus for the future:

Let us keep our current mission at the forefront of our minds:

1)      Teach our students to the best of our ability—We will face challenges and things will not be perfect. As long as we are teaching to the best of our ability and circumstances, we will be successful.

2)     Feed our students—Any hungry children that we might reach.

3)     Do our part to “Flatten the Curve”—Work from home, social distance, and for those still reporting limit contact as much as possible.

Changing instructions generates new response from BOE

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instructions, budget

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer is continuing to change daily amid responses, suggestions, and instructions from state and national levels. The Board of Education is no different as they are developing several changes in their departments like transportation and nutrition as they prepare for the extended shutdown.

A few of those changes have come from established instructions since the beginning of the shutdown. Now, principals and schools administrators are expanding efforts to keep employees working and being paid despite the absence of students. The school system has already publicized efforts to keep teaching students during this time through paper packets in the lower grades and tablets and online learning for the upper grades.

Now, attention has fallen to the less publicized areas as the school attempts to expand its efforts to hourly employees. While the original response sent many hourly employees home, instead asking for volunteers to help support the initiatives like the school feeding program similar to Seamless Summer, now these instructions have changed. Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said that legal questions have been raised about allocating public tax funds to employees not working. As such, and upon further consultations with attorneys upon the subject, the schools are expanding efforts and using hourly stuff to reinforce these initiatives to support students outside of the classroom.

In a letter from Superintendent Downs to the staff of Gilmer Schools, she said, “We have received additional legal guidance from Harbin, Hartley and Hawkins in the last couple of days that impacts all of our staff as we look toward more long term closures. Legally, we must document hours to be able to pay hourly employees even during a closure of schools mandated by our Governor. Every staff member will be required to document hours worked. We are asking you for a little grace, patience and understanding as we make decisions throughout the next several days and weeks.”

However, this is not just one area as paraprofessionals, office staff, some nutrition staff, transportation staff, and other hourly workers employees that do not directly interact and teach students will be attending to new work and tasks no usually in their daily routine.

Downs also addressed concerned employees, families, or those that wish to stay home during the Coronavirus shutdown. Downs said that there will be work to be done from home, in isolated offices, or in other forms as assigned by each school’s administrators. Downs said, “There is stuff for people to do, but they are going to do it from home.”

Even those who are coming into the buildings will be working individually in areas that have been cleaned. Additionally, those who need to stay at home will take days of leave through a recent Georgia Act concerning these issues.

With the extra workers supporting the Seamless Feeding program, the schools have altered instructions on how they will be distributing the meals to students in the coming days. In an email released about the changes, Downs said, “The situation seems to be changing daily and we are striving to make the best decisions possible in the interest of student, staff, and community safety. We have no previous experience in this area and will most assuredly make some mistakes in the process.  We will learn and grow together and be stronger as a result.  All of our staff who are physically able, are working either teaching remotely or working to support our students. Our goal is to have only staff critical to serving and transporting meals, building maintenance, and limited technology staff to support student learning entering any of our buildings.”

She also relayed exactly how the schools will be changing and expanding the distribution to incorporate meals and paper assignment packets to students.

Beginning on Wednesday March 25th, buses depart schools at 11:00AM and run standard routes distributing food.  This will allow meals to be distributed directly to the students; however, we will continue to keep our four busiest Seamless Feeding sites open from 11:30-1:00 in addition to these routes.

1)      Tower Road
2)      Mulberry Street Apartments
3)      Ellijay United Methodist Church
4)      Civic Center

Students in grades pre-K through 5 are working on paper assignments that were distributed on the last day of attendance for the first two weeks of closure. New updated packets will be distributed weekly through email, the meal distribution program, and designated pick up locations at the schools. Teachers of students in the elementary grades are also using online means to supplement the instruction. Students in grades 6-12 are assigned Chromebooks so that they can participate in virtual classes and interact with their teachers on a daily basis. For students in these upper grades without internet access, print resources will be distributed in the same manner as the curriculum packets for the lower grades.

Gilmer BOE approves 2020-2021 calendar

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2020-201 Calendar, graduation, Renovations, Financial Distinction, return, testing, resignation

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Official approval has come for the Gilmer Board of Education and the Gilmer County Schools’ 2020-2021 Calendar for the school year.

From late July for teachers, the approved calendar will have students returning to class on August 3, 2020, and going all the way to the final day, a 2 hour early release for students, on May 28, 2021. Teachers would have have Professional Learning Days on June 1 and 2 of 2021.

The 2020-2021 calendar also hosts five long breaks encompassing 6 full weeks.

The board presented a survey they undertook returning 1,538 responses. Those results showed 60.60% of the vote supporting this calendar over 28.74% for Calendar 2 and 10.66% for Calendar 3. The board also changed this year as they specifically emailed parents, students, and staff of the School System with a one-time use link to the survey. Their release stated that

Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs stated that Calendar 1 incorporated more frequent breaks, Calendar 2 was more similar to previous Gilmer Calendars, and Calendar 3 was more similar to Fannin County’s school calendar.

Board member Ronald Watkins questioned some of the changes about the 2020-2021 calendar’s dates and relation to summer. They also discussed Murray County’s calendar. Going with the majority, the board officially approved Calendar 1 during their regular meeting with the vote 4-1 with Ronald Watkins in opposition.

 

UPDATED: Community response to needs in Coronavirus shutdown

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South State

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Despite threats, concerns, and stories about everything closing and shutting down for the Coronavirus, Gilmer County is rebounding in Community response for those in need of help or guidance during this time.

UPDATED – March 23, 2020 – Piedmont Mountainside Hospital Adds Mobile Unit to Expand Emergency Department If Needed Amid COVID-19 Response 

Mobile Unit for patients without respiratory symptoms; it is not a testing center

Jasper, Ga. (March 23, 2020) –Piedmont Mountainside Hospital has installed a mobile unit that can expand its emergency department if needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mobile unit, which is located outside of the Emergency Department, is not a COVID-19 testing center. It will be reserved for patients who are seeking emergency care, but who do not have respiratory symptoms.

“In addition to increasing capacity, the mobile unit will allow us to care for patients who don’t have respiratory symptoms in a different location from patients who do have respiratory symptoms,” said Denise Ray, CEO of Piedmont Mountainside Hospital. “Most importantly, this offers a way to make sure we’re able to offer high-quality care to people in our community in the most efficient way possible.”

The addition of the mobile unit is the latest of a number of efforts at Piedmont Mountainside aimed at protecting patients, visitors and staff from exposure to coronavirus.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, Piedmont has worked closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies, including the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), to stay up-to-date with the latest information.

It’s important to understand that the situation is evolving every day, and as the CDC changes its guidelines, we, in turn, are updating our practices to follow the latest best practices and protocols.

 

UPDATED – March 18, 2020 – Chamber highlights for restaurants serving curbside and delivery

The Gilmer Chamber is again passing on information for those attempting to limits contact amid concerns for the Coronavirus, this time offering alternatives for restaurant food.

(The following information is accurate as of 10 AM on 3/18/2020. Lists will be updated once daily. Please stay tuned for updates and more info.) The following restaurants are operating curbside, drive-thru, and delivery services. Please contact the individual businesses for specific ordering procedures and information:

No photo description available.Abby’s Ice Cream & Frozen Yogurt
A Little Baked Bakery
The Appalachia
Back Porch Bistro
Cantaberry Restaurant
Cartecay River Pizza Company
Cartecay Vineyards
Charlie’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria
Chateau Meichtry
Chick-fil-A Ellijay
The Chili Dog
Country Corner Kitchen
Dairy Queen
Double L Restaurant
Dunkin’
Ellijay Deli
Emily’s Bar & Restaurant
Engelheim Vineyards
IHOP
Krystal
La Catrina Tacos & Margaritas
Mike’s Ellijay Restaurant
Moe’s Southwest Grill – Ellijay, GA
Mr. P’s Takeout Food
The Pink Pig
R and A Orchards
River Street Tavern
Shane’s Rib Shack
SmokeHouse Country Grill
Starbucks
The Shack of Ellijay
Zaxby’s

Additionally, they also added a list of business operating AS USUAL during the virus.

The following retail locations are operating business as usual as of 3/17/2020. We have spoken with each of these business owners and representatives at length and we have been assured that these locations are operating with utmost safety standards. Please contact these businesses individually if you have any questions about how they can accommodate your needs at this time.

Ace Hardware of Ellijay, Inc.
Antiques on North Main in Ellijay, GA
Appalachian Beverage
Beds Etc Ellijay Ga
Black Bear Antiques
Circuit-World Ellijay
Hometown Florist & Yesterday’s Decor Furniture
Looch&Quigley
Lowe’s Home Improvement
R and A Orchards
MOUNTAIN LIFE Health Food Store
Mountain Treasures
Nancyfangles “Whimsical Creations”
North Georgia Gun Range
South Paw Natural Pets, LLC
Lavish Ellijay
TJ & Company Antiques

 

UPDATE – March 16, 2020

Despite Government offices and schools closing, Members from the Gilmer Food Pantry are trying to let people know that they are still open and serving the community for those in need.

If your church, community, gathering, non-profit, or any organization is also providing something to help over the next week, let us know at [email protected] so it can also be added here to our list as the community response continues.

 

ORIGINAL POST – March 13, 2020 

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – More and more reports are coming in of counties, schools, courts, and governments shutting down over the next week in the face of the Coronavirus but we also are seeing a rising community response to the news as well.

Despite the disparaging news and rising concerns, community members and government entities are stepping up to answer needs in this time. FYN’s current understanding of two major developments for students staying home from school involve internet access and food for the time away.

Gilmer Schools already made announcements earlier this week about attempting to continue to serve lunches in a similar fashion to Seamless Summer.

Today, several posts are appearing on social media from parents and information pages. And Gilmer Schools have also posted confirmation stating:

Gilmer school buses will distribute meals Monday-Friday, including lunch and a snack in bags, that will be simply handed out to students to be consumed off-site at the following locations from 11:30 AM-1:00 PM:

-Tower Road
-Mulberry Apts
-Civic Center
-Penlands Apple House on Hwy 282, Tails Creek
-First United Methodist
-Lakeside Trailer Park
-Cherry Log Baptist Church
-Salem Church on Boardtown
– R & A Orchards
-Orchard Church
-Gilmer Schools Agriculture Education Center
-Carolyn Drive

Additionally, free WI-FI is being offered at locations around the county for students who may need access. According to Gilmer Schools, parents can park next to the facilities so students can connect to download work and check email.

Each of these sites are made available to help students as teachers and the schools attempt to mitigate any lapse in education as a part of the community response. As previously reported, Gilmer County Schools stated, “We will use Digital Learning Days during this closure for 6th-12th grade and paper learning packets for Kindergarten-5th grade to continue teaching and learning.”

If your church, community, gathering, non-profit, or any organization is also providing something to help over the next week, let us know at [email protected] so it can also be added here to our list as the community response continues.

School closed in Gilmer in face of Coronavirus

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GILMER, Ga. – According to a release from Gilmer County Schools, the system will shut down with school closed next week in the fallout from information and concerns over the Coronavirus in the county.

According to a public release from Gilmer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, the closure will last from Monday, March 16, 2020, through Friday, March 20, 2020.

The release states, “Our school district is committed to keeping our community informed about issues relating to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). There are no cases of COVID-19 at any Gilmer County school and currently there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 in Gilmer County. Our schools are not closing Friday, March 13, 2020, as we need to allow time for students and staff to retrieve needed materials and technology to be prepared for this closure. We will use Digital Learning Days during this closure for 6th-12th grade and paper learning packets for Kindergarten-5th grade to continue teaching and learning.”

Students will be retrieving these materials tomorrow, March 13, in order to follow these instructions next week. The release acknowledges that some hardships will come from this closure but said the plans are being finalized at this time.

While the current announcement is just for the week listed, Downs confirmed that future closures could be possible based on the need saying, “The district will continually review conditions and publish updates. Should additional closures be necessary we will notify you as soon as possible.”

This closure will not just be for students, however. All Gilmer schools and offices will be closed during the week along with all activities including athletics and extracurriculars including GHSA (Georgia High Schools Association) events  being cancelled, and additional closures could continue for these as well.

One point of note for testing, however, Downs said that, currently, SAT testing will still occur this Saturday, March 14, 2020.

With school closed, plans are being made to deep clean the schools and to provide meals in a similar manner to the Seamless Summer Program.

See the full release below:

Incident near Clear Creek results in Felony Charge

News

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office has released the arrest record including a felony charge for yesterdays incident near Clear Creek Middle School.

Mary Elaine Newberry, felony charge

Mary Elaine Newberry

Mary Elaine Newberry, 59, was described as a disgruntled employee by Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs in a statement where she gave credit to a quick response from the School Resource Officer and the school’s security system for the quick response in locking down the school during the incident.

Newberry was taken into custody at the Transportation Facility next to Clear Creek Middle School by the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office as is now facing felony charge on Aggravated Assault.

According to reports from Gilmer Schools late yesterday, a firearm was involved in the incident. However, Dr. Downs confirmed there were no injuries or damage to the facility during the incident.

Despite the resulting lockdown and the school, Downs was reported yesterday saying, “Please know that our students were not in danger. This was implemented as a precautionary measure toward ensuring their safety.”

 

Arrest Report, Felony Charge, Mary Elaine Newberry

Reality Day still needing volunteers for 7th year

News
Sophomores from GHS prepare for Reality Day with friends at the Ellijay Civic Center.

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With just over a month until one of Gilmer High School’s two annual “real world” events,  volunteers are still needed for the annual Reality Day.

This event delves deeper into budgets and finances for students in 10th Grade at the high school as they go through the process of budgeting a set monthly salary to provide for furniture, car payments, insurance, entertainment, clothing, unexpected expenses, and more.

Reality Day runs all day with volunteers covering shifts to be apart of the program introducing students to life after school. While most volunteers run all day, the event caters to those who can only give a half day for the morning or afternoon shifts.

Partnering with the high school on the project and hosting it in the gym allows the students to attend without having to be bused elsewhere, but also provides more time for each student to delve into the project.

Gilmer County Family Connections Coordinator Merle Naylor, who directs the event, said, “The volunteers enjoy it and they know that the students are certainly being helped and the students are gaining some knowledge.”

Many members of different parts of the community join in volunteering for Reality Day. From the Board of Commissioners Chairman and Post Commissioners in the past to School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, local business owners and representatives, retirees, and members of the Chamber. People from all walks of life in Ellijay come to invest in the real world knowledge of these students.

Each year also sees small changes to the event as those involved constantly seek feedback from both the volunteers and students. One of those changes this year will see students pick a field to go into. While this doesn’t pick exactly which job they get to base their “budgets” on, it does set a certain guide that will be used to set the path based on their school progress and a little bit of random drawings.

That idea of randomness plays another key role in the students budgets as one table will present the students with an “unexpected event.” This could be something like a flat tire that needs replacing to a medical expense or something positive like an unexpected refund or bank error.

While the final details are being set now, Naylor did reiterate that they could always use more volunteers. More volunteers mean more people to provide and more time dedicated to each individual student. Naylor noted that not only do the volunteers seem to enjoy Reality Day, but the students always gain a lot saying, “We get feedback from them. It opens their eyes to what their parents have to provide and what their futures hold. They learn, I don’t think there is a student that attends that doesn’t learn something.

This will be the seventh year of the annual event, and it seems to be moving positively for the years to come as well.

Gilmer Schools updates facilities and personnel

News

ELLIJAY, GA. – February saw updates on a few topics for the Gilmer School System as they approved updated facilities plans, personnel, and financials.

The third phase of Gilmer High’s renovation plans are entering the final planning stages as the project is set to be bid out in April. According to the Assistant Superintendent, Administrative Services, Stuart Sheriff, the project is set to start at the end of May when school is out. They will be working on flooring and painting the classrooms as well as working on the drop ceilings.

Additionally, the science labs will also be seeing updates and redoing the tables in the chemistry lab. Sheriff said this summer will end the entire process of renovations for Gilmer High.

Clear Creek Elementary School got an update as the bid advertisements will close by the end of February and the School should see a called meeting to approve the GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price). With this, Gilmer Schools could see the company breaking ground on the project by the end of March or early April.

Approval came for the facilities plan on Thursday as well as the board’s approval for personnel. With three retirements set for May including Band Director Joe Pflueger, the official personnel approval was given naming his replacement, David Wiebers.

Legislative Positions were appointed with nominations and approval for Jim Parmer as the school system’s 2020 Legislative Delegate for the session in June, and Doug Pritchett as his alternate.

The Board also approved their December 2019 Financial Report, 2015 ESPLOST Report, December 2019 Nutrition Report, School Activity Accounts, and February Purchasing Policy Expenditures.

“I Heart Ga Milk” day at EES

Bobcat's Corner
I Heart Ga Milk
Misty Friedman, Farm to School Nutrition Coordination for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, plays with Georgie's, Georgia Grown's mascot, ear at the I Heart Ga Milk Day at EES on February 14, 2020.

Misty Friedman, Farm to School Nutrition Coordination for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, plays with Georgie’s, Georgia Grown’s mascot, ear at the I Heart Ga Milk Day at EES on February 14, 2020.

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer Schools saw a special Friday as they celebrated the I Heart Ga Milk Day at Ellijay Elementary School with guests from the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

The event was hosted in Gilmer County as part of the state’s Georgia Grown “Feed My School” program from the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Gilmer Schools’ Nutrition Director Linda Waters helped make the program possible along with staff and faculty of Ellijay Elementary and also hosted Misty Friedman, Farm to School/Nutrition Coordination for the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

Friedman commented on the event saying, “My job is to bring more Georgia foods to our Georgia students. And events like this just puts us on the front lines of all the great work that’s being done to support our Georgia Farmers and to really teach our kids where their food comes from.”

The celebration lasted through breakfast, serving hot chocolate milk with marshmallows early that morning and saw the staff wearing their I Heart Ga Milk t-shirts while Georgie the Georgia Grown mascot and the Chick-fil-A Cow mascot hung out with the kids. Staff handed out pencils and educational materials about “the benefits of milk.”

Friedman went on to say, “I love coming out and visiting with the schools and seeing the kids enjoy, literally, the fruits of the labor of our Georgia Farmers.”

 

 

See more photos at FYN’s Facebook Page.

I Heart Ga Milk I Heart Ga Milk

Storms continue to wreak havoc in Gilmer with Flood Watch

News

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – As the snow melt sits on top of Gilmer’s already saturated soil, the continuous storm moving across North Georgia is once again causing closures and emergency responses across the area, now with a Flood Watch.

Gilmer County Schools stated earlier tonight that they will be closed tomorrow, Tuesday, February 11th for students. Staff will have a professional learning day starting at 9:00am.

Additionally, the National Weather Service (NWS) has issued yet another advisory for the county. This time, the official statement said, “The first round of heavy rain will be moving in this afternoon and continue through midday Tuesday. Two to four inches of rain is expected with local amounts approaching six inches. With saturated soil and very high streamflow, runoff from the heavy rain will be enhanced, leading to a greater threat of flash flooding.”

While, currently, the advisory is a Flood Watch, the NWS added that flash flooding and minor to moderate flooding of larger creeks and rivers is expected. This will close some roads and could flood homes and businesses in flood-prone areas. Along larger creeks and rivers, flooding could last for several days.

Reports are coming in that the Gilmer County Public Safety Department is still running through prepared emergency conditions during the Flood Watch. Should the main rivers through the county rise much more, a state of emergency could be declared.

Gilmer’s Public Safety also issued a statement saying,

The National Weather Service will be issuing a SIGNIFICANT FLOOD WARNING – by their own admission, a rare occurrence from their office.

The first of several waves of rain is underway across North GA this morning. Rain will shift southward across parts of Central GA this afternoon & evening. Isolated non-severe storms are possible. The highest rainfall totals thru early Tuesday AM will be across North GA.

Unfortunately, the most significant rainfall and danger will be during the overnight hours. Persons living on creeks and rivers should find a way to monitor their surroundings frequently, and be prepared to evacuate. Have a plan!

Remember – if you encounter water on streets and highways, do not attempt to cross unless you already know it is safe to do so. Don’t drown – Turn around!

While much of the county is still trying to recover from last weeks storms and the snow over the weekend, runoff is not going to stop soon. Citizens are urged to keep a close eye on nearby water sources including streams, creeks, rivers, and ponds.

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