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Gordon County Schools announces plan for new school year

Currently, Gordon County Schools officials are busy planning for a safe reopening of schools on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

“Our intent is to welcome back all students, Pre-K through 12th grade, on a traditional, in-person Monday through Friday schedule, with prevention protocols in place that follow health and safety guidelines outlined by the Department of Public Health and CDC,” said Amy Parker, director of communications and community engagement for the school system. “Protocols and procedures for opening may change as we continue to receive information from state and local officials and monitor data on the community spread of COVID-19 in our area.”

Parker shared the following information in a press release Monday:

What does an in-person return to school look like for Gordon County Schools?

Recently, the Georgia Department of Education released a document titled “Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools” that outlines guidance for reopening schools based upon three levels of spread for the virus – green indicates little to no spread, yellow is minimal to moderate spread, and red is substantial spread. Community spread levels will be determined by Department of Public Health officials and will be based upon our community’s specific data.

For more information and details of this guidance, visit https://www.georgiainsights.com/recovery.html

When the GCS community is in the green or yellow levels, Gordon County Schools plans to operate on a traditional schedule with modifications for health and safety, including limiting visitors to schools, providing additional distancing to the extent feasible and practical, practicing heightened cleaning protocols, and making hand sanitizer available.

Upon returning to school, face coverings/masks may be worn but are not required at this time. Additionally, bus transportation will be offered for students attending school in person, and the school system will provide information regarding health and safety when riding the bus. The After School Program will also be offered at all of our elementary schools, with protocols for prevention in place. School meals (breakfast and lunch) will be offered to students while attending school for in-person instruction.

What if there is a resurgence of COVID-19 once school starts back?

The in-person instructional setting may require modifications at certain points throughout the year if there is a resurgence of the virus based on Department of Public Health and CDC information. This could be on a school-by-school basis or system-wide, if the number of cases rises to a level that affects school operations.

Dependent upon the severity of the spread, there may be a need for a temporary modified schedule to limit the number of students on campus each day. If this becomes necessary, it would affect grades 6-12 and allow for students to receive intermittent face-to-face instruction, while significantly reducing the number of students in classrooms and allowing more social distancing.

Pre-K through fifth grade should be on campus every day, unless the GCS community enters a substantial spread situation (red) that would require school closure for all. However, under these circumstances, elementary students will see additional modifications in the school building to allow for fewer transitions and more social distancing among students.

What if my family decides the in-person option is not best for us at this time?

Because we realize each family will face different concerns and challenges when school resumes on Aug. 12, GCS also plans to offer a full-time, at-home virtual option for the 2020-21 school year. Students will be provided with a school-system iPad. However, this option requires the student to have consistent, reliable access to the internet.

GCS is exploring a variety of models for full-time virtual learning. The number of students requesting full-time virtual school at different grade levels will determine which model is chosen. The model developed and implemented may be a combination of a virtual platform with GCS teacher support or solely a virtual platform.

Families should also understand that the choice to pursue at-home virtual learning requires a commitment to the program for a specified amount of time. Elementary students will have the option to return to in-person instruction after completing nine weeks of full-time at-home learning, and middle and high school may return after one semester. Please note that gifted and Advanced Placement courses may not be offered virtually, and students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities/athletics should not choose the virtual at-home learning option.

The new version of virtual at-home learning will be refined from what families experienced during our recent school closures. If the virtual at-home option is chosen, attendance and student online engagement will be recorded, assignments will be graded, and grading practices appropriate for a full-time virtual classroom will be utilized. Additionally, parents/guardians and students who choose this option will be required to participate in a virtual school orientation session.

How do I enroll my child in full-time at-home virtual learning through Gordon County Schools?

Before selecting the at-home virtual option, families should consider the child’s study habits and motivation, learning support at home, and other factors that may impact his or her success with virtual learning.

For continued planning, GCS is asking families to state their intent regarding enrollment in at-home virtual learning for the coming school year. A link to apply for at-home virtual learning will be sent to GCS families and posted to our website on July 6. Any currently enrolled student who has not indicated intent to participate in the at-home virtual learning option by noon on July 13 will be considered a traditionally-enrolled student who plans to attend school in-person beginning Aug. 12.

We appreciate your support and are looking forward to continuing our service to you and your family in the coming school year.

Calhoun City Schools announces plans for in-person instruction

Calhoun City Schools announced Monday that the system will be going with PLAN A to start back in-person on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

Plan A is based on the area having no, low or minimal spread of COVID-19 and presents a traditional model of in-person classroom instruction, said Jennie Coker, school and community relations director for Calhoun City Schools.

“Calhoun City Schools plans to resume on Wednesday, Aug. 12, with all students reporting on the first day of school with parameters put in place regarding health screenings (checking for signs and symptoms of Covid 19) of students and staff, heightened sanitation efforts, social distancing efforts, with no mass gatherings,” Coker said in an emailed announcement.

Georgia’s Path to Recovery for K-12 Schools, which can be found onling at www.georgiainsights.com, outlines guidance for reopening schools. Calhoun City Schools will continue to monitor data and work with its partners to ensure that the appropriate protocols are followed.

Modifications include:

♦ Establishing procedures and protocols for entering the school buildings, transportation, transitions, school meals, etc. based on guidance from Georgia Department of Education

♦ Removing unused desks and furniture in classrooms

♦ Maximizing social distancing (to the extent practicable)

♦ Limiting physical interaction through partner or group work

♦ Establishing distance between the teacher’s desk/board and students’ desks

♦ Identifying and utilizing large spaces (i.e. gymnasiums, auditoriums, outside spaces – as weather permits) for social distancing

♦ Providing access to hand sanitizer for students and staff

♦ Serving school meals in the classroom if needed to limit large group exposure

♦ Restricting non-essential visitors and volunteers

♦ Allowing for the use of face coverings / masks (these are not required at this time)

The school system is also offering online options for families who choose not to return in person.

The Calhoun Online Learning Academy (COLA: grades 6-12) will continue to be available for all families who choose this option. COLA Jr. will provide online support for students in grades Pre-K through fifth grade. Calhoun City Schools will provide students with a chromebook to use, however, the home-based COLA option requires students to have access to consistent and reliable access to the internet.

Anyone seeking additional information regarding online learning can email ccs@calhounschools.org or contact Monica Pierson, director of Online Learning, at piersonm@calhounschools.org. Registration for COLA and COLA Jr. is available at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf46kqnY0JzpfIxdIiM7A40uhXQTXYGQsN0R2dwwk3kDj17JQ/viewform. The application deadline for COLA and/or COLA Jr. is July 31.

GCHS graduates wait for their names to be called.

Sonoraville students wait to be escorted to their seats for their graduation ceremony.

Gordon Central High School Principal Brian Hall and a GCHS graduate pose for a photo Friday evening during the school’s graduation ceremony.

Hate crimes, budget cuts dominate interrupted General Assembly session

By the time the 2020 General Assembly gaveled to a close Friday night, lawmakers had dealt with two issues they couldn’t have dreamed of when they came to the Capitol in January.

A hate crimes bill was alive in the legislature at the beginning of the session, having passed in the Georgia House of Representatives last year. Legislative budget writers came in knowing they would have to make some spending cuts to offset sluggish tax revenues last year.

But both issues took on a far greater sense of urgency because of circumstances no one under the Gold Dome had anticipated at the start of the session.

The hate-crimes bill was stalled in the state Senate until the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man who was gunned down during a pursuit by two white men near Brunswick in February, an incident that didn’t come to public attention until a video of the incident surfaced in April.

Balancing the budget became a much heavier lift in March when Gov. Brian Kemp issued a shelter-in-place order to discourage the spread of COVID-19. Businesses across Georgia closed their doors and laid off workers, and the state’s economy spiraled into a deep recession.

Mixed in with the uncertainty of the global pandemic was a suspension of the legislative session in mid-March. The legislature didn’t return to Atlanta until three months later for a home stretch that saw the General Assembly in session on 11 of 12 days, with only Father’s Day off for lawmakers to catch their breaths.

“It was a challenging session,” House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said minutes after the final gavel fell Friday night. “So many things happened during the suspended time. When we left here, we didn’t know how long we’d be gone.”

When the legislature did return, it was to an atmosphere of street protests over the deaths of Arbery and two black men who died at the hands of white police officers: George Floyd in Minneapolis and Rayshard Brooks just down the street in Atlanta,

With that as a backdrop, lawmakers spent much of the resumed session negotiating passage of a landmark hate-crimes bill.

Under legislation Gov. Brian Kemp signed Friday, prison time could be meted out for those who terrorize or physically harm others based on their race, color, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, sex, gender, or whether they have a physical or mental disability.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, was hustled though both chambers in the General Assembly last Wednesday, prompting the legislature’s longest serving member, Rep. Calvin Smyre, to call it his best piece of work.

“I’ve had a lot, a lot, a lot of moments in my career,” said Smyre, D-Columbus, who co-sponsored the bill. “But today is my finest.”

But passage of the bill didn’t come without some serious bumps along the way. Senate Republican leaders, wary of protesters homing in on law enforcement as the focus of their anger, moved to include police officers and other first responders as protected classes alongside race and gender.

Last-minute negotiating led Senate lawmakers to strike a compromise that kept the first-responder protections in place but moved them to a separate bill that also passed out of the General Assembly.

Lawmakers also reached across the aisle to pass second-chance legislation allowing Georgians to clear minor offenses off their criminal records to help them secure jobs and housing.

The bill by Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, would allow Georgians with certain first-time misdemeanor and non-violent felony convictions in Georgia to petition superior courts to have those records shielded from public view.

Other efforts to move criminal justice reform in the legislature fell short as Democratic lawmakers filed more than a dozen bills this month to repeal the state’s stand-your-ground and citizen’s arrest laws, prohibit police officers from racial profiling, ban no-knock search warrants and punish wayward district attorneys.

Ralston said he found elements of those bills worthy of consideration. But he said the legislature ran out of time to give them the serious debate they deserved.

“We were so focused on the budget and the hate-crimes bill, I thought it wasn’t feasible to take them on,” he said.

Ralston said he has asked Efstration’s House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings this summer with an eye toward proposing additional criminal-justice and policing reform measures during next year’s session.

While the legislature disposed of the hate-crimes bill in the middle of last week, it took until the final hours of the session to pass a scaled-back $25.9 billion fiscal 2021 state budget.

Legislative budget writers imposed 10% spending cuts on state agencies across the board. But after drawing down $250 million from the state’s reserves and getting the welcome news that the recession has had a bit less impact on tax collections than expected, lawmakers found enough money to cancel the furlough days that were looming over teachers and state employees.

“As Georgia’s economy reopened and revenues rebounded slightly … Georgians and Georgians were resilient,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Blake Tillery, R-Vidalia. “We will continue to weather this storm.”

The final version of the budget restored or lessened spending cuts in a number of areas, including education, health care and public safety. In some cases, the legislature was able to plug in gaps in state funding with available federal dollars.

But minority Democrats complained the 2020 session was a lost opportunity to tap into additional sources of revenue that could have reduced the impact of the spending cuts. Proposals to substantially increase Georgia’s tobacco tax and reduce the size of the tax credits the state hands out to lure new businesses died during the session’s final stages.

“Although the state budget is not as dire as expected, it still devastates citizens across the state of Georgia,” said Rep. Debra Bazemore,” D-South Fulton. “This will be especially difficult, as well as add insult to injury during this pandemic where people have lost or are on the verge of losing their homes and cars or are unable to feed their family.”

Beyond hate crimes and the budget, lawmakers crafted protections for businesses and health-care providers fearful of lawsuits brought by people who contract coronavirus on their premises.

Among the last bills emerging from the session was a measure to shield businesses, hospitals, doctor’s offices, sports teams and other enterprises from lawsuits against all but the most serious negligence cases.

Supporters hailed the measure as needed legal protection for businesses struggling to rebound amid the pandemic, while opponents argued it would leave workers in the lurch.

Lawmakers also moved to extend broader unemployment benefits to people struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic and to offer up tax credits for companies that produce personal protective equipment.

With health care on the minds of many amid the pandemic, Georgians may be able to rest a little easier without having to worry about receiving a huge and unexpected hospital bill if they have to go to the emergency room.

Legislation to curb the practice of “surprise” billing cleared the General Assembly after being touted as a top priority for Republican leaders. It requires health-care insurers and providers to work out costs for medical procedures between themselves, leaving patients out of the mix.

Also in the health-care arena, the legislature expanded Medicaid coverage to new mothers in Georgia to six months post partum and funded the initiative with $19.7 million.

Also topping the legislative agendas for influential Capitol-goers like the governor were bills to reduce the number of standardized tests Georgia students need to take each year and limit participation in the state’s popular dual enrollment program.

On the environmental front, the legislature increased the fee for the disposal of coal ash at landfills from $1 per ton to $2.50 to discourage out-of-state companies from bringing their coal ash waste to Georgia.

Lawmakers banned the burning of railroad ties treated with harmful creosote used in the production of electricity and cracked down on discharges of cancer-causing ethylene oxide, a chemical used to sterilize medical equipment.

Environmental groups also helped kill the so-called Right to Farm Act, which would have limited the ability of property owners to file nuisance lawsuits against farm operations that move into their neighborhoods.

Sonoraville High School students walk to their seats prior to their commencement ceremony on Saturday morning.

Kemp extends COVID-19 executive orders

Gov. Brian Kemp signed two executive orders extending the Public Health State of Emergency and existing COVID-19 safety measures on Monday, just one day after the Georgia Department of Public Health reported a new daily high of positive cases.

The DPH reported 2,225 new cases on Sunday, which eclipsed the previous highest daily total of 1,990, a mark set just one day earlier. On Monday, the DPH reported 2,207 new positive tests, just shy of Sunday’s total.

Overall, Georgia’s COVID-19 total climbed to 79,417 positive cases, 10,824 hospitalizations and 2,784 deaths on Monday.

Gordon County’s total climbed to 356 confirmed cases on Monday, with 43 hospitalizations and 18 deaths reported locally. Those numbers represent an increase of 58 positive cases and four hospitalizations over the past week.

The Georgia Department of Public Health issues daily reports at 3 p.m. That report and additional data can be found online at dph.georgia.gov/covid-19-daily-status-report.

Kemp acknowledged the climbing numbers on Monday.

“While we continue to see a decreasing case fatality rate, expanded testing, and adequate hospital surge capacity, in recent days, Georgia has seen an increase in new cases reported and current hospitalizations. Given these trends, I am extending previous COVID-19 safety requirements and guidelines that were due to expire on June 30 at 11:59 p.m. Dr. Kathleen Toomey and the Department of Public Health, along with our local public health partners, will continue to monitor ongoing cases and related data to ensure that we are taking appropriate measures moving forward. Together, we can win the fight against COVID-19 and emerge stronger,” the governor said in a statement.

Executive Order extends the Public Health State of Emergency through 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 11. The Public Health State of Emergency allows for enhanced coordination across government and the private sector for supply procurement, comprehensive testing, and healthcare capacity.

Executive Order continues to require social distancing, bans gatherings of more than 50 people unless there is six feet between each person, outlines mandatory criteria for businesses, and requires sheltering in place for those living in long-term care facilities and the medically fragile. The order also outlines that the State Board of Education must provide “rules, regulations, and guidance for the operation of public elementary and secondary schools for local boards of education” in accordance with guidance from Toomey, the Department of Public Health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The order runs through 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, July 15.

The surge in infections comes about two months after Georgia began lifting restrictions April 24 on hair salons, gyms, bowling alleys and other businesses that had been forced to close to slow the virus. Restaurants, retail stores and bars have since reopened as well.

Health officials believe the actual number of infections is likely far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause more severe illness and even death.

“Pintura Azul” by Calhoun High School student Adirana Canchola

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