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FCS to return to classrooms Monday at all but three schools through Aug. 31

In a work session of the Floyd County School Board on Friday morning, members announced plans to reopen all schools except Coosa High School, Coosa Middle School and Pepperell Primary School.

Those three schools will remain closed for a week while delivering remote instruction to students and return to classroom instruction Aug. 31. Face coverings will be distributed to all staff and students Monday, systemwide.

The board announced they will continue monitoring the situations at all open schools. Also at the meeting, interim Superintendent Glenn White said Thursday’s decision to shift to remote learning was his decision and he accepted full responsibility.

The school system received a contribution from Floyd Medical Center to purchase 20,000 face coverings. Students will also be required to wear coverings on a bus going to and from school.

White and school board Chairman Tony Daniel both indicated that a color-coded chart the school system had developed to monitor the situation was developed with positive testing in mind and did not consider the potential impact of mass quarantining.

At the end of the day Thursday, the county schools had 480 students in quarantine status along with 34 teachers and staff. The system has only six students and three staff members who have actually tested positive for the coronavirus.

“No one else had anything to do with the decision (to shut down) so the criticism, which I deserve, and any other comments that need to be made need to be made to me,” White said. “It was the wrong decision and I wish I had not made that. I owe an apology to our parents and students of the Floyd County school system and to our staff members across this county.”

“We are a team, we’ll get through this,” Daniel said. Of the 480 students in quarantine, almost held of them, 237 are at Coosa High School.

The critical infrastructure issue was discussed at length by the board along with District Public Health Director Dr. Gary Voccio and attorney Stewart Duggan.

Board member Jay Shell said he’s seen first-hand how hard the staff at the Coosa schools have been working to make sure the classrooms and buildings are clean and sanitized.

Rome City Schools

As the Rome school system closed out its first week of instruction no schools have yet to be shut down and one third grade class at East Central Elementary School has been collectively quarantined.

RCS Superintendent Lou Byars said he’s been proud of the way students and staff have responded to a mask mandate from the start of school which he credits with keeping problems to a minimum thus far.

“We’re not to a point where we need to close any schools,” Byars said. The system’s reporting method is on their website and reports quarantines and cases from the day prior. For instance, on Friday the school reported 118 new quarantines, the majority of which were at East Central, Rome Middle and Rome High.

In that same period of time there were three new positive COVID-19 cases, 2 students and one staff member. The staff member was at East Central and the students were at West Central Elementary and Rome Middle.

When a student or teacher or anyone in the classroom tests positive and has been at school within the past 48 hours they will quarantine the entire class, Byars said. In that instance the entire class will switch to virtual learning as a class, with the same teacher.

“At the elementary school you have more interaction but our principals are doing great and working very hard to limit the contacts,” Byars said.

Byars said that he is constantly reminding staff to be prepared for when situations arise because the is aware of the likelihood issues could arise.

Bringing a vision to life: Kingston Downs hopes to be much more than an event venue

Imagine colorful fields of wildflowers bordered by rolling hills and light gently glinting off a flowing river.

Now add in the thrill of tires spinning along a flowy singletrack trail, bagging a quail or cheering as racers and their mounts vault over an obstacle.

Put those together and you have the vision Stan Bouckaert has for Kingston Downs.

He and his wife Marie came up with the plan for their family’s property while backpacking across the globe as newlyweds in 2017. Stan’s family had been in the flooring industry for some time and had partnered with the Atlanta Steeplechase to purchase the property.

Once that venture folded a few years ago, the 5,000 acres of property off U.S. 411 near the border of Floyd and Bartow wasn’t being used for much, he said. So he and his new business partner put together a plan.

Stan would use his experience and education for the business and development side of the venture. Marie would handle marketing the business and design.

They both had a love for the scenic rolling hills Kingston Downs is noted for and, well, he wanted to be able to monetize doing the things he loves.

John Bailey  

Kingston Downs co-founder Stan Bouckaert rides down some of the purpose-built mountain bike trails on the property. Bouckaert, in partnership with the Georgia Interscholastic Cycling Association, built just over 5 miles of singletrack trails on the property.

This is where mountain biking comes in to what might otherwise be thought of an just an event venue.

“I thought a good trail would be an anchor for attracting people to the property,” he said. He did some footwork and after several things didn’t pan out he decided to take a trail building class and go it on his own.

After cutting in about a mile of trails on the property he connected with a representative of the Georgia Interscholastic Cycling League. The group is part of a national push, to put it simply, that aims to “get more kids on bikes.” Every year the group hosts mountain bike races across the state which can bring upwards of 800 riders to a single event.

They formed a partnership and brought in a company called Flowmotion Trail Builders build over 5 miles of purpose-built trails on the property between the horse track and U.S. 411. Also because of that partnership the venue will be hosting a youth mountain bike race on Sept. 26 and 27.

The middle and high school races which usually feature large packs young skinny racers vying to get a spot on the podium has switched formats this year to a time trial. Each team will race together for the best time but teams won’t intermingle in an attempt to curtail any possible spread of the novel coronavirus.

But riding bikes isn’t just the focus at Kingston Downs. Far from it.

John Bailey  

Local Georgia Interscholastic Cycling Association team coach Mark Pearce rides some of the 5-plus miles of purpose-built single track mountain bike trails at Kingston Downs.

Stan brought in Junior Dobson to formalize what had already been an informal hunting club.

“We’ve been able to grow the hunt club significantly in the past two years,” he said.

On top of setting up a five stand skeet shooting range the hunt club offers guided quail hunts as well as dove and pheasant shoots and guided turkey hunts.

Going forward, Stan said he’s hoping to bring back larger scale events Kingston Downs is already known for. At this point, the Georgia Steeplechase is still on for Oct. 24 and he said he’d like to bring back larger events like the Counterpoint Music Festival as well.

But for right now, they’re focusing on making an exclusive and hospitable venue. The property would lend itself to an art market or farmer’s market or even an organic farm at some point.

They’re renovating a large open air hilltop pavilion that overlooks the Etowah River as well as building three cozy cottages which back up to 29 acres of wildflowers.

John Bailey  

Three cottages so far have been built on the Kingston Downs property overlooking a swath of wildflower fields planted by Stan and Marie Bouckaert.

That’s 29 acres of wildflowers the couple planted themselves.

“They were soybean fields,” he said looking out at the fields which also contain bee hives. “(Marie) said why don’t we plant wildflowers.”

So they did, and it’s almost a metaphor for their business model. “My goal is to not ever try to develop the property in the traditional sense,” Stan said.

Bringing in others to appreciate and enjoy the natural beauty of the area remains the focus.

John Bailey  

Despite the summer heat a wildflower remains in bloom at Kingston Downs just a few feet away from a hive of bees on the property. Owners of the property planted 29 acres of wildflowers as part of building an environmentally friendly event venue.

Scholar expresses interest in consulting local statue committee regarding Confederate statue

A professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas has expressed interest in assisting a special city committee with its research into the life of a controversial figure with local history.

Professor Court Carney is currently writing a book on the legacy of Confederate States of America Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.

City officials, responding to requests to remove the statue of Forrest from the base of Rome’s historic Myrtle Hill Cemetery, are seeking applications from citizens to help write language that would become part of a marker that would be placed alongside the monument.

An issue is not just who Forrest was but how he and other figures involved in the Civil War have been portrayed and depicted before and during the segregation period. That portrayal is often referred to “lost cause” which advocates the belief that the Confederate cause was a just and heroic one.

Going forward, the idea is to more fully and accurately detail Forrest’s involvement in the war, slave trade and war atrocities involving Black American soldiers and post-war involvement with the Ku Klux Klan.

Carney said Forrest has become a lightning rod of sorts over the last six months. The professor is in the process of writing a book on Forrest’s cultural legacy.

The working title is “The Meaning of Nathan Bedford Forrest in America”.

He also wrote a paper for presentation at the Southern Historical Association’s annual meeting in Memphis, Tennessee which deals specifically with the issues that have been raised by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Carney has also authored scholarly publications including “Remembering Fort Pillow,” in 2018 as well as others on the topic.

Carney said when a statue to Forrest was erected in Memphis in 1905, there was a cartoon in the Memphis newspaper which tied Forrest to being a ranking member, titled grand wizard, of the KKK.

“‘The wizard is back in that saddle,’ that’s what they were saying,” Carney said. “But Memphis was his hometown and they have a completely different take on Forrest than Rome. Rome is a very specific, ‘He saved the town,’ whereas Memphis was ‘This is our hero.’”

The professor said there is pretty clear evidence someone ordered rebel troops to execute Black American soldiers at Fort Pillow after they attempted to surrender, but said there isn’t as much evidence linking the act to Forrest.

“Forrest, does he order it? Well, not necessarily. Does he condone it? No, not really,” Carney said. “He actually shows up late for the battle.”

The current inscription on the Forrest monument in Rome, attributed to British Field Marshal Sir Garnet Wolseley reads, “He possessed that rare tact, unlearnable from books, which enabled him, not only effectually, to control his men, but to attach them him, personally with hooks of steel.”

Carney said in the North after the war, Forrest was probably more well-known for the incident at Fort Pillow but the KKK relationship was probably more impactful in the South.

“The Klan story is just vague enough, it’s just ambiguous enough to allow people to say he had nothing to do with it on one hand and on the other hand say he was the leader,” Carney said.

In later years there was some perception that Forrest went through a “mea culpa” element, but there is no definitive indication that it was a sincere renunciation of the Klan or Forrest pivoting as a political figure with a growing Black population in Memphis.

“I think he was definitely trying to thread the needle a bit with his public image and the politics of the town,” Carney said.

The Texas educator said one of the things that fascinates him about the Forrest statue in Rome in 1908 is that it was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy which had largely ignored Forrest during that period.

“And then you have the women’s marker next to it,” Carney said.

The monument marker committee will include three people in favor of moving the statue and three against it. The committee has been given a budget of up to $5,000 to retain an academic consultant to help sort out fact from fiction relative to Forrest.

The city commission started taking applications for the six-member committee Aug. 11 The deadline for application is Friday, Sept. 25.

City Clerk Joe Smith said that he has two applications in hand, both from people who would not like to see the statue removed from Myrtle Hill Cemetery. He has received four other inquiries, three of which he believes are in favor of moving the statue, but no formal application yet.

Once the committee has been appointed it will have six months to come up with the language to be included in a marker that would be located adjacent to the statue.

Micah Akins, a fourth-grader at Model Elementary School

Hoyt Mangrum, Dsiree Whatley Green and Isaac Brackett in a scene from the initial run of Rome Shakespeare Festival’s “Godspell.” The show returns to the River Arts District Playhouse Aug. 28, 29, 30.

Annual One Table event becomes many tables

With the cancellation of several annual events, One Community United is working together to make sure their One Table event still goes on.

Board member Nedra Manners said she believes the event is more important now more than ever, with increased concern for social justice and the coronavirus pandemic.

“We think this is a time that the community does need to come together and be together,” Manners said.

The board members came up with the idea of having multiple tables set up and spaced out for the event. People will grab boxed gourmet meals at the Courtyard Rome Riverwalk and walk across the bridge to the Town Green, where the tables will be set up. Attendees can either reserve a table ahead of time or bring their own tables, chairs or blanket and make it a picnic-style meal.

“If people choose to, they can take their box meal home, but we hope they’ll join us on the Town Green,” Manners said. “They can also stay on the Marriott side and eat, if they want to.”

There will still be one table, or “token table” as she called it, set up in the middle of the event to serve as the symbol of One Community United.

“It will symbolize what we’re all about, even though we’re not sitting at the same table,” she said.

Board members are currently trying to figure out another way for people to make it to the Town Green if they have trouble walking across the bridge to the event.

Usually local restaurants help provide the food for the event. This year, however, the board will be buying all the meals from the restaurants as a way to say thank you for their support over the years.

One Table will take place on Sept. 20 at 6:30 p.m. One Community United will be selling about 300 tickets for $40 each. When buying tickets, you will also be making your meal choice for the event.

Like previous years, they will also be giving out free tickets to first responders and people in need who may walk up and want to participate in the meal.

Tickets can be bought at eventbrite.com under “One Table 2020.” People can also buy physical tickets at the Yellow Door Antiques and Art on Fifth Avenue.

“The main purpose of our organization is to promote racial harmony,” board member Charles Love said. “Bringing people of different races and cultures together and developing relationships together.”