EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – News sites have recently reported numerous cases of vandalism and destruction of property in schools across the country due to a new “trend” on TikTok called the “Devious Lick.”
With arrests, convictions, school expulsions, and many other ramifications coming from these activities, the administration within our local county is attempting to get ahead of the trend here. Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley released a statement and a letter to parents about the trend. Dr. Ridley noted that we have had “minimal issues” in our county.
The challenge of this trend requires the student to steal or destroy items from their school and later post a video bragging about the crime. Make no mistake law enforcement all over the country has condemned the trend and are pursuing it as criminal activity. Law enforcement have reported what some refer to as “Organized Criminal Activity” as an arrest-able offense.
Schools are also reacting, with some going so far as locking restrooms and certain areas during classtime. Gilmer has not reached this point, however, as they are attempting to deal with the “Devious Licks” before they become a real issue.
The letter to parents states
You may have already seen news stories regarding a concerning new TikTok trend called the “Devious Lick Challenge”. The challenge involves students destroying and stealing school property (particularly in bathrooms) and posting it on social media. Although there have been minimal problems locally, the challenge has become widely disruptive in some areas of the country.
We ask that you please speak with your children about the dangers of engaging in destructive and dangerous social media activities. Vandalism of school property is a serious violation of the school code of conduct that can lead to suspension and even long-term expulsion in addition to significant restitution fees.
In Gilmer County, our students are very fortunate to have access to top notch facilities. Pride in our schools is a large part of our culture. Aside from the fact that this latest challenge is just plain dumb, engaging in this type of behavior is beneath us.
Looking through reports in other cases show countless arrests and charges ranging from petty theft to vandalism, criminal mischief, destruction of government property, and more.
While some are questioning why there is such a serious response to minor theft. Some of the “trends” are posted with items as small as hand sanitizer or soap dispensers. However, other reports indicate that many include larger items ranging from toilet seats to even fire alarms.
The Gilmer Sheriff’s Office has already worked with school’s in previous years where they have worked with Gilmer Schools and even prosecuted students for issues. That Appalachian Judicial Circuit has also proven its willingness to follow through with criminal prosecutions with District Attorney Alison Sosebee going so far as performing in school presentations warning students about the possible outcomes of criminal activity, though her presentations focused on SnapChat at the time with the trend towards photos of underage kids.
As of this time, Gilmer Schools is hoping to get to its students and parents before any major issues arise or possibly create a major incident.
HAYESVILLE, NC – Clay County students will be returning on August 23, 2021, and this year masks are optional for students and staff for now.
During the July 26, 2021 board meeting, the members voted to not require masks for the upcoming year. However, parents can send their children to school masked if that’s their preference.
83 percent of teachers were in favor of optional masks for this school year. School nurses recommended following NCDHHS and CDC guidance, which requires masks for K-8 for all staff and students. They cited masks’ effectiveness last year.
Only 1 percent of 12–17-year-olds in Clay County have been vaccinated and 34 percent of residents are fully vaccinated.
Current CDC guidance asks that everyone, including vaccinated individuals, wear a mask indoors if in an area of substantial or high transmission. Clay County is listed as a high transmission community by the CDC. Case data demonstrated a 22 percent change in 7-day totals in the area. Many southern states are seeing COVID-19 cases rise as the Delta variant works its way across the region.
Since Clay County Schools (CCS) aren’t requiring masks, online learning will remain an option for families who don’t want to potentially expose their children to COVID-19. However, this year, the school system will be using an online academy. CCS teachers won’t be providing in-person and remote learning to students.
Parents who wish to participate in online learning must inform their child’s principal by August 18.
Any student moved to fully remote instruction during Semester 1 must remain on fully remote instruction through December 22, 2021.
The parent must notify the principal that the student will be returning for Semester 2 by December 17th.
Cautionary measures such as quarantine and isolation for students and staff who are exposed, experiencing symptoms, or test positive for COVID-19 will remain in place.
CCS board applied for grant funding for onsite COVID-19 during the board meeting as well. If received, the $100,000 grant would connect them to a vendor for rapid tests, in-depth testing, and the hiring of either a nurse or nurse’s assistant.
Parents still have the option to refuse the testing of their child for COVID-19.
The in-house testing should help CCS isolate COVID-19 cases within the school system and hopefully prevent quarantining of entire classrooms.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Discussions continue as Blue Ridge City Council Member Mike Panter asks County Commissioners to consider a feasibility study for a proposed aquatic center in Fannin County.
“I am speaking not necessarily on behalf of the City Council,” Panter opened, stating that at the time he was speaking as a resident who had done research into a project and is hoping to gain support from not only the Fannin County Board of Commissioners but also from Blue Ridge City Council and the Fannin County Board of Education.
“The closest swimming facility is in Blairsville and it’s owned by the hospital,” Panter said of the lack of a comparable facility in our area. He did point out that currently the City of Calhoun in Gordon County has an aquatic center but that it is aging.
Some students from the Fannin County School System make several trips a week to utilize the Calhoun facility for aquatic sports, which is a 2 hour round trip.
There has been recent discussion of Fannin County putting in a splash pad for residents. The splash pad at Meeks Park in Union County was brought up as a comparison for price. The Meeks Park splash pad was installed in 2016 with an approximate cost of $360,000.
Panter also noted Lincoln County’s splash pad with a price tag of $156,000, “The reason it was so cheap was because they filled in their pool. They already had a bathroom facility and sewer.”
The City of Blue Ridge had looked into a similar possibility of a splash pad, due to the costly repairs needed at the city’s current outdoor pool.
Panter pointed out that the current city pool repairs could have a price tag of over $100,000 and would only be able to be used three to four months each year.
The proposed aquatic center could incorporate a splash pad, along with a heated indoor pool and a health club.
A similar plan for an aquatic center has recently been approved in Lumpkin County.
The Lumpkin County Aquatic Center website states :
“This state-of-the art facility will not only have indoor and outdoor swimming, but will also have a lazy river and splash activities for children, outdoor rental spaces, and a therapy pool for those who desire low impact exercise or need rehabilitation after illness or surgery.”
The cost of Lumpkin County’s new endeavor is roughly $8 million, which Panter projects Fannin County to have a similar cost. Panter stated that the cost would not necessarily have to be a lump sum and that the project could be done in phases.
Using the current location of the Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market building could save at least $1 million in on site prep work according to Panter, “The city has no debt on that property whatsoever.”
“The high school themselves, they are being pushed to have an aquatics program,” Panter stated when asked if the school system was considering building its own aquatic facility but added of the general public’s ability to use a facility strictly owned by the school system, “As all of us know in the school systems, a lot of the school facilities are locked down. It’s hard to use the school facilities.”
Panter stressed that this was another reason that he felt an intergovernmental agreement between the three entities would best serve the community.
While no Commissioners seemed outright opposed to the idea of an aquatic center, concerns were expressed of the long term benefits, costs and responsibilities of such a facility.
Fannin County Commission Chairman Jamie Hensley stated that with a project of such magnitude being proposed, he wants to make sure it would be done correctly the first time and that it is truly something that would benefit the community in the long term.
Concerns were also raised of Panter’s proposed location of the City’s Farmer’s Market building, with Post 1 Commissioner Johnny Scearce directly discussing these concerns.
“That Farmer’s Market has been sitting there for 10 years unused,” Panter answered Scearce’s questions, “We’ve spent over $100,000 in tax payers money on the Farmer’s Market just to keep it there.”
Brian Higgins, a long time proponent of bringing back Blue Ridge’s Farmer’s Market to the unused facility, spoke during public comments, “We are totally in agreement on the aquatic center. It’s the location that we have a difference of opinion on.”
Higgins pointed out that the Farmer’s Market is one of the few nostalgic properties left in the city limits and feels that the Rec. Center would be a more appropriate location.
Citing that it makes more sense to build an aquatic center where the county’s main sports hub already resides, Higgins also pointed out that the Rec. Center has much more land, giving Fannin County the option of expansion as need arises in the future.
Panter is hoping that a feasibility study can help point everyone in the right direction and clarify a lot of the uncertainties surrounding the proposed project.
The cost of a feasibility study could run around $75,000.
Panter is expected to present again to all three entities once he obtains a quote. His hope is to get approval from the Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Blue Ridge City Council and the Fannin County Board of Education on splitting the cost of the study, so that everyone can get an accurate idea of what will be involved in moving forward with the project.
Featured Image: City of Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market Property
HAYESVILLE, NC – The two reelected board of education members, Danny Jones and Reba Beck took their oath of office during the December 14, 2020 meeting.
District Court Judge Tessa Sellers administered the oath. Jones and Beck swore to uphold the Constitution of the Unites States and North Carolina. They also promised to uphold their offices as board of education members.
Superintendent Dale Cole attended the meeting virtually after being advised to quarantine by the health department.
Cole thanked the Clay County Historical and Arts Council for bringing culture and enlightenment to students.
The school district is also looking to consolidate technology used between teachers and parents by moving to Edlio Engage App. It’s a source of two-way communication between teachers, parents, and students. Edlio can also translate from English to Spanish, eliminating some of the lost in translation issues. A new website is also in development to provide a more user-friendly experience for visitors.
The board implemented a new school mental-health policy that was required by the state. The focus of the policy is on the whole child, not just education, but physical, mental, environmental, and education. The district previously hired four counselors for each school and a social worker. With the extra stressors of 2020, students greatly benefited from having counselors to speak with.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Among the final acts for Gilmer County’s government in 2020 comes the official swearing in for elected positions. Now that the local elections have long since completed and been finalized, these officials are preparing to take office as soon as January 1, 2021, now that they have been sworn in.
While many positions were re-elections like Hubert Parker moving from the special elected term to fill in for the remaining term of former Commissioner Dallas Miller, others are fresh faces in new positions like Gilmer Magistrate Judge Kevin Johnson.
In the realm of the Board of Education, new members Joe Pflueger and Michael Parks met with Probate Judge Scott Chastain to take their oaths on Friday, December 18, 2020. Additionally, Doug Pritchett also renewed his oath of office as he was re-elected after filling in for the remaining time of the previous term.
Two weeks before the new year and their own first days in the position, they met in Courtroom D of the Gilmer County Courthouse for a ceremony with close friends and relatives. Owing to the virus and procedures against it, each brought a very small group to witness the event.
Doug Pritchett was sworn in under oath with his wife, Lynne Pritchett, holding the bible for him.
Michael Parks was sworn in under oath with his wife, Donna Parks, holding the bible for him.
Joe Pflueger was sworn in under oath with his wife, Jeris Pflueger, holding the bible for him.
Each member swore two oaths, one for the office and the responsibilities associated with it, and another as a loyalty oath to people and the government,
Chastain told FYN that these would be the final oaths as he had previously administered much of the other renewals during the same day.
However, Kevin Johnson, newly elected Magistrate Judge of Gilmer County, received his oath of office on Thursday, December 17, 2020. He was sworn in by Judge Brenda Weaver in the presence of current Magistrate Judge Roger Kincaid and Probate Judge Scott Chastain.
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Union County Schools (UCS) was one of three districts in the state to receive the College and Career Academy (CCA) grant for $3 million. The school will establish the first multi-state CCA in Georgia.
UCS has several similar program initiatives with its Career, technical, and Agricultural Education (CTAE) efforts, but the grant money will allow them to expand their offerings. Students will also have opportunities for dual enrollment through some of the CTAE programs.
CTAE Director Josh Davis explained why UCS decided to apply, “After researching the grant process last summer and discussing with our stakeholders, we realized we already had many of the CCA best practices in place. We decided to write the grant and go through the grant process, and all of our business, community, and post-secondary partners played a big role.”
It’s a reimbursable facility grant, and the school will move forward with the College and Career Academy with the board of education’s guidance. The grant was appropriated through the Georgia legislature and gives a school system five years to spend the allotted funds. The first year will focus on planning and strategy to identify the best path forward.
As for the area of focus, Davis added, “Initially, we will utilize our current program offerings including automotive technologies, computer programming, construction, cybersecurity, engineering, entrepreneurship, nursing, sports medicine, and welding. We will develop new programs if needed as local workforce needs change and resources are available.”
The skilled training provided by a CCA allows students to seek out specific high demand, high wage jobs available within the region, which will enhance their employment opportunities. It’s a win-win for students and regional employers.
“We’ve had wonderful support from our business community. They’re hungry for employees,” explained Superintendent John Hill. “They’re a lot of employers that need employees in their high skilled, high wage jobs…Now some go to college, but a bulk goes to technical school and receives some really good training, and a lot of it, we can do in-house here.”
Current Union County business partners include Advanced Digital Cable, Bank OZK, Chick-fil-A, Corrugated Replacements Inc., Lamin-X, Nelson Tractor, Panel Built, Pat’s Hallmark, The Saw Mill Place, Union General Hospital, Union County Chamber of Commerce, Union County Economic Development Authority, United Community Bank Inc., and WJRB Radio. Community partners from neighboring counties and North Carolina include Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, Brasstown Valley Resort, Moog Industries Inc, and Snap-On. North Georgia Technical College, the University of North Georgia, and Young Harris College are the post-secondary education partners.
Technical College System of Georgia Project Manager Frank Pinson called into the July Board of Education meeting to congratulate UCS and expressed his enthusiasm for the school’s initial idea.
“You’re going to establish Georgia’s first multi-district model that extends across state lines…we had the privilege way back in March of coming up and visiting with them. John and Josh took us over to neighboring counties that you’ll be partnering with. We just couldn’t be more excited about Union County and everything that you’re going to be able to accomplish up there,” Pinson expressed.
“We’re equally excited about this. I can’t wait. Once we get this going, you’ll be able to take a tour of our facilities again and see what we’ve done with the good taxpayer monies that we’ve been able to secure from you guys,” said Chairman Tony Hunter.
Evans and Appling County were the other two school systems to receive the CCA grant.
Feature image from Georgia Career Academies Facebook.