HAYESVILLE, Ga – Clay County Board of Education issued a mask mandate just a few days before the start of the school year.
The policy will revisit the decision on September 7 to determine if the mask requirement needs to continue. On July 26, the board decided masks could be a parent option. At that time, Clay County reported only 10 active cases.
As of August 18, Clay County recorded 64 active cases, 2 positive school staff, 1 quarantined, 13 positive students, and 21 quarantined students.
Federal regulation already mandates masks to always be worn on buses. Disposable masks will be available on every bus. Additionally, the school system will provide five cloth masks to students.
Towns County Elementary closed this week because of staff and student cases within the school. Towns County began the 2021-2022 year just two weeks ago.
Several factors went into the decision including NCDHHS and Strong Schools quarantine guidelines and learning habits of Clay County Schools (CCS) students.
“The goal is to have face-to-face instruction at least five days per week as close to normal as possible,” Superintendent Dale Cole explained. “Our second graders have never had a full year of school.”
NCDHHS policy states that students within close contact with a positive case while wearing a mask do not need to quarantine. However, both students the positive case and potentially exposed child need to be properly wearing a mask at the time. The quarantine exemption does not include extracurricular activities or athletics, just the classroom setting.
“Optional masking will likely lead to multiple quarantines among students and staff creating default remote instruction for much of the time the next few months,” Cole stated. “So as the situation changes, we have to make decisions.”
Board Chairperson Jason Shook explained that a majority of students struggled to adjust to online education and forcing a child to juggle between in-person and online isn’t beneficial to them.
Data from last year showcased the learning hurdles, especially in math. For the majority of 2020-2021, students were either online or only in person two to three days a week.
The health department has final authority on who needs to quarantine or not. The school can’t override a decision made by the health department.
Online Learning Option
The virtual option will continue to be available for parents who requested it. As of August 18, 44 requests had been made. Superintendent Cole explained the number could drop with a mask mandate in place.
The cost of virtual learning per student is between $1,500 – $2,000 for K-8 and $3,000 for high schoolers. CCS has federal funding to cover these costs. The board will revisit the necessity of the online option for the second semester.
To try and limit community spread, the schools will be disinfected on Wednesdays and weekends. Field trips will be canceled or postponed for the next month.
Visitors will be allowed in the office area only and must wear masks.
As far as sporting events, masks must be worn on the sidelines and on activity buses. Spectators aren’t expected to wear masks at this time. Gyms will be disinfected after every game. CCS policy for athletics mirrors the procedures in place with the rest of the conference.
Is it medal or metal? What type of gold are people bringing home from Ellijay’s Gracie Barra Brazilian Jiujitsu gym.
On Saturday, May 22, 2021, Braelyn Nelson, Maddie Harper, Emma Lowman, Ryleigh Monteith, Tucker Cain, John Tippens, Jaydn Beattie, Jolene Lemey, and Augustus Lemey gathered as a team to compete at Tap Out Cancer – a jiujitsu competition aiding in the fight against cancer. Tap Out Cancer provides funding to nine different beneficiaries, each working to provide research and healing for many different types of cancer. The Atlanta event raised $97,600, with Augustus and Jolene Lemey of Gracie Barra Ellijay raising $1060 for the event.
According to Paige Galitello, one of the gym’s three instructors, “Each of these young jiujitsu practitioners and their families have dedicated countless hours to their training each week, and their hard work was obvious to everyone in attendance at the tournament.”
Braelyn Nelson and Jadyn Beattie placed first in their respective divisions coming back to Ellijay with gold medals. Tucker Cain and John Tippens brought home silver medals in their divisions. Maddie Harper, Emma Lowman, and Augustus Lemey earned bronze medals for their divisions.
This, in and of itself, is cause for celebration. Galitello said, “For the coaches, it is truly a joy to watch the cohesion and strength of Gracie Barra Ellijay’s team grow with each training session leading up to an event like this one.”
Just walking into the gym and speaking with two of the instructors, it’s very easy to see such a difference between them. Coach Kerry Sweat has such an overwhelming excitement for the martial art of Brazilian Jiujitsu, for the Gracie Barra family, and for what the gym has and will become. Every word from his mouth compels you further into the martial art and the depth of commitment that is both required and fundamentally built into program. Coach Paige Galitello has a far more reserved, yet intense, demeanor. A competitive spirit runs deep. It is apparent as she speaks of the competitions and training she goes through. That fierceness walks right alongside a very mindful and caring attitude as she spends far more time talking about the kids in competition, other adults, and the confident culture that propagates within the program.
That confidence comes from, as she says, “having tools in the toolbox.” This metaphor she equates to the the training and capabilities she has learned that make her feel safer.
Kerry Sweat, one co-owner of the Gracie Barra gym and also owner of Sweat Plumbing, said, “I never intended on owning this. I never practiced martial arts in my entire life.” A little before the age of 50, Sweat began learning martial arts skills with an MMA group in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Learning some Tae Kwon Do, Akido, Jiujitsu, Sambo, and Muay Thai, he gained a very eclectic introduction from whoever was available. As he says, he got beat up for a year.
But as many in the group fell away following life’s path, Sweat held one specific man in memory, a man that held his own with every person in the group. He was a black belt from the Gracie Barra group. Some time later, the group started focusing on just Brazilian Jiujitsu and Sweat was introduced to Professor Fabio Costa, a 4th Degree Black Belt that was promoted to Black Belt by Master Carlos Gracie, Jr., in 2004. Costa is currently a 25-year-veteran of Jiujitsu and the Gracie Barra Regional Director of the state of Georgia.
Sweat said that meeting Costa was the moment when he knew this was it. This was the guy.
Becoming a Gracie Barra instructor has a great focus on the organization’s core value, “Make the world a better place.” A fully defensive martial art, Brazillian Jiujitsu sets these kids, and adults who study, into a self-defense mentality that focuses on defusing situations before they become more. However, one must also be able to defend one’s self if someone doesn’t listen. It is all a part of, as Galitello said, “having tools in the toolbox.”
Sweat said, “We have to serve the kids in the community… What better thing to do than teach kids how to defend themselves?” He went on to add, “Their skill level is going to be so good after they do it a couple years that they will never have to use it the rest of their lives. They’ll be like Jedi Knights, ‘We don’t want any trouble here.'”
Sweat recalled a story of one student he had and the teachers who shared their story of this student that went into their class. Apparently, this student would find a bully or troublemaker that had been picking on people in class, and sit right next to them. Within a day, Sweat recalls, “They’d be playing Pokemon or something together and that boy would never pick on anybody again.”
He attributes stories like this to not only the defensive and defusing attitude in situations, but also to the activity of practicing this martial art. He considers that maybe this bully isn’t comforted, encouraged, or even touched in positive ways at home or with certain people. Brazillian Jiujitsu is a very contact-heavy and close-in activity. Being in constant contact with fighters, training with each other, and growing together, the positive contact, like shaking hands or even a pat on the back, it comes with that training and there is a respect that grows from it. These concepts permeate a person and show through in every interaction.
Students are working hard to achieve their goals and test themselves in tournaments. Galitello expresses this growth best saying, “For our young competitors, these types of competitions are fun and challenging events which allow them to showcase the results of all the hard work that they have put in while preparing for the tournament. Our motto ‘Win or Learn’ always holds true.”
And that motto is not just words. Sweat warned that anybody that walks in is going to get put down when they first start. All these people know so much and have trained. You’re going to learn and grow through those trainings and matches.
After attending a Kids Ferst meeting, Sweat was encouraged back in the beginning of the gym to teach kids and help them grow. He had a goal to have kids in the program that you wouldn’t need to test or examine closely to know they were better. He wanted kids in the community that you could just look at and know that they are different.
However, to emphasize that goal and more, Galitello noted that every member on the competition team had straight A’s this semester. So, they may be bringing home medals in their competition, but they are also continuing their efforts in school and in life. The kids sign contracts and agreements for their commitments.
Galitello says it’s also about working with the kids’ families. Having another group to lean on and having everyone support each other in their efforts to help these students become better people. Having people who “care” outside of a student’s immediate family is a major difference-maker as these instructor have techniques in the program to build the students in so many different ways. From changing partners mid-session to make sure every knows and gets used to each other to helping with grades or just having someone to talk to when needed, these methods help to build this “family” within the Gracie Barra gym.
Sweat and Galitello are not the only instructors at the Ellijay-based gym. Both instructors had one more name in their minds when talking about the kids competitions. Another co-owner and instructor with a massive influence in the instruction of the youth is Justin Guise. Guise is the gym’s Head Coach, according to their website. Galitello says he is also her instructor.
“The kids are just drawn to him,” says Galitello as she explains the monumental impact that he has in the gym. A key figure, he not only leads and teaches some of the instructors, he also builds into the fundamentals that these kids establish their entire studies on.
Every single time a student of the art comes to a class they “level up,” says Galitello. Whether they are young kids to older adults, everyone grows.
She joked about Guise saying that she drags him around helping to coach for tournaments. But the common verse in the whole gym spreads to these instructors, they are constantly giving credit to other coaches and talking about how each shares in the instruction and learning. Guise instructs the kids, but he also teaches Galitello. Galitello competes as well as instructs competition classes. Sweat shared that even he learns from Guise, a fellow co-owner of the gym.
He went on to add that this one gym isn’t the limit in this program. Constantly communicating, gyms across the region have open mat times and share their facilities for those seeking people to train with. Just as they teach the kids to push themselves further and use competitions to practice against new people, so too, do they themselves seek out new people and training partners.
Training together with the same people can leave you unsure of where you stand. Galitello notes that these students who compete get to effectively train with people from all over when they go to competitions, they train together and prepare together, it becomes a group celebration sharing in the glory of any success. But, coming home, it means more real applicable knowledge and experience that one student can share with another. There are instructors in the gym, but everyone can teach something.
This comes from the culture they have built. Even Professor Costa visits gyms like Ellijay. Sweat may be a instructor, but he learns from his superiors, he continues lessons through digital training videos, he trains with those in his gym and in other gyms, as does everyone. They are constantly building and improving. Galitello has trained with men and women in the gym as she has prepared for higher weight classes in competitions. The same way, Guise is a key part of a larger effort in the lives of younger students, and the whole “family” shares in the success.
Coming home with these medals, Galitello said she hasn’t seen these kids’ egos explode. Instead, she has seen each student sharing their experiences.
“This worked better when I was in this position.” “Try it this way next time.” “Avoid this move when you’re doing that.” These are examples of the type of coaching they give each other now.
It is a fundamental idea that each instructor has ingrained into the fabric of the experience. Sweat shared stories about how he has traveled and met many people, and one things he knows, there is always someone better. Humility is something learned.
Practicing, competing, and achieving that gold is a feeling unto itself. But Sweat says it’s only fuel to push farther, you got gold and were the best… of those who competed. It pushes you to train harder to achieve more in the next competition, to seek out others and test yourself against them.
Sharing in the glory of gold, silver, and bronze, students become athletes become artists, Martial Artists. But along the way, something else is forged.
It is a common phrase that most have probably heard, “What are you made of?”
On May 22, 2021, seven students came home to the Gracie Barra Gym in Ellijay with medals around their necks. Yet, training, growing, and competing in this gym, there comes more metal inside than what can hang on a ribbon.
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Given the sharp increase in COVID-19 cases, Union County Board of Education moved to heighten virus precautions in the classroom with a mask mandate.
Students returned to class today, January 5, from winter break. Previously, the school encouraged masks but didn’t require face coverings for students. Now all students and teachers must wear a mask except for eating or drinking. Children with medical excuses will receive appropriate accommodations, such as a face shield.
Students exposed to COVID-19 must quarantine for 14 days, and those not following the COVID-19 protocols will be sent home. The school enhanced social distancing and meal mitigations when possible.
Additionally, the nine-week requirement for online learning was suspended until case numbers go back down. If a parent or guardian doesn’t feel comfortable sending their child to school, they can participate in online learning until a parent deems it safe. Parents and guardians against the mask policy were asked to keep their child at home until the old policies are reinstated.
The board decided to cancel athletic events for the week of January 4 to 9. Practices will still take place. Each week the athletic department will decide the game schedule and cancellations. Once games resume, attendance will be limited with a mask requirement in place for fans. The school’s looking into livestreaming events.
Board members agreed that face-to-face instruction must continue until it’s no longer feasible for the system. The current UCS update placed 30 staff in quarantine or positive for COVID-19. If the situation doesn’t improve, the district could move to online-only learning.
Newest board member and Union General Hospital Chief Nursing Officer stated that she views schools as a controlled environment. By keeping children in schools, it’s easier to manage their environments and contact trace.
Several schools districts in the Pioneer RESA opted to go online only for the foreseeable future, including Rabun, Banks, Gainesville, Hall Hart, Lumpkin, Madison, and White. Pickens County announced its decision to close for another week yesterday.
Union County discussed canceling games with schools that were online only but allowing athletic activities, citing that if the district is too sick to attend in-person classes, then should they be traveling to play sports.https://youtu.be/7u1UR8L7s-c
BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Union County Schools (UCS) released coronavirus, COVID-19 numbers on Friday, August 14. Currently, two students and four staff members have positive cases.
27 students and 17 staff members are currently under quarantine for possible exposure.
Students and faculty return to in-person instruction on August 17, and the students and faculty under quarantine or with positive cases won’t be in attendance. According to school policy, only those who test negative for COVID-19 can attend in-person class.
According to the school’s policy, anyone who tests positive can’t return for “at least 10 days following the onset of COVID-19 symptoms or receiving a positive test result AND be fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication AND have an improvement in respiratory symptoms.”
Quarantined individuals must stay home for at least 14 days even if symptom-free. If they develop symptoms, the quarantine may be extended from symptoms onset. Also, students with a confirmed diagnosis in the home will be quarantined an additional 14-days from when the family’s quarantine time ends.
If hospitalized or severely immunocompromised from the virus, students must stay home “at least 20 days since symptoms first appeared AND be fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications AND have an improvement in respiratory symptoms.”
While quarantining from home, students can participate in the online learning program.
UCS will be providing a weekly COVID-19 update concerning positive cases and possible exposures. These updates aren’t meant to alarm but provide public information.
Face masks are highly recommended for all students and will be available to students and faculty on campus. Students will be required to wear face masks during class changes, school nurse visits, and safety drills.
Each week the school buildings will be deep-cleaned over a three day period.
To review UCS’s reopening plan, follow the link, here.
As for closure, UCS is following Georgia’s Department of Education (GaDOE) District Decision Tree.
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.https://youtu.be/wLImaVwmWPM?t=1410
Feature image from Georgia Career Academies Facebook.
A new trend is sweeping the youth of the nation and unfortunately Fannin County is not immune to this growing problem.
Thursday afternoon, September 6, Dr. Gwatney sent out a letter explaining a recent event at Fannin County High School. It’s been reported that students are smoking and inhaling electronic cigarettes.
District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee contacted Dr. Gwatney sharing that several students from other counties have needed medical treatment after using these electronic cigarettes. Unfortunately, an incident has happened like this here in our own county.
It’s been discovered that a substance known as, “Kronic” is being sold locally and the students are getting ahold of it; this has resulted in students needing medical attention and have been escorted to the hospital.
Currently, Fannin County High School staff and faculty are doing everything they can to talk to our students about their decisions to vape and using electronic cigarettes. Our students also need to be aware and mindful of what substances they are putting into their electronic cigarettes and/ or vapes.
Parents and guardians should be aware and look out for these items. Electronic cigarettes, vapes, etc. can look like USB flash drives, lighters, pens, and other common items. Please ask and talk to your students about what they know—and may not know—about vaping and electronic cigarettes. Let’s take this time as a community to take care of our kids.
The school district has been kind enough to post various pictures of devices to watch for on Facebook page (Fannin County School System). For more information on vaping, you may refer to the CDC website at the following website: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/index.htm
Gainesville Students to Attend Air Force and Naval Academies
GAINESVILLE, Ga.—Two students from northeast Georgia have been offered admission to a U.S. military academy. Cameron Sturdivant will join the class of 2022 at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Chase Nufer will attend the U.S. Naval Academy.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) nominated these students to the military academies because of their integrity and track record of accomplishment in the community.
“I couldn’t be prouder of Cameron and Chase, who have dedicated themselves to servant leadership roles early in life. I look forward to their success in Colorado Springs and Annapolis as they reflect the strong character of northeast Georgia,” said Collins.
Sturdivant is the son of Ms. Chere Rucker. He attends Gainesville High School and is following in the footsteps of his brother, Mr. Donovan Moss, who is currently a senior at the Air Force Academy.
Nufer, son of Mr. Peter & Ms. Heidi Nufer, is the captain of the baseball team at Forsyth Central High School and a member of the National Honor Society.
Dalton, Ga. – The Dalton Police Department is on scene at Dalton High School where shots have been fired.
Dalton Police report that no student was injured by the shooting and all students are out of harm’s way. They also report the subject, a teacher, has been taken into custody.
The subject had barricaded themselves into a classroom earlier today before firing a weapon. Local Police and Georgia State Patrol responded to the initial call. Those reports have come about a student injured during the evacuation, the Dalton Police were adamant that no student was injured by the shooting.
Police are also asking parents to NOT go to Dalton High School as they say, “The area inside the school has been evacuated and there are no students believed to be in the school at this time.”
The evacuated students have been taken to the Northwest Georgia Trade Center where police report parents should go for their children.
WASHINGTON—Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) nominated Loretta Strickland and Michael Herrington for admission to U.S. military academies and is celebrating good news for both northeast Georgia students. Herrington will join the class of 2022 at the United States Naval Academy, and Strickland will attend the United States Naval Academy Preparatory School.
“It’s an honor to see the Naval Academy recognize the investments Loretta and Michael have made in their communities. As these impressive students travel north to serve our country, I look forward to hearing of their continued success,” said Collins.
The senior class president at Flowery Branch High School, Herrington is the son of Mr. Mike and Mrs. Vickie Herrington. Herrington is a member of the National Honor Society and cross-country team and has received the Air Force Association Outstanding Cadet award.
Strickland is the daughter of retired police officer Greg Strickland and is the first student from Fannin County High School to receive an appointment to a U.S. military school. She competes in track and cross-country events and is part of the Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps.
According to information received earlier tonight, October 7th 2016, bond has been set for Daniel Culbreth in the amount of $25,000. Culbreth is currently trying to make bond as of 10pm Friday night according to Pickens County Sheriff’s office. Bond Conditions are as follows: (See Below)
Mr. Daniel Culbreth, a math teacher at Pickens High School, was arrested on Thursday night (October 6, 2016) for Computer Exploitation of Children and Sexual Assault by Persons with Supervisory Authority. Culbreth, also a PCHS running back coach was arrested for DUI of alcohol in 2015. (see arrest/booking report below).
The arrest came during an investigation into inappropriate communications with a student. Led by Detective Steven Holmes of the Pickens Sheriff’s Office, who also serves as an agent for the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, detectives began following up on a tip that Mr. Culbreth had been using the popular teen social media app Snapchat to communicate with female students.
According to the information received by detectives, the content of some of his communication was highly inappropriate. After receiving and verifying this information, Pickens Sheriff’s Office Detectives executed a search warrant on Mr. Culbreth’s Snapchat account and found this information to be true.