Gilmer Schools is changing COVID response for students tomorrow

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GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – “We will shift our focus away from contact tracing and quarantine to monitoring children for signs of illness,” says a new statement from Gilmer County Schools as the announcement comes today that COVID response and state guidelines are changing again. Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley said it was a return to focusing on educating kids in school and not being an “arbiter of quarantines.”

responseDr. Ridley sent the letter out with this statement today, notifying the community of the change. He added that he wants to be a partner with parents in their care for their children.

Ridley noted that the change is coming after the governor and the Department of Public Health (DPH) announced changes in their guidelines for COVID response,acknowledging the hardships that families have had due to quarantines on any possible exposure.

Now, instead of instantly quarantining students who have been around others in school who have tested positive, they will be allowed to stay in class while being “strongly encouraged” to wear a mask. His letter this morning stated 10 days, but Dr. Ridley said that continued updates have made that a misprint as the schools will be encouraging mask usage for 5 days.

Additionally, the statement extended this same change to those currently in quarantine due to exposure. While the last update on the school systems website noted 77 students currently in quarantine, Dr. Ridley said this number is not up to date with these changes as well as another set of changes to guidelines that the schools just received last Thursday.

The school system will continue notifying parents when their students have been exposed and will be sending out letters “notifying you that your child was in class, on the bus, participated in a sport, etc. with a positive case just as we do with any other communicable disease.”

Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley

As such, some tracing will still be done with this new response as the school is still asking parents to monitor their children and notify the school if they test positive. Dr. Ridley stated, “We will continue to notify DPH when a notifiable disease is reported and alert DPH of concerns with clusters and outbreaks which may require immediate public health intervention.”

But this isn’t contact tracing as it has been in the last year, these notifications will not continue for those that have been around someone who was around someone who was exposed to a student that tested positive.

The school system is asking parents to continue monitoring your child each morning before sending them to school. They also noted that students showing any signs of the virus or any illness should not be sent to school.

The school system is also taking extra steps for parents in understanding the change or with further needs as Ridley’s statement asked parents to contact their student’s school if they have any concerns of if their child might need extra help for a medical vulnerability.

Superintendent Ridley did confirm that he had discussed the new response individually with members of the Board of Education before implementing them. While he said they mostly agreed with the new format, he did confirm that the board could still add or reinstate any extra steps and precautions should they feel the need arises.

The school system had just posted recent changes on January 4, 2022, with updates from over the December break, but the state is already updating new changes with this today. Dr. Ridley also said in his letter, “While the constant change in guidance has been frustrating at times, we want to thank our Gilmer County families for their support throughout this pandemic. We hope that with the help of our parents, we can even more effectively monitor students for symptoms while also meeting the new DPH standard of keeping healthy students in class.”

 

Gilmer looks to cut off TikTok trend with parents’ help

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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.

Gilmer Schools responding to COVID case increases

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Gilmer Schools have seen an explosion of positive COVID cases and quarantines throughout this week.” Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley read a statement during the Gilmer County Board of Education this week on Thursday night, August 19, 2021, during their Regular Scheduled meeting.

Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley, COVID

Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley

As of that meeting, the total cases in Gilmer’s school system surpassed a district wide 900 students in quarantine and 100 positive cases in students and staff.

That explosion also culminated in the cancellation of the season opening varsity football game against Pickens on Friday, August 20, 2021. The school system stated, “Decisions such as these are not taken lightly, and we must prioritize the safety and well being of all student-athletes and spectators for both teams.”

Dr. Ridley said in a letter to parents about COVID restrictions earlier this week that the school system would be mandating masks and face coverings starting on Monday, August 23, 2021. He stated, “I feel it is imperative that we act now in an effort to keep our students safe and our schools open.”

In efforts to notify and share the information well in advance, that letter was sent out. However, at the Thursday meeting, Dr. Ridley also informed citizens that while working with the Department of Health, new guidelines will be coming next week in implementation. He confirmed that he would be discussing these with the press on Monday to inform citizens more about those changes as the school looks to continue implementing DPH guidelines into the schools.

As of now, Monday will see masking on school buses only with strong encouragement to wear masks throughout the day. Dr. Ridley also urged others to consider using masks and getting vaccinated against the virus. During his statement in the meeting, Dr. Ridley stated, “Students and staff who are fully vaccinated or masked during exposure will not be subject to quarantine.”

Additionally, the Board of Education also approved COVID leave time for staff that have exposures and positive tests. Superintendent Ridley stated that the official numbers will be updated on their website tomorrow, August 20, 2021.

COVIDWith the announcement of new COVID guidelines made and implementation on the way, the school system is currently working on the “logistics of implementing this new guidance as early as Monday or Tuesday of next week.”

Gilmer is continuing with quarantining for 10 days and requirements to be fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever reducing medications with an improvement of symptoms.

Additionally, Dr. Ridley previously told FYN that virtual academy was not being implemented for the start of school, but Gilmer does have the option if the need arises. He did not mention virtual academy at the meeting.

As the Superintendent shares more information on the changing guidelines FYN will continue to share new articles with the updated information.

New Superintendent Ridley approved with Work Session Vote

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Board of Education made Dr. Ridley official last night with a unanimous vote during their monthly work session for their new superintendent.

Dr. Hal Brian Ridley was named the finalist of the school system’s Superintendent search during a special called meeting on June 26, 2021. According to the Board of Education, “The Board voted unanimously to name Dr. Ridley as the single finalist for the position and announced its intention to name him as Superintendent after the 14-day period of public notice.”

Ridley

Board Chairman Ronald Watkins, right, signs the Superintendent contract with Dr. Hal Brian Ridley, left.

Nearing the end of July now, the Board is trying to get Dr. Ridley in and ready before the start of the school within the next two weeks. Most teachers are returning and final preparations are coming into play this week in the school system such as teachers rooms being moved into Clear Creek Elementary today.

Normally, most votes don’t happen until the boards Thursday meetings as it is the regular session of the government entity.

During the meeting, the board voted to enter executive session along with Ridley. Returning a few minutes later, the official motion came to approve Dr. Ridley as the new Superintendent along with comments during the meeting about the school system and a special thanks to Kim Cagle, who served as Interim Superintendent over the summer.

Now approved, Ridley is likely to be taking his first meeting this Thursday as his first official meeting as Gilmer’s Superintendent. The board is also holding a reception on Thursday at 5 p.m for Dr. Ridley and to allow the public time to meet and speak with him before their Regular Meeting.

Dr. Ridley and the Board signed the contract after the meeting, right before the board retreated into their usual executive session for personnel.

Dr. Ridley stated, “I would like to thank the Board for this opportunity. And thank you to Kim Cagle, she has been very welcoming as I try to get myself oriented to this new job. I’m looking very forward to working with all of you and we’re going to do some great things in Gilmer County.”

Gilmer Board of Education announces Superintendent Finalist

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County Schools has initiated the final steps in inducting its new Superintendent into the system. With a formal motion over the weekend to announce the finalist, they have also released information on him.

That finalist is Dr. Hal Brian Ridley.

The school system is already making plans for a formal motion to employ Dr. Ridley and is hoping to have him in position before school starts again. This plan has been in place since the announcement of Dr. Downs retirement earlier this year.

Gilmer Schools has issued the following press release about Dr. Hal Brian Ridley.

The Gilmer County Board of Education named Dr. Hal Brian Ridley as the single finalist for the position of Superintendent of the Gilmer County Schools at a called meeting on June 26, 2021. The Board voted to name Dr. Ridley as the single finalist for the fourteen-day period of public notice as required by Georgia law.

After reviewing applications and interviewing a number of excellent candidates, the Gilmer County Board of Education determined that Dr. Ridley is the best applicant for the position of Superintendent. The Board selected Dr. Ridley from among the pool of 29 applications received from across Georgia and the Southeast. The Board voted unanimously to name Dr. Ridley as the single finalist for the position and announced its intention to name him as Superintendent after the 14-day period of public notice.

Because of the importance of Superintendent selection, the Board devoted a great deal of effort and time to the Superintendent search and followed a structured and deliberate process over a three-month period. The Board advertised the position widely and considered community and employee input to develop the profile and selection standards that were used in the search process. In making its decision, the Board considered skills of each applicant, knowledge of and familiarity with Gilmer County schools and the community, and fit of applicant leadership style with the people and needs of the system. The Board also considered each applicant’s potential and previously demonstrated ability to unify the school community, to work collaboratively with all categories of employees, and to raise important measures of student achievement such as graduation rates and career and college readiness. The Board specifically sought a Superintendent who would work with all elements of the community and school system to establish goals and who would lead the school system to achieve those goals over time.

Dr. Ridley currently serves as Assistant Superintendent of Haralson County Schools. He has 25 years of experience in education including time as a Middle School Principal, Elementary School Principal, and Band Director.

In the coming weeks, details of Dr. Ridley’s employment will be developed by the Board and formal action to employ him as Superintendent is expected at the next regular Board Meeting. After action to formally employ Dr. Ridley, he will cooperate with Ms. Kim Cagle, Interim Superintendent, to transition into the Superintendent’s position.

Dr. Ridley has a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Berry College, a Master of Music Performance Degree from the University of West Georgia, a Specialist in Education Administration and Supervision from the University of West Georgia, and a Doctorate in Education from the University of West Georgia.

Dr. Ridley said about himself, “I am a principle-centered leader with a “no excuses” attitude and a focus on problem solving through innovation. I exhibit strong conflict resolution skills and I am experienced in dealing with difficult public relations and personnel issues in a professional manner. I am adept at building relationships among various stakeholder groups and fully intend to serve as a positive school representative within the community. I am truly excited by the possibility of bringing my dedication and knowledge to your school district.”

Currently the Assistant Superintendent of the Haralson County School System in Tallapoosa, Georgia, a system with a work force of over 500 employees serving approximately 3,500 students.

As part of the process, Gilmer Schools is publishing their release along with Dr. Hal Brian Ridley’s Resume and Cover Letter for 14 days to allow public input and feedback before the next Board of Education Meeting. They have also provided his Ridley Certificate to Publish.

As the process continues, citizens are invited to comment and add their input on Ridley. If wishing to speak publicly, the Board of Education allows public comments at their work session, or citizens could speak at the Regular Meeting if they sign up early.

 

BOE names Kim Cagle as Interim Superintendent

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – As the Board begins its search for a new Superintendent, they officially named Kim Cagle as the county’s Interim Superintendent.

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Interim Superintendent Kim Cagle

Cagle is currently Assistant Superintendent for Student Services in Gilmer Schools. She will step into the role of Interim Superintendent on May 28, 2021, the final day for current Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs. This will also be when the board transitions from accepting applications to actively pursuing its new Superintendent through interviews.

AS the Interim Superintendent, she will be guiding the board over the summer during the selection process as she was approved as Interim Superintendent from from June 1 until August 31, 2021.

Cagle has operated alongside Downs during her time as Superintendent, bringing experience in the position, the board’s ongoing tasks and operations, and the community.

Official approval for Cagle came after an executive session during April’s regular meeting. There were no other recommendations made and she was unanimously approved.

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Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs

Dr. Shanna Downs later stated in a press release, “I believe the Board’s selection of Mrs. Kim Cagle as Interim Superintendent will allow for a very smooth transition and help the district maintain continuity of progress and programs. I feel very comforted to know that I am leaving the district in such capable hands.”

Cagle will be working with the board and alongside King-Cooper and Associates during the search. While the board hopes to review applications and conduct interviews in late May and early June and to select the next Superintendent by July, the board’s approval is effective until the end of August should any delays arise.

Gilmer BOE takes first steps in new Superintendent Search

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – With official approval having come on April 15, 2021, in their monthly meeting, the Gilmer County Board of Education has begun its search for the next Superintendent with King-Cooper and Associates search firm.

With a press release, Gilmer Schools made a statement about the search saying that they would accept applications for the position until May 21, 2021. They stated, “The vacancy will be advertised by electronic postings on the school system web site, the search firm’s web site, and on the web sites of the Georgia School Superintendents Association and the Georgia School Boards Association.”

King-Cooper an d Associates was approved as the firm by a memorandum of understanding during the board’s April regular meeting. They are a small search firm based in Thomaston, Georgia. According to their release, “King-Cooper and Associates specializes in customized and affordable superintendent searches for small and medium size school systems. The firm assisted the Board in their last search in 2015 and has conducted over 65 successful superintendent searches in Georgia.”

Because they will accept application until late May, this date falls in conjunction with the previously reported final day of current Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs on May 28, 2021. In the time after, Gilmer’s Board of Education named Ms. Kim Cagle to serve as Interim Superintendent.

Steps of the search will include advertising the position, receiving and processing applications, verifying reference and background information, sorting applications based on the Board’s selection criteria, and the scheduling and facilitation of interviews. Dr. Sandy Addis will serve as the lead facilitator of the search.

“Our job is to secure a strong pool of applicants and to assist the Board to select the very best superintendent for Gilmer County,” Addis said. “We handle the details of the search and provide the best possible information for the Board to make a good choice but we don’t tell the board who to hire,” Addis stated. “There will be strong interest in the position because of the positive reputation of the school system, the community, and the Board. Gilmer County is one of Georgia’s most desirable and attractive school systems.”

According to their press release, the Board hopes to review applications and conduct interviews in late May and early June and to select the next Superintendent by July. During April, the Board will conduct surveys to determine what characteristics and qualifications the community and school system employees think are most important in the selection process. A survey for parents, students, and community members will be posted on the system web site at www.gilmerschools.com. A similar survey will be emailed to all school system employees.

They stated, “The Board will utilize survey results in the interview and selection process to employ a superintendent that meets the needs and expectations of the community.”

Superintendent Downs Resigns at Gilmer Board of Education

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East Ellijay, Ga. – A special called meeting of the Gilmer Board of Education was silenced as the personnel section, the only item on the meeting’s agenda, saw Gilmer’s Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Shanna Downs recommend a motion to “accept the Superintendent’s resignation.”

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Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs

The meeting room was silent as no board member made a motion or even a statement for a few moments. But only a few seconds before the official motion came from Michael Bramlett with a second from Michael Parks. The resignation is effect May 28, 2021.

This means that Dr. Downs will remain with Gilmer Schools through the next two months before officially moving on to her new position. In a statement after the meeting, Downs confirmed that she would be accepting the position of Executive Director of West Goergia RESA (Regional Education Service Agency).

She said it felt like the right time as “It’s a good opportunity, one that I didn’t think would present itself again.” Downs explained that positions like the one she will be taking are not often available.

In her resignation letter, she thanked the school board for the opportunity to serve the community saying, “After 6 years of continued improvement and multiple accomplishments for our students to academic achievement, updated facilities, new buildings, significantly lower millage rates, and strong financial reserves, my time has come to pursue a new endeavor.”

With the resignation set to take effect in May, the board ended their Special Called Meeting in Executive Session with no action anticipated. It was stated that they would be discussing a Superintendent search. The board could have two months to find the new Superintendent and complete the interview and hiring process.

She stated, “Given the recent change to the dynamics of the Board of Education, I believe the timing of my resignation will allow the Board to prepare for the FY22 school year with a candidate selected by the board.”

Downs promised to complete her last two months in Gilmer supporting the board’s mission and vision for the school system.

Details on GHS lockdown released from Superintendent

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County High School went under lockdown this morning after a student reported to the principal about possibly sighting a firearm.

According to a statement released by Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, “At approximately 0754 this morning, a student reported to an assistant principal that they saw a gun and ammo in a another student’s book bag.”

Downs went on to say that the Assistant Principal immediately used the Centegix Crisis Alert to place the school on lockdown. Reports began coming in about the lockdown and statements that the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) set up a command center and began searching the facility. According to Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson, the “best case scenario is that it’s a fluid operation and command is being set up while operations is dealing with the issue.”

Downs said, “GCSO and school officials began investigating, questioning witnesses, and viewing both classroom and hallway cameras.”

Thorough searches of involved students, their belongings, and facilities yielded no weapon. According to Dr. Downs, GCSO cleared the building at 8:51.

Sherriff Nicholson also commented to FYN this morning saying, “This morning, a student reported to faculty of GHS that another student possibly had a gun. The school immediately went on lockdown and law enforcement responded. It was quickly determined by Sheriff’s Office personnel and school officials that the student in question did not have a gun.”

As of now, sources say the lockdown has been lifted, including parents who say they have received a call from the school stating the same.

With less than an hour under lockdown, Gilmer administrators and the Gilmer County Sheriff reported, responded, and cleared the suspected. It is not the first time Gilmer has dealt with a lockdown situation this year as another lockdown in December came after a loud noise “like a gunshot” was reported at the Larry Walker Education Center in December, 2020, and Clear Creek Middle School went on Lockdown after an incident at the bus garage occurred in February, 2020.

Pickens BOE sets Interim Superintendent while negotiating with Townsend

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JASPER, Ga. – The Pickens Board of Education held another emergency called meeting today for the Superintendent position, planned since their three-hour executive session on Friday.

Today, however, saw a large increase in the number of people attending the meeting. The Board allowed 20 people inside along with press members while the excess citizens remained in the foyer.

The crowd did not stay silent before and after the meeting, voicing displeasure in expected action, and then actual action, from the Board during the meeting.

With yet another 3-2 vote, the BOE voted to renegotiate terms and contracts with Superintendent Townsend, desiring to move him elsewhere in the education system. A move that one citizen said they would do while they were in executive session, calling it an attempt to avoid paying a “$500,000 buyout.” And indeed, Board Chair Sue Finley said the board hopes to make this a budget neutral transition.

In his stead, the Board voted 3-2 to instate Assistant Superintendent Tony Young as the Interim Superintendent of Schools.

Board Member Tucker Green said about the vote to modify Townsend’s contract, “I will vote to oppose this action as I do not believe this is necessary or appropriate. I support Dr. Rick Townsend. I feel he has done a good job for our district during a very difficult time. In the middle of a pandemic and situations that we are, we need stability and a steady hand at the helm. I do not agree with this. I don’t think it’s necessary, so, I will oppose.”

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Assistant Superintendent Tony Young, now voted in as Interim Superintendent

With both votes set, the Board of Education is moving forward with the process and negotiations. FYN clarified this with Board Attorney Phil Landrum, III, who confirmed that, technically speaking, the Board has two Superintendents at this time. He said the Interim is in place as negotiations move forward with Dr. Rick Townsend and his attorney.

When asked if it is possible to have two Superintendents, Landrum stated, “You can, you don’t really usually see it.”

Landrum declined to comment on specific positions or if any were discussed, instead saying the Board will be looking to put Townsend into a position “where he will be most likely to succeed.”

Finley read a statement from the Board on the topic. “We have appointed Tony Young as our Interim Superintendent. He is currently serving as our Assistant Superintendent. We have no plans to conduct any interviews for the office of Superintendent until some degree of stability and leadership can be brought to the current situation. Based on our experience with Mr. Young, we believe he can and will provide stability and leadership on an interim basis.

We have directed our attorney to work with Dr. Townsend’s attorney to modify the terms and duties of his current contract. We hope that we can reach a mutual understanding that is beneficial to all concerned. We intend for this decision to be budget neutral.”

Finley also addressed concerns over various accreditations from state and other agencies saying they are without merit. She said, “Fear mongering for alternative agendas has no place within that discussion.”

However, again clarifying with Landrum, he stated that should negotiations fall through, the board will have to return and decide what to do about his employment and his contract. Landrum declined to comment further on this topic saying it was a Board decision if that should happen.

SuperintendentFinley also stated, “Mr. Young has reluctantly agreed to perform this job of Interim Superintendent. We thank him for his continued service to our district and we have confidence our teachers, staff, and the rest of our community will support Mr. Young in this role.”

FYN caught up with Interim Superintendent Young after the meeting to ask him about his reluctance. To which he replied, “I don’t think anyone should excitedly accept a Superintendancy right now with COVID and everything else we’ve got going on. We’ve got an awesome staff. I’ve got confidence in them and I think good things will happen, but it won’t be easy.”

Young will officially be reaching out and taking the reins of the Pickens County School System tomorrow, January 19, 2021.

Three hour executive session leads to doubt for Pickens Superintendent

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JASPER, Ga. – Pickens County could be seeing another chapter in its ongoing Superintendent troubles over the years after a three-hour-long meeting was held almost entirely in Executive Session.

On January 16, 2021, the Pickens County Board of Education held a special called meeting posted to host both an Executive Session and General Discussion items on the Agenda.

During the meeting, it was said that the general discussion was originally put in to discuss a different topic. However, some citizens present said they were present to “show support” for Superintendent Dr. Rick Townsend.

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Rick Townsend, Superintendent of Pickens County Schools

While the Board of Education spent almost all of the three hours in Executive Session, Dr. Townsend was not present for a large part of the meeting as he was seen exiting the room where the executive session was being held.

The only results of the meeting that were publicly stated as the Board returned from their executive session was the calling of yet another Special Called Meeting for this Monday, January 18, 2021.

However, sources have messaged FYN saying they are expecting the School Board to be dismissing or firing Dr. Townsend on Monday.

The board said in their Friday meeting, “We will have a Called Meeting on Monday at 3 p.m. It will be published over the weekend.” This means they will be meeting on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, although there is yet to be an agenda or meeting placed on the Pickens Calendar on their website as of the writing of this article.

School responds to argument with sports coach

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – With social media abuzz and questions coming forth about a recent argument with a Gilmer Athletics Coach at Gilmer High School, FYN has reached out to Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs for comment and answers on the path forward.

Many have already seen the video on Facebook involving the coach and a student resulting in a verbal argument. According to both Dr. Downs and those in the video, the argument arose when a child struck the coaches vehicle at the Larry Walker Center below the high school on Bobcat Trail.

FYN’s current understanding is that this coach told the child that he shouldn’t be hitting his car, that it was a rental, and he could have damaged it. Apparently, the child said that he thought it was his family’s car and left. However, the child’s older brother returned with another person, who was filming when they returned, and began asking the coach what he said to the child. While details are unclear, it appears the argument escalated from there.

Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs did confirm that Gilmer High School Principal Carla Foley would be speaking with the coach and that the school is already amidst investigating the incident. She also confirmed that she was in meetings today as the child’s parent reached out to speak, but has scheduled a meeting to speak with her as well.

Downs said, “I am disappointed at any time that one of our staff members has a negative interaction with a student or with a family.”

The school system is pulling videos from the facility and looking into the incident as Dr. Downs said that the school principal would be handling the issue moving forward as a personnel issue. The Larry Walker Center is considered a part of the High School campus.

School responds to argument with sports coach

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – With social media abuzz and questions coming forth about a recent argument with a Gilmer Athletics Coach at Gilmer High School, FYN has reached out to Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs for comment and answers on the path forward.

Many have already seen the video on Facebook involving the coach and a student resulting in a verbal argument. According to both Dr. Downs and those in the video, the argument arose when a child struck the coaches vehicle at the Larry Walker Center below the high school on Bobcat Trail.

FYN’s current understanding is that this coach told the child that he shouldn’t be hitting his car, that it was a rental, and he could have damaged it. Apparently, the child said that he thought it was his family’s car and left. However, the child’s older brother returned with another person, who was filming when they returned, and began asking the coach what he said to the child. While details are unclear, it appears the argument escalated from there.

Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs did confirm that Gilmer High School Principal Carla Foley would be speaking with the coach and that the school is already amidst investigating the incident. She also confirmed that she was in meetings today as the child’s parent reached out to speak, but has scheduled a meeting to speak with her as well.

Downs said, “I am disappointed at any time that one of our staff members has a negative interaction with a student or with a family.”

The school system is pulling videos from the facility and looking into the incident as Dr. Downs said that the school principal would be handling the issue moving forward as a personnel issue. The Larry Walker Center is considered a part of the High School campus.

Teacher’s arrest causes tension as BOE considers resignation

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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.

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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.”

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