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.

Pickens County Board of Education, Superintendent

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.

resignation

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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