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APRIL 2, 2003


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OPINIONS
Shar Porier

The paradox
My heart lies heavy, like a rock in my chest. It feels hard to breathe.

Margie Richards
A view of war from the ‘fence line’
Until Sept. 11 we, meaning my generation of 40 something’s and younger, were pretty lucky, maybe more lucky than we knew. Time to wake up and face reality.


SPORTS

Tough Times
With a 1-2 region record, the Diamond Leopards (6-5, 1-2) are hoping some of their next few opponents underestimate them.
“I think some people are going to start taking us lightly and we can jump on them and make a run,” coach Mike Williams.


Neighboorhood News ..
JACKSON COUNTY
Building authority bill dead this session
Options for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to finance a controversial new courthouse were narrowed this week after the county’s legislative delegation didn’t agree to a BOC request to create a building authority as a financing vehicle.

Mobile homes under the ax of proposed UDC
A leader in the mobile home industry says the proposed unified development code (UDC) would not allow single-wide manufactured homes to be located in Jackson County.

Fire Insurance Rates To Fall In Commerce, East Jackson
Property owners in most of the East Jackson Fire District and throughout Commerce will save substantial amounts of money on their fire insurance premiums.

School Board, City Council Find Consensus At Retreat
HIAWASSEE -- The exercise was part pep rally, part family counseling and part goal-setting, but when the Commerce City Council and Commerce Board of Education ended their joint retreat Saturday afternoon, the consensus was that they'd reached a consensus.

Ethics complaint filed against Fletcher
Pendergrass man says BOC chairman didn’t report corporate positions, property ownership

BOC talking with ACCG about financing
Lease/purchase through association another way BOC might seek to finance courthouse project


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
A soldier’s story
Watching television has taken on a whole new meaning for many people around the country since the war in Iraq began, complete with live coverage of the action, particularly for those who have family members involved in the conflict.

Folk festival set for Sat. in Danielsville
Folklife in Georgia, an event celebrating the traditional music, dance and handiwork of rural Georgia, will be held this Saturday, April 5, at the county park on Hwy. 29 South in Danielsville. The festival will be held inside the old Danielsville Elementary Gym if it’s raining.

Fortson’s motion for new trial denied
Convicted murderer Tracy Lea Fortson was recently denied a new trial.
Fortson, a former Oglethorpe County sheriff’s deputy, was convicted in July of 2001 for the murder of her ex-boyfriend Doug Benton of Colbert.

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VIE FOR MR. BCHS

Several male students recently competed to be named Mr. BCHS at Banks County High School. The contest raised about $1,000 for the Y-Club and the ABC-Science class, the event sponsors. Alex Cruce was named Mr. BCHS. David McWhorter was chosen as runner-up and Ross Oliver took third. Jimmy Bryant was awarded “best talent.” Pictured above are: (front, L-R) Caleb Herrin, Tyson Baxter, Justin Varner, Saul McCoy, Jimmy Bryant, (back) Clint O’Neal, Jeff Creasey, Ross Oliver, David McWhorter, Kyle Duncan and Alex Cruce. Not pictured are Rusty Cheek, Dustin Bonds and Kevin Scoggs.

Religious group sues Banks BOE
A religious group has gained access for the time being at Banks County’s primary, elementary and upper elementary schools.
Attorneys for Child Evangelism Fellowship of Northeast Georgia and the Banks County school board reached an agreement out of court after the group filed suit late last week.
The agreement will allow the fellowship to hold a weekly meeting of the Good News Club after school hours in a room at each of the three schools until the end of the current school year. Parents must sign their children up to participate.
“I’m happy that there is willingness to get the access issue solved,” said Erik Stanley, an attorney representing the fellowship. Stanley works for the Liberty Counsel, a non-profit group based in Florida that offers civil liberty defense in religious freedom issues.
In January, Marvin Gongre of the Child Evangelism Fellowship requested the board of education allow him to use the facilities for the club, which seeks “to build character and strength in the moral and spiritual growth of children.”
At the time, the school board voted 3-2 to deny the request. BOE chairman Bo Garrison was the deciding vote and was quoted in a January 15 story in The Banks County News as saying that his “only objection is when you open up the door to one you’re opening up to everyone—the KKK, the Black Panthers or anybody.”
On Friday, the Child Evangelism Fellowship filed suit in U.S. District Court in Gainesville claiming the BOE had violated the group’s First Amendment rights by denying access.
Stanley pointed out that the school system allows other groups like the Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts to use its facilities and that shutting out the Good News Club was unconstitutional.
Monday morning, U.S. District Court Senior Judge William C. O’Kelley in Gainesville heard a request from Stanley for a temporary restraining order that would allow the Good News Club to use the facilities for up to 10 days until a hearing could be held.
Stanley argued that allowing Gongre to direct the Good News Club would be of no harm to the school system and that he only wanted the same treatment as other groups that had gained access to school facilities.
“Public facilities such as schools that allow community groups to use their facilities after school may not discriminate against the Good News Club or any other Christian group,” said Liberty Counsel president Mathew Staver in a press release Monday. “Unfortunately, the Banks County School District will learn about the Constitution the hard way.”
However, school board attorney Phil Hartley argued at the meeting that Gongre’s request differed from other groups that currently use school property. He said that all but one of the other groups requested to use the facilities on a one-time only basis for a specific date.
Gongre’s use would be weekly and therefore gave the school board the right to differentiate between his request and other one-time use requests, Hartley contends.
“The board should know that once you open the school to a public forum, which they have done, unless they can draw some constitutional distinction, they have opened the door wide open,” Judge O’Kelley said.
School officials also contend that they offered to bus students from the schools to a local church where Gongre could conduct the Good News Club.
Judge O’Kelley didn’t rule on the restraining order Monday morning but gave the two groups until Wednesday to reach a settlement out of court. He was adamant that the dispute could probably have been solved without litigation if attorneys from the two side had time to sit and talk.
By Tuesday, the two groups had worked out an agreement. But had they not, Judge O’Kelley said a restraining order would become effective Wednesday morning.
Judge O’Kelley also took offense to Garrison’s comments about the KKK that were quoted in the newspaper.
“I think it is rather unfair that some board members would associate this organization with the Ku Klux Klan and whatever other group it was,” he said.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Hartley said he didn’t feel Garrison’s comments were meant in anyway to compare the Good News Club with the KKK or other violent groups.
“I did not take those comments as suggesting a comparison of this group and those groups but as a concern that if you allow one group, you must allow others,” Hartley said.
Superintendent Deborah White agreed that she didn’t think Garrison intended to make the two groups look similar.
“I don’t think that was Bo’s intent,” White said.
Garrison couldn’t be reached for comment by presstime Wednesday morning.
School officials are questioning the group’s decision to take the matter to court, saying they had not been contacted since the January meeting about the issue.
“I believe the lawsuit was totally unnecessary,” Hartley said.
Hartley said he felt confident the issue could have been resolved without litigation had either the Child Evangelism Fellowship or the Liberty Counsel contacted him or the board of education.
School officials said they didn’t know the issue was still on-going until the board secretary was served with the lawsuit late Friday afternoon.
“I was taken totally by surprise,” White said. “We would’ve tried to work it out beforehand if they had contacted the school system or the board since the decision in January.”


State problems mean some Banks County students won’t have to take CRCT this year
Some Banks County elementary and middle school students, along with their counterparts throughout the state, won’t have to take one of the most important standardized tests this year.
Last week, the Georgia Department of Education released a statement saying the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) will only be given to fourth, sixth and eighth graders, and not all elementary and middle school students as originally planned.
And that means Banks County educators will lose one of the most valuable tools that they have at measuring student and curriculum progress.
“Naturally, it’s going to affect everything we’ve planned for this school year,” superintendent Deborah White said Monday.
The CRCT measures what and when students should understand certain subjects, based on Georgia’s Quality Core Curriculum (QCC). Students in grades one through eight were supposed to have been tested in reading, English/language arts and mathematics, while third through eighth graders were to also take science and social studies tests. Now, students in only three grade levels will be tested.
“It’s a way of assessing our programs and we don’t have that this year,” White said.
Last year, every elementary and middle school student took the CRCT. In Banks County, educators focused on math skills and introduced a new guided reading program to improve test scores. White said the school system was hoping this year’s CRCT results would measure progress in those programs. Instead, teachers will have to make more individualized analysis of the programs.
White added that although Banks County teachers are constantly testing their students, the CRCT is the only standardized measure in the state.
About 1,900 Banks County elementary and middle school students will be affected by the change, she said. Kindergartners, who already took their Georgia Kindergarten Assessment Program (GKAP) test, won’t be affected.
According to the state department of education, some test items that appeared on the tests that were to be given to students also appeared on several practice tests. The Georgia DOE decided that test items for fourth, sixth and eighth graders weren’t widely exposed in the practice tests.
To add to the situation, the Georgia DOE has also been dealing with a challenged bid process among two companies for printing the CRCT. The state DOE signed an emergency four-month contract with Riverside Publishing last week.
White said she doesn’t know how the delay of administering the CRCT to all elementary and middle school students this year will affect federal guidelines. This year was supposed to be a “base line” year for establishing test results that would later determine student promotion and retention rates and school accountability in coming years.
With teachers and students off on spring break this week, White said she will meet with school principals on Monday to discuss the school system’s next course of action on the matter.
She said she hopes more information from the state DOE will be available by then.


Several legal issues remain unresolved
Though the primary access issue for a religious group seeking to use school property has been reached, attorneys for the fellowship vowed Monday to continue pressing two other issues.
“There must be some accountability for the fact that this went before the school board and was denied,” said attorney Erik Stanley, who represents the Child Evangelism Fellowship.
The fellowship seeks damages of only $1 in its lawsuit against the school board for denying use of the facilities.
Stanley said regardless of whether the fellowship will be able to offer the Good News Club in Banks County, other long-term issues with board policy also remain unresolved.
“Some long-term issues must be worked out,” he said.
Stanley specifically pointed to problems he sees with the Banks County Board of Education’s facilities use policy—problems he claims are unconstitutional.
He says the policy does not specify a time period for the board to act on applications for facilities use, an issue he says goes against the First Amendment. He also says some terms in the policy lack definition, including the classification of routine and non-routine facilities requests.
School board attorney Phil Hartley agreed that despite the settlement reached between the two groups regarding access, some issues would still need to be worked out.
“There is still a part of the lawsuit that technically doesn’t go away with this agreement,” Hartley said.
The board will be revisiting its policy this summer according to school superintendent Deborah White.
“The question is do they (the board) want to open up their facilities to all groups, and if so they have to have equal access, or do they say they want to close the facilities and no one be able to use them,” White said. “It will be up to the board to decide which of the two ways to go.”
White said the school board had already discussed possibly revising the policy prior to the lawsuit.



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Banners won’t be up in time for big race
The more than 150,000 visitors expected to pour through Banks Crossing during the first week of May won’t likely get to see the new street light banners planned for the area.
The Banks County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau learned last week that the order for the signs as part of a beautification project have yet to be ordered. Once ordered, the banners won’t arrive for another four to six weeks.
CVB president and Atlanta Dragway general manager Craig Armstrong was disappointed the banners wouldn’t be up by the first of May.
Commissioner Pat Westmoreland said getting the banners put up would be no problem once they arrive.
OTHER BUSINESS
In other business at the CVB meeting:
•Brent Edwards said the CVB had 27 hold sponsors and 14 team commitments so far for the upcoming golf tournament planned April 10 at Scales Creek.
•Armstrong said the dragway was looking for a place to send tent campers for the Southern Nationals since such camping would no longer be allowed at the race track.
•executive director Bonnie Johnson said the CVB was working with the U.S. 441 Heritage Highway organization to direct travelers to businesses along the bypassed portions of Hwy. 441.
•Gordon Eanes said all but one hotel had turned its payment to the CVB. Eanes also said the market was still down four to five percent over last year at the same time.
•CVB members agreed to accept a low bid of $2,649 to purchase 50,000 brochures to promote the area. The staff of The Northeast Georgian designed the brochures. Johnson said she would announce next month who got the bid.
•Eanes commended dragway and county officials for working to resolve the placement of a sprayfield on race track property at Banks Crossing. Commissioner Rickey Cain said the attorney’s for the two groups were still working on a contract for the sprayfield land. Armstrong said he didn’t anticipate any snags.
•Armstrong announced that Ryan Newman’s Alltel NASCAR race car would be at the Alltel store at Banks Crossing on April 9 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Armstrong also announced that Peace Place, a battered women’s shelter, was looking for donations from local hotels of old bed sheets, soap, towels and other items.
•Armstrong said plans were moving along for the upcoming Southern Nationals May 1-4. He said ticket sales have gone well but that big corporate sponsorships has been down. Eanes reported that his hotel was about 70 percent booked for the race weekend.


Whitlock to give talk to chamber
Bobby Whitlock, Workforce Development coordinator from Pioneer RESA, will speak at the Banks County Chamber of Commerce meeting at 8 a.m. on Thursday, April 10, at the civic center.
Whitlock will speak about the benefits and success of the Youth Apprenticeship Program. He serves six counties in Northeast Georgia as the Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator and works with employers to provide work based learning opportunities for over 60 students.
The breakfast will be sponsored by Cleveland Electric a supporter of the Electrical Apprentice Program.
For information on the breakfast or membership, call the chamber at 677-2108.