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27 students at middle school impacted by COVID

As many as 27 students at Bear Creek Middle School in Statham were sent home from or kept out of school due to coronavirus concerns after they were reported to have either a positive test for or direct exposure to COVID-19 on Sept. 22, according to the latest numbers released Thursday, Sept. 24, by the Barrow County School System.

According to the district’s latest online update, four students and six staff members across all of Barrow County’s public schools had confirmed positive COVID-19 tests between Sept. 17-23, while another six students and five staff members were quarantined as a precaution for having a “probable” COVID-19 case — meaning they had both symptoms and direct exposure to someone with a confirmed positive case. During that same time period, 59 students and 20 staffers were quarantined due to direct contact to someone with a confirmed-positive or probable case.

Fifty-one students were impacted Sept. 21-23 as the district was in its first full five-day week of in-person instruction for the 2020-21 academic year.

School district officials on Thursday declined to release more information about the Bear Creek situation — including whether the students were part of one particular class, how many students were positive for COVID-19 vs. how many were having to quarantine as a precaution.

It was not clear by press time for the Wednesday, Sept. 30 edition of The Barrow News-Journal how many impacted students had returned to their schools.

“Numbers refer to new positive cases of COVID-19 for students, or student direct contacts with someone who has a positive status, reported on the specified day,” according to a message on the district website that is posted below the data. “The amount of time any student has to quarantine varies based on context, so this is not a running count of students out due to COVID-19 quarantines on any given day.”

A spokesperson for the district cited privacy concerns as well as multiple factors with contact-tracing in the decision not to disclose further details. She added that the district, which has been releasing weekly COVID-19 numbers every Thursday, remains committed to transparency.

The Georgia Department of Public Health has requested that school districts submit weekly reports to the department but has taken the position that the public has no legal right to information about any outbreaks the state is investigating, citing an exemption under the state’s open-records law, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last week. And the DPH has left public reporting of case counts in schools to individual school districts.

School districts’ reporting to the general public has varied and, whereas Barrow County is releasing a weekly report with daily school-by-school updated numbers of impacted students as well as district-wide numbers for teachers and staff, other districts are only releasing district-wide totals. About 30 percent of the state’s public schools have not complied with the DPH’s request for weekly reports, according to the AJC report.

Thirty-two students in total across BCSS were kept impacted by COVID-19 Sept. 22 — a day after 17 students, including seven at Bethlehem Elementary School and five at Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy, were impacted Sept. 21. Two students went out or were kept home Sept. 23 — one at Russell Middle School and one at Winder-Barrow High School.

The district began the school year entirely online Aug. 17, transitioned to a hybrid in-person/online model Sept. 8 with each grade split into two cohorts, and then moved to five days a week in the school buildings as the reported spread of COVID-19 in the community (average of new daily cases per 100,000) has steadily declined to more favorable levels over the last month.

About 26 percent of the district’s roughly 14,300 students are participating entirely in distance learning. Students have the option to transition either at the end of the first nine weeks or the first semester, depending on their grade level.

Since July 27, when teachers and staffers first returned to campuses for pre-planning, 40 have tested positive for COVID-19 and 261 have been quarantined as a precaution. Since the start of the school year Aug. 17, 10 students have tested positive and 113 have been quarantined. The student numbers prior to Sept. 8 only account for those who had already been on high school campuses and were involved in athletics or other extra-curricular activities.

The district has implemented face mask mandates and several other mitigation measures at each of its schools and facilities in an effort to continue providing in-person instruction, and more than 100 staffers have received contact-tracing training through a Johns Hopkins University program as part of an effort to prevent large outbreaks from occurring. But officials have cautioned that schools might have to revert back to a hybrid model or even be closed if the community numbers spike again.

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported 11 cases in Barrow County on Tuesday, Sept. 29, bringing the cumulative total to 2,200 since the outbreak began in February. Forty-eight county residents have died of COVID-19, with the most recent death occurring Sept. 20, according to the DPH website. The 47th and 48th deaths weren’t confirmed by the department until Saturday, Sept. 26.


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2020 voter guide for Barrow County residents

The following information is a guide for Barrow County voters, with the Nov. 3 election quickly approaching.

LAST DAY TO REGISTER

The last day to register to vote in the November election is Monday, Oct. 5.

You can register online and check your voter registration status at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov. You can also register at the county elections office, 233 East Broad St., Winder.

ABSENTEE BY MAIL BALLOT INFORMATION

All registered voters are eligible to vote absentee by mail, and state election officials are expecting unprecedented levels of mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Applications are currently being accepted and are available on the county website at barrowga.org/departments/elections-registration-main.aspx or on the state website at mvp.sos.ga.gov. They can be mailed, returned in person to the county elections office, faxed to 770-307-1054 or emailed to evote@barrowga.org.

The county elections office has posted an absentee voting fact sheet on its website for voters to review.

After county election officials verify signatures on absentee ballot applications, voters will receive an absentee ballot package in the mail, which includes the official ballot, a ballot envelope, instructions and a return envelope. The completed ballot is to be inserted into the ballot envelope, which is then to be placed in the return envelope.

Voters are required to sign the oath on the back of the return envelope in order for the ballot to count.

Absentee ballots must be received by the elections office by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3, in order to be counted. They can be returned either through the mail with a 55-cent stamp, physically at the elections office or in a drop box at 233 East Broad St. in the lower-level parking lot.

If you complete and mail in an application for an official ballot, but later decide to vote in-person during early voting or on Election Day, you will be required to bring your official ballot and/or sign an affidavit prior to voting on election equipment. Elections officials say to be prepared for that process to take longer than the normal voting process.

If you spoil your absentee ballot, you must indicate on the ballot and oath envelope.

IN-PERSON EARLY VOTING

In-person advance voting will take place Oct. 12-30 at the county elections office, primarily on weekdays (Monday through Friday). For the first two weeks, voting will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. before expanding by two hours (8 a.m. to 7 p.m.) Oct. 26-30.

Barrow County is also offering two Saturday voting sessions on Oct. 17 and Oct. 24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

ELECTION DAY, NOV. 3

On Election Day, Nov. 3, polling locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The eight polling locations include:

•Bethlehem Community Center, 750 Manger Ave., Bethlehem.

•Bethlehem Church (211 Campus), 1061 Old Thompson Mill Rd., Hoschton.

•Hmong New Hope Alliance Church, 1622 Union Grove Church Rd., Auburn.

•Covenant Life Sanctuary, 115 Patrick Mill Rd. SW, Winder.

•Barrow County Fire Station 1, 1625 Bethlehem Rd., Statham.

•First Baptist Church, 625 Jefferson Hwy., Winder.

•Winder Community Center, 113 East Athens St., Winder.

•The Church at Winder, 546 Treadwell Rd., Bethlehem.

To find your polling location, you can call the elections office at 770-307-3110, go to the county website or go to mvp.sos.ga.gov.

WHO AND WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT IN BARROW?

In addition to the federal and statewide offices on the ballot, all Barrow County voters will be choosing between Republican incumbent Sen. Frank Ginn and Democratic challenger Dawn Johnson for the state Senate District 47 seat. Ginn’s website is frankginn.com, while Johnson’s is electdawn.org.

Some voters in eastern Barrow will also choose between Republican incumbent Houston Gaines and Democratic challenger “Mokah” Jasmine Johnson for the state House District 117 seat. Gaines’ website is houstongaines.com, while Johnson’s is mokahforgeorgia.com.

While the countywide offices on the ballot are all uncontested, voters in the Town of Bethlehem will choose between three candidates for an open town council seat — Tambi “Tam” Parten Mull, Bryan W. Bell and Randall Dan Wages. The seat was vacated earlier this year by Tommy Parten, Mull’s father, who moved to Winder.

Sample ballots can be found online at mvp.sos.ga.gov.

A rundown of the two proposed state constitutional amendments and a statewide referendum question can be found on the county website. 


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BASA ribbon-cutting to be live-streamed to public

The Barrow County School System will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the district’s third high school, Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

While in-person guests are limited due to coronavirus precautions, BCSS will live-stream the ceremony at the new facility — next to Sims Academy off Austin Road in Winder — on its YouTube channel starting at 5:40 p.m. The Barrow County Board of Education’s 6 p.m. meeting will follow immediately afterward.

BASA opened at the start of this academic year. Construction, led by Charles Black Construction, began in the spring of 2018 for the $18.8 million facility, funded in part by a state grant set aside for classroom building. The new school includes a student center, which houses the media center, cafeteria, and learning spaces, and the academic building for classrooms and lab spaces. In total, the school is over 114,000 square feet.

The high school is a school of choice — meaning that students apply to attend and are admitted based on a lottery, with no pre-requisite requirements for attendance.

With a focus on arts and sciences and grounded in problem-based learning, the school offers a number of unique learning opportunities for students, including: 

•2-D and 3-D Visual Arts

•Graphic Design

•Band

•Music Technology

•Chorus

•Guitar

•Dance

•Theatre

•Science, Tech, Engineering and Math

•Robotics

•Computer Science

•Biomedical Science.

Dale Simpson is the school’s principal.


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DOT awards contract for roundabout at 211, Old Hog Mountain Rd.

The Georgia Department of Transportation recently announced the awarding of a contract for the construction of the planned roundabout on State Route 211 at Old Hog Mountain Road in Barrow County.

Ohmshiv Construction of Lawrenceville was awarded the contract with a low bid of $3.13 million for the federally-funded project, and construction is expected to be completed by April 30, 2022.

Information on schedules, lane closures and detours will be available in advance of construction activities taking place, according to a GDOT news release.

GDOT awarded 38 construction contracts for transportations projects around the state in August, totaling $84.1 million. That brought the total construction contracts for Fiscal Year 2021, which began July 1, to $196.5 million, according to the release.


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BCSS sees increase in student SAT scores, remains below state average

The Barrow County School System’s average SAT scores at both Winder-Barrow and Apalachee high schools increased for the 2019-20 school year, while the system remained a little below the statewide averages for Georgia, according to numbers released recently by the Georgia Department of Education.

System-wide, BCSS’ average score improved 12 points from 999 in 2018-19 to 1011 on a scale to 1600 with an 11-point uptick in evidence-based reading and writing (ERW), from 510 to 521, and two-point bump in math (489 to 491). While those numbers remained below the state averages for ERW (532) and math (511), the overall state average dropped from 1048 to 1043 (one-point drop in ERW and four-point drop in math). The average total score for the state’s public schools was, for the third year in a row, higher than the national public-school average (1030, 520 in ERW and 510 in math)), which went down nine points from the previous year.

Winder-Barrow saw its average total score improve 14 points from 1005 to 1019, posting an 11-point increase in ERW (525) and a three-point increase in math (494). Apalachee’s average total score improved from 992 to 1005 after an 11-point jump in ERW (517) and one-point increase in math (487).

“We are proud of our students and their focus on the SAT. While the state dropped in both evidence based reading and writing and math, Apalachee High students made gains,” AHS principal Jennifer Martin said in a district news release. “We attribute these gains to a focus on utilizing PSAT data to enhance individual improvement with the use of Khan Academy for support during our advisement and extended learning time.”

Added Winder-Barrow principal Derrick Maxwell: “At WBHS, we are proud of both the increase in the reading and writing score and the total score, nearing closer to the state average. We will continue identifying students who need to take the assessment to prepare for their futures and providing them resources to do their best.”

The district saw a decrease in total test-takers (juniors and seniors) from 476 in 2018-19 to 450 last academic year, a decrease brought on at least in part by the coronavirus pandemic. The state’s total number of test-takers fell by more than 7,500, from 67,594 to 60,047.

The 26-member University of Georgia has announced it will waive the SAT and ACT testing requirements for the spring, summer and fall 2021 semesters because of uncertainty around scheduling due to the pandemic.

According to a news release from the state department of education, 64.5 percent of 2020 graduating seniors in Georgia took the SAT. That number was at 58.2 percent for Barrow County’s graduating seniors.