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Jackson schools planning for phased-in return after holidays

The Jackson County School System is making plans to "phase-in" middle and high school students to in-person classes following the Christmas break.

During a meeting of the Jackson County Board of Education last week, school leaders outlined plans for a phased-in return to class due to an anticipated high rate of Covid spread during the holidays.

The plan revolves around alternating in-person learning days with middle and high school students with two days a week being in-person and three days a week attending class by remote learning.

How long the alternating plan would be in effect will depend on updated data about the virus' spread during January.

The large December uptick in overall community spread of Covid led the school system to stop in-person classes last week and move to remote learning until the holiday break begins on Dec. 21.

Superintendent April Howard said the virus had hit a large number of teachers, substitutes, bus drivers and other school personnel making in-person classes almost impossible.

"There's been a significant increase in the spread rate and the unfortunate thing is, the spread rate has hit our adults in our buildings more than students," she said.

Howard said one of the problems is a declining lack of compliance with the wearing of masks by middle and high school students. While the system doesn't mandate mask-wearing at this point, Howard said school leaders are "gong to have to tighten-up on students wearing a mask."

She said that based on experience from Halloween and Thanksgiving, school leaders expect the rate of community spread of the virus to be exacerbated during the Christmas break from travel and other kinds of out-of-school holiday contact.

System leaders will evaluate updated Covid data on Dec. 31 to make a final announcement about the phase-in, she said.

THE PLAN

The idea behind the alternating in-person class plan is to lower the number of students in school buildings, Howard said.

Social distancing in crowded school buildings is one issue, she said. As of last week, the system had 770 students out due to quarantine.

"If we don't do this (a phase-in), we will continue to see a large number of students quarantined," Howard said.

She said that elementary schools would return to full in-person classes since the problems there are less dire and because lower-grade students are more compliant with wearing a mask.

But middle school and high school students haven't been as willing to wear masks on a consistent basis, she said.

Howard said she recognized that a mask mandate is a "hot topic," but that given the rate of spread, the community hasn't mitigated the virus very well.

"If we do not require masks of at least all staff and students in our buildings, we're going to jeopardize our ability to stay in-person (classes,)" Howard said.

PARENT PUSHBACK

Several parents commented during the board's virtual meeting that they were concerned about the alternating schedule, saying that their children hadn't done well with remote learning. The impact on students' GPA averages was a major concern.

Howard said she understood the impact of remote learning on families, but that with adults getting sick or under quarantine, it was becoming more difficult to staff in-person learning. 

Howard said parents should continue to work with their children's teachers to address specific problems and that school leaders understand students should not be punished academically over a situation like the virus which they can't control.

She also emphasized the need for middle and high school students to be more compliant with wearing a mask to prevent spreading the virus.


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Arcade city councilman Cox killed in wreck

Shane Cox

Arcade city councilman and fireman Shane Cox was killed in the early morning hours of Dec. 9 in a wreck on Hwy. 129 bypass.

Services were held at Woodbine Cemetery in Jefferson at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 12.

According to the Georgia State Patrol, Cox was killed at around 4:45 a.m. while traveling north on Hwy. 129 and ran into the back of a log truck near the intersection with Galilee Church Rd. The truck had reportedly just turned on the bypass off of Galilee Church Rd.

Cox was driving a 2012 SuperDuty Ford F-150. The log truck was driven by Dwayne Isaac Ballard, 39, of Winder.

"The driver of the tractor-trailer complained of minor injuries, but was not transported from the scene," said a GSP report. No charges are expected to be filed.

According to the Arcade City Council website, Cox and his family had lived in Arcade for over six years. He was the founder and owner of Design Logistics Incorporated, a white-glove furniture installation service that works with prominent interior designers in the design field.

Cox and his wife, Jessica, have two young children. According to his Facebook page, he is a native of Dallas, Ga.

"Shane loves to serve his community whenever possible and he is a strong believer in the principles of good, honest hard work," the website stated.

Cox was also a member of the Arcade Fire Department and a member of the fire district's board, according to AFD chief Parker Griffith. Griffith said he as a caring member of the community.

"Shane Cox is the example that every fire department wants to have as a firefighter," Griffith said. "People become firemen for many reasons, but he did it for the right reason — to help people. He took his own time to spend four weeks away from home to complete the basic firefighting course at the Georgia Public Safety Center in Forsyth, just so he could help people in need. He just loved to help the community in anyway they needed and the fire department was just another way to do so. He was a great attribute to the citizens of the Arcade Fire Department and will be greatly missed by all!"

It is the second tragic loss of an Arcade fireman in the last year. On Dec. 5, 2019, fireman George "Johnny" Childs died from cardiac arrest. He had fought a fire the evening before and his death was reportedly caused by stress and overexertion from the fire. Childs was honored on the National Fallen Firefighter's Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland.


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Group opposed to SJ commercial project

A proposed gas station, store and restaurant in South Jackson is getting pushback from some area residents.

The proposed project is slated to come before the Jackson County Planning Commission Dec. 17.

The commercial project is slated to be located on Hwy. 129 at Brock Rd.

A restaurant project for the property was turned down by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners last year.

South Jackson community activist Babs McDonald has issued a call to area residents to oppose the project. Babs is a leader in the activist group Citizens for South Jackson which has long opposed commercial development in the area.

Babs said in a recent email to area residents that the proposed development lies outside four commercial nodes established by the county along Hwy. 129 in South Jackson during the recent comprehensive plan update.

She also said the project would create dangerous traffic conditions in the area due to the lack of a median cut-through at the location.

"Increased traffic on Lebanon Church, Bellamy, and Brock Roads will destroy the rural feel of that neighborhood and decrease the safety of those rural roads," she said. "This proposed development would set up a situation where commercial traffic must U-turn on Rt. 129 cut-throughs, which is an unsafe option."


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ITC delays ruling on SK suit until Feb.

A decision from the International Trade Commission between SK Battery and competitor LG Chem has again been delayed.

According to the Korean Herald, the ITC rescheduled its ruling until Feb. 10 from Dec. 10. It's the third time a decision has been delayed by the ITC, the first one being in October.

According to the newspaper report, SK viewed the move as being positive for its case.

“As the lawsuit drags on to the next year, it is our hope that both companies make wise decisions to end this dispute as soon as possible to address uncertainties and focus on each other’s businesses,” an SK Innovation official said.

The ITC is reviewing a lawsuit by LG Chem, a rival EV battery-maker, that SK illegally stole trade secrets about manufacturing electric vehicle batteries.

An adverse ruling against SK could affect the company's plans to produce batteries at its $2.6 billion facilities in Commerce.

The delays may be to give the two firms more time to reach a settlement agreement.

But a settlement may not be in the offing, based on recent filings by SK to the ITC. According to BusinessKorea, SK sent a letter in late November to the ITC saying its batteries are needed in the U.S. in part because of electric vehicle fires that had LG batteries in them.

The letter angered LG Chem. The move was nothing but a ploy to get the ITC to again delay its ruling, LG Chem alleged.

"SK Innovation's recent submission of its opinion is intended to postpone the final ruling," LG Energy Solutions said in a statement. "The ITC should not extend the final verdict date that has already been postponed twice."

POLITICAL OVERTONES

The move to delay until Dec. 10 put the ruling past the Nov. 3 elections, and the current delay moves it past the Jan. 20 inauguration of Joe Biden as president.

A number of local and state political leaders have been lobbying the ITC for a ruling that lets SK continue with its operations, arguing that the 2,600 jobs being created by the firm outweigh the allegations of intellectual theft.

But some other political leaders, including former Georgia congressman Lynn Westmoreland, have argued that the ITC should hold SK accountable for its actions.

If the ITC rules against SK and imposes tough sanctions, the issue could end up on the president's desk. Only the president can override an ITC ruling.

In addition to the trade secrets issue, LG Chem also alleges that SK destroyed evidence of its misdeeds by erasing emails after the ITC judge ordered a forensic inspection of SK's computer system.

The ITC has earlier signaled it would side with LG Chem in the suit. That position got a boost in September when the ITC's Office of Unfair Import Investigations submitted a report to the judge backing LG Chem's position.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR COMMERCE

What all this means for Commerce and Jackson County is still unclear, but industry officials believe a ruling against SK could disrupt its plans to produce EV batteries in Commerce.

LG Chem is asking the ITC to sanction SK by not allowing it to import key machinery it would need to manufacture the batteries.

SK batteries are slated to be use in a new SUV by Volkswagen being built in Chattanooga, Tenn. and by Ford in EV F-150 trucks.


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Early voting underway

Balloting in Georgia's two high-profile U.S. Senate races began this week with early voting in Jackson County.

Some 1,202 people voted the first day, said elections director Jennifer Logan.

Early voting is being held at the county's election's office on Gordon Street in Jefferson.

Early voting will be from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays Dec. 14-18; Dec. 21-23; and Dec. 28-31.

Saturday early voting will be held Dec. 19 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

There are three races on the ballot: Incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue faces Democrat Jon Ossoff; incumbent GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler faces Democrat Raphael Warnock; and incumbent Republican PSC member Lauren "Bubba" McDonald faces Democrat Daniel Blackman.

McDonald is a native of Jackson County where he served on the board of commissioners and as a long-time state representative.

Absentee ballots are also available by going to the Georgia Secretary of State website and downloading a request form.

Absentee ballots may be mailed to the county elections office, or put in one of the county's three drop boxes: The county elections office at 441 Gordon St.; Nicholson City Hall; or West Jackson Fire Department.

Election day on Jan. 5 will be held at the county's four voting locations: Central Jackson at Hope Crossing Church in Jefferson; North Jackson at Mt. Olive Church in Commerce; West Jackson at Free Chapel in Braselton; and South Jackson at Southside Church.


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Jefferson school speed cameras to start this week

After a delay of several months due to the Covid virus, operation of speeding cameras around Jefferson City Schools will begin Dec. 16.

According to the Jefferson Police Department, vehicles traveling 11 mph over the speed limit in the school zones will receive a warning citation in the mail.

Starting Feb. 1, citations will carry a fine of $100 to $150.

The Jefferson City Council approved the automated speeding cameras last year following a survey that showed a large number of people were speeding in area school zones.

The move also comes after the Georgia Legislature allowed automated speeding cameras in the state, but only in school zones.

The city and private company installing the speed detection cameras will share in revenue generated by speeding tickets the cameras generate.


David and Shirley White’s house is decorated for Christmas on Waterwheel Dr., Commerce. Submit your Christmas decoration photos to mike@mainstreetnews.com.


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Covid rates set new highs in county

The rate of confirmed Covid cases continues to spiral up in Jackson County with new highs set over the last week.

As of Dec. 14, the county had a two-week case rate of 969 cases per 100,000 people, the second highest rate in Northeast Georgia.

On Dec. 11, the county set a new one-day high with 73 confirmed cases.

The county's positive rate over the last two weeks also remains high at 18.1% of tests proving to be positive, a rate higher than the overall state rate of 12.5%.

Some 54 people have died from the virus since March and another nine people are suspected to have died from the virus. While most have been over the age of 60, the county's youngest reported death so far was of a 33-year-old female of Asian decent, according to state data. She had no known underlying conditions.

A little over 275 people have been hospitalized from the virus since the pandemic began and nearly 4,000 people, 3,912, have tested positive for the virus in Jackson County since March.


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Jefferson firm part of vaccine distribution logistics

A Jefferson company will have a part to play in the upcoming distribution of a vaccine for the Coronavirus.

Foam Fabricators, which has a plant in Jefferson, will be making expanded polystyrene (EPS) shipping containers to transport doses of the virus. The national company also manufactured distribution support in 2009 for a vaccine for the H1N1 virus.

The containers have to keep some of the vaccine as cold as -70 degrees during shipping.

“At Foam Fabricators, we are incredibly proud to play such an important role in the overall vaccine effort,” stated Michael Hays, Vice President of Foam Fabricators. “Our team recognizes the importance of packaging, and we know better than anyone that without the right solutions, the vaccine cannot safely get to where it needs to go. This is a huge project close to the hearts of many, and our decades of accumulated human and capital resources are being put to the test as we rise to the occasion.”

Foam Fabricators is based in Arizona and has 12 plants across the nation.

The firm also has a plan to recycle the containers once the distribution is completed, according to the magazine.


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