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North: Call on graduations expected by end of April; DCSS considering UWG, on-campus ceremonies
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Douglas County Schools Superintendent Trent North said making everyone 16-and-older eligible for the COVID-19 will have a “positive impact” on the district.

North’s remarks came days after Gov. Brian Kemp opened eligibility for the vaccine to the rest of the population effective March 25. The first vaccine doses were given to health care workers in December.

The school system has offered an in-person learning option since September. School started entirely online last August.

Since schools opened their doors, the district has not had to shut down due the pandemic, which Cobb & Douglas Public Health Director Dr. Janet Memark recently attributed to the precautions local schools are taking — including social distancing and mask wearing — and the quick response by North to any potential problems.

“Having a segment of our 16-year-olds vaccinated is exciting news for our school system,” North said. “This will have a positive impact on our school system’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus.”

In conjunction with CDPH and its school nurses, DCSS vaccinated about 1,200 teachers and staff at the mass site earlier this month. The second dose is scheduled for April 16-17 at the mall.

While North was happy about the addition of some high school-age students being added to the eligibility roles, he was cautious about the overall impact on the system.

“Statistically, we don’t expect it to impact students in grades K-8, because they are not yet eligible for the vaccine,” he said.

No decision has been made on where graduation will be held for the Class of 2021.

DCSS is looking at either holding graduations at the University of West Georgia, where commencement exercises are usually held, or moving them back to each school’s campus.

Last July, at the height of the pandemic, schools held on-campus graduations with a two-guest limit. Douglas County High held its graduation at New Manchester because of renovations to its stadium.

North said a formal decision will be made by April 27.

“We will base our final decision on what we feel will be the safest way for our families to celebrate the milestone while staying in alignment with federal and state guidelines,” North said.

North said details for proms will be left up to each individual school.

Memark said CDPH been increasing staff to accommodate the increased number of residents eligible for the vaccine, with a goal of vaccinating 800-1,000 people each day at the mall site.

Last year, the Douglas County Board of Commissioners gave the CDPH upwards of $1.5 million for COVID-19 related expenses through its CARES Act funding.

“I believe although the vaccine is not mandatory, it is highly recommended by our public health officials to get vaccinated and citizens should,” BOC Chairman Romona Jackson Jones said of the governor’s announcement opening the vaccine up to everyone 16-and-older. “This announcement is a win-win situation for all, especially Douglas County citizens. We must remain cautious as more and more people get vaccinated by continuing to be vigilant in following the guidelines of our health officials. I am hearing of some vaccine hesitancy and I truly want to encourage how critical it is for everyone eligible to get the vaccine, as recommended by our public health officials. The faster we can get everyone vaccinated, the faster we can get back to normal and celebrate a community comeback.”

A study released Monday that was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines reduced the risk of infection by 80% after one shot and 90% after the second dose, according to the Washington Post.

The study included about 4,000 health care workers, police and firefighters and other essential workers and is significant, the CDC said, because it analyzed how well the vaccines worked among a diverse group of front-line workers whose jobs make them more likely to contract the coronavirus.

Rotary's new 'StoryWalk' encourages literacy, physical activity at local parks
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The Rotary Club of Douglas County received a $1,500 grant for a ‘StoryWalk Project.’

The StoryWalk project is taking the pages of a children’s storybook and displaying them along the walking trails of Deer Lick and Hunter Park for families and students to enjoy, while also encouraging early literacy and physical activity.

In July of 2020 the Club was awarded $1,500 from a (Rotary) District 6900 Grant for the project, which was recently installed at the two local parks. A ribbon-cutting with the Douglas County Chamber is scheduled at Hunter Park on March 31, 2021 at 11:30 a.m.

Samantha Rosado, tourism program manager, Douglasville Convention & Visitors Bureau, who is also president of Douglas County Rotary, was contacted by phone and explained what the project is about.

“We’re displaying local author, Kim Eldredge’s children’s story in our StoryWalk,” Rosado said.

Eldredge’s story, “The Sky is the Limit” is on panels that present two pages on each of nine panels in Deer Lick Park and nine more panels in Hunter Park, Rosado explained.

“Part one is at Hunter and Part two is at Deer Lick. They’re around the walking trail at both parks on PVC panels that we installed in the ground, so while a family is walking the trail they’re also reading the story,” she said.

The Cultural Arts Council of Douglasville/Douglas County will also be installing some cut-out structures at the end of the StoryWalk prior to the ribbon-cutting that visitors to the park can use to pose with for photo opportunities, she said.

“Integrating arts and literacy enriches child development and learning. Incorporating this with the parks allows for the citizens to get out and walk the parks, enjoy nature, art, and reading all in one,” said Cultural Arts Council Executive Director Emily Lightner, in an emailed response.

Eldredge, contacted by phone, said she was notified several months ago that her book had been chosen for the project and explained the book’s origins.

“I retired after 31 years of teaching. Following retirement I found I continue to have a desire to affect children’s lives.”

“ ‘The Sky is the Limit’ is a book that seeks to inspire people of all ages to believe in themselves and also to instill a love of learning. Taking inspiration from and dedicating the book to her father, who worked on the Lunar Module Project prior to moving to Georgia,” she said.

Eldredge said she wrote the book in 2017. Her favorite age group is kids in fourth through seventh grades, who can begin to engage concepts in the book.

According to Rosado in some emailed information, research shows that children who are engaged in reading at an early age are more likely to succeed in higher education and have better outcomes in life. Economic factors also play a role in literacy learning, and in areas where there are low-income families, studies show that reading has already become an issue for children entering grade school.

“We believe that providing a fun and active way to read to your child while bringing families together and encouraging physical activity all at once is a win-win for our community, and StoryWalk is the answer,” said Rosado.

Eldredge, who plans to attend the ribbon-cutting, advises visitors to check her website at ickfridbooks.com prior to going to the park.

“The most meaningful thing that parents and teachers can do is to visit my website before taking their students or children to the StoryWalk. The first page of the site has free downloadable conversation starters. The conversations and lessons ‘The Sky is the Limit’ can bring up are many and can get deeper and more meaningful as a child grows. For example, I made the judge in the book be blind so the adults could bring up conversations about how justice is supposed to be blind. And then I make challenges to them about how to advance that concept,” she said.

Rosado said the project is, at this stage, only in the two parks, but could be expanded. And this installation as it exists will remain indefinitely.

“I don’t know if it’s something that we’ll expand or if the parks will expand, but I would love for it to be — I just don’t know in what capacity it will actually do that,” Rosado said.

Villa Rica hires former Douglas employees; Hallman to lead finance, King will head up public works
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Two government positions for Villa Rica were filled by former Douglas County employees during a called meeting of the Villa Rica City Council on Friday. The council met to approve the hiring of a public works director and a city finance director.

The duties of public works have been part of those assigned to other department heads. Previously, the job was being done by Pete Zorbanos, whose title is Director of Utilities. More recently, the job was that of Bobby Elliott, Community Development Director and City Engineer.

On Friday, the council approved hiring Lavon King to fill the public works position. King was formerly manager of maintenance and construction of Douglas County’s Department of Transportation, a position he had held since 2014.

City Manager Tom Barber said Tuesday that the public works director would oversee the city’s streets and sanitation as well as supervise the paving of roads and building sidewalks. That, he said, would free Elliott to concentrate on his primary duties for the city.

The position of city finance director has been open since the promotion earlier this month of the city’s chief financial officer, Sarah Andrews, to assistant city manager.

In her new role, Andrews will retain the CFO title but also supervise finance and accounting, purchasing, customer service, human relations and information technologies.

On Friday, the council approved the hiring of Jennifer Hallman to be the city’s new finance director. She previously held the same title in Douglas County for about 14 years. Her role in the city is expected to allow Andrews to function more fully in her new role.

In recent weeks, city officials have discussed the possibility of new hires within city staff due to “shakeups” in neighboring counties.

During the March 9 council meeting, at which Andrews was appointed to the assistant city manager position, Barber described the move as related to a long-term “succession planning” for city staff.

In previous meetings, both Barber and those on the council have spoken of the loss of “institutional memory” for the city when long-term staffers have left the city for new positions elsewhere, taking with them their on-the-job experience.

This has caused problems ranging from city workers not knowing where pipes run under city streets to city leaders being unsure of the rationale of previous decisions.

Lithia teen accused of making erroneous 9-1-1 calls
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A Lithia Springs teenager is accused of making false 9-1-1 calls over a two-month period.

Dakota Lenz, 17, was arrested on March 24 and charged with eight counts of unlawful conduct during 9-1-1 calls, according to arrest warrants.

Lenz is accused of placing calls to dispatchers as early as Feb. 7 of this year and continuing through March 23, the day before his arrest, court documents show.

The calls happened as late as 1 a.m. and as early as 6:45 a.m. on various days, according to the arrest warrants.

The first call Lenz allegedly placed to a dispatcher came on Feb. 7 at around 1 a.m from his Lithia Springs home.

The warrant stated that Lenz told emergency operators that a “male had entered a neighbors residence” with an AR-15 and was holding a woman at gunpoint.

On March 7, around 8 a.m., Lenz allegedly told emergency operators that he was “16 years old, suicidal with access to a firearm and being abused by family members,” according to a separate warrant.

The third call to emergency operators came at 6:45 a.m. on March 13 when Lenz is accused of calling in false reports for the sheriff’s office to harass his neighbors, a warrant states.

Lenz called the emergency operators on March 14 at 5 a.m. and reported that a neighbor shot a his family member, according to another arrest warrant.

Lenz is accused of speaking with a county communications officer and reported that a neighbor shot “her daughter in the face” and that she was on the porch bleeding, an arrest warrant states.

The alleged false call was placed between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. on March 14 from Lenz’s house, according to arrest documents.

On March 17, Lenz called emergency operators at 2:30 a.m. to report that a 16-year-old male had overdosed at the residence, an arrest warrant states.

Lenz reportedly called an emergency operator on March 18 at 4 a.m. to report that a male had committed suicide inside a neighbors house, and that blood was on the window, according to another arrest arrant.

On March 22 at 8 a.m., Lenz is accused of calling emergency operators to report that a “dark-skinned female” with a firearm ran into a neighbors house, an arrest warrant states.

Lenz is accused of calling emergency operators on March 23 at 8:30 a.m. to report that a dark-skinned male was outside of his house yelling obscenities, according to an arrest warrant.

Lenz is being held on $30,000 bond. He was still behind bars Monday afternoon, according to jail records.