Pandemic-era free meals ending at Pickens Schools

Board of Education, Education
Free meals ending at Pickens Schools

PICKENS COUNTY, Ga. — The Pickens County Board of Education heard from Pickens County School System employees who discussed how the school district is tackling important issues. School Nutrition Director Beth Thompson spoke to the board about how the schools’ are handling shortage and cost-related problems. Notably, Thompson explained the end of automatic free meals, but shared that prices will not increase. Pickens High School Principal Chris Wallace also discussed new plans to improve safety throughout the county.

School Nutrition Director Beth Thompson first discussed the district’s School Wellness Program, noting each school implemented the “wellness policy goals for nutrition education and promotion, physical education, and physical activity goals.”


Nutrition Director Beth Thompson discussed several topics with the board.

Then, explaining how student meals will be handled during the 2022-2023 school year, Thompson told the board: “We are returning to the normal, pre-pandemic national school lunch program, school breakfast program, and this does mean that meals will not automatically be served to kids at no charge.” Despite the return of paid meals, and recent inflation that has caused food costs to increase significantly, Thompson emphasized that the school district will not be raising student meal prices. While each meal costs around four dollars to produce, she said, students will only pay from $2.15 to $2.45, depending on the school they attend. Thompson emphasized the decision to keep prices the same as “the right thing to do.” She also mentioned that families will once again receive applications for free or reduced meal prices and noted a new online application that will be available this year in an attempt to make it more accessible to all families. It was also noted that the end of the pandemic-era free meals was not a local decision, but came from the federal level.

Thompson also recommended the approval of a contract with Sysco Food Services of Atlanta that will help address issues with access to groceries in Gilmer, Fannin, and Pickens County. Later in the meeting, it was unanimously approved by the board.

Pickens High School Principal Chris Wallace also spoke to the board. He took time to explain the safety approach of “prevention, preparedness, and response” and discuss upcoming plans. Wallace told the board, “We’re here for school of course, curriculum, instruction, all of that is really important, but that doesn’t really matter if you can’t keep kids safe.” He said meetings are already being held to discuss safety related topics like communication during emergencies and planning with the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office and School Resource Officers (SROs). Wallace also noted that there is evaluation underway to examine current procedures and improve upon what is lacking. As an example of implementing new safety procedures, Wallace explained a plan for Pickens High School that will stop unsupervised class transitions between buildings. Further, he cited the presence of a trained SRO in each school, helping students create “a habit of vigilance,” and planned training sessions inside Pickens facilities.

Other Business

During the meeting, the board also approved the tentative budget for the fiscal year of 2023, as well as salary schedules. Superintendent Tony Young commented on the salary schedules, saying “This year’s schedules will reflect an increase in pay for all classified staff. Certified staff will receive a $2,000 annual pay increase from the state, which our board will add to at the rate of 10%, which will also become a permanent part of their pay scale moving forward … I would also like to point out that, including the bonuses the board has approved over the last two years, every staff member in this system has received additional pay, which I believe reflects the value this board holds toward its staff.”

The board approved an agreement with Georgia Southern University and updates to sex education curriculum during the meeting. They also recognized the historic achievements of Pickens 4H competitors and heard updates on the county’s summer camp program.

Jasper City Council extends moratorium on residential rezoning

City Council
City Council extends moratorium

PICKENS, Ga. — The Jasper City Council extended their moratorium on residential rezoning Monday evening. The moratorium, which will expire in June of this year, is the city’s latest move to tackle a growing concern over increased development in rural communities. Like many municipalities in the surrounding area, the City Council is already in the process of reviewing and proposing changes to the city’s zoning ordinances.

Resolution No. 2022-02, entitled Extension to Temporary Moratorium, was passed by the council on Feb. 7.  The resolution will extend the temporary moratorium adopted on Aug. 26, 2021 for an additional 90 days.

In part, the resolution reads:

“WHEREAS, The Jasper Water Plant and the Waste Water Treatment Plant are nearing their maximum permitted capacity, and the City Council has approved several extensive developments that will utilize further capacity at said plants;

WHEREAS, the City of Jasper, Georgia is experiencing extremely strong residential growth, and which necessitates review, study, and modification of residential densities and in order to adequately plan for and serve the residents of the City;

WHEREAS, The City Council of the City of Jasper, Georgia, in order to facilitate controlled residential growth within the City and to update the zoning ordinance, adopted on August 26, 2021 a temporary moratorium as to all rezonings, rezoning applications and building permits related to residential rezonings until March 1, 2022 to draft and enact modified residential provisions within the zoning ordinance;

WHEREAS, the complexity of drafting modified residential provisions and the development of a comprehensive plan of regulations necessitates a ninety (90) day extension to the moratorium.”

Speaking on the resolution, City Attorney David Syfan said, “This is just to give the committee additional time to be able to make any informed recommendation to the council for the needed changes.” Syfan also noted that the moratorium and review process should result in amendments to Jasper’s zoning ordinances. The newly extended moratorium will end June 1, 2022.

Other Business

Mayor Steve Lawrence was absent from the Feb. 7 meeting but attended virtually. Mayor Pro Tem Kirk Raffield, who led the meeting in the mayor’s absence, confirmed that Mayor Lawrence had tested positive for COVID-19.

The council also approved a purchase sale agreement between the City of Jasper and Jasper’s Downtown Development Authority. The agreement would transfer Perrow Park back into the city’s ownership. Ownership of the park, as City Manager Sonia Jammes explained, would allow the city “to demolish some of the structures on the property that are unsafe for our citizens.” Jasper’s City Attorney  also noted that the city will be obligated to pay off outstanding loans on the park property. A joint meeting between the city and the Jasper DDA will be held on Feb. 15, 2022 to authorize the purchase sale agreement.

New City of Jasper Fire Department and Certificate of Occupancy fee schedules were also approved by the council.

Pickens Board of Education holds first meeting of 2022

Board of Education
Pickens Board of Education 2022

PICKENS, Ga. — The Pickens County Board of Education held their first meeting of the new year on Jan. 13. During the meeting the board re-elected it’s chair and vice chair, recognized the Pickens High School esports coach, and discussed continuing shortages in the school system. 

At the beginning of the meeting, the board voted to fill the positions of chair and vice chair. Board Chair Sue Finley and Vice Chair Tommy Gartrell were both unanimously selected to serve another year in their respective positions. 

The board also recognized PHS’s esports coach Will Nix. Nix spoke briefly at the meeting, sharing his team’s success: “We have finished fourth this year … four out of 141 schools competing this year. I couldn’t be more proud of my team.” Finley spoke for the board saying, “We appreciate all your efforts. We know that anybody who sponsors a team gives much more than their bonus, but gentlemen you have made us so proud.” 

Chief Operations Officer Stacy Gilleland spoke during the superintendent reports portion of the meeting. He updated the board on the construction of new agricultural facilities and spoke about the shortages the Pickens school system continues to face. “Transportation, of course we’re still struggling daily with just sickness of COVID and other illnesses to cover routes,” Gilleland said. He explained that upcoming training classes will increase the amount of drivers available. Gilleland also noted that Pickens County Schools Nutrition Services also struggles with supply and staff shortages. “We have 32 employees in food service. At one time this week, we had seven out with COVID, five out with other sicknesses. That’s 37.5% of her [School Nutrition Director Beth Thompson] staff,” Gilleland emphasized. 

COVID-19 vaccine moving off-site at some health department locations

Community, News
Labor Day vaccines health departments covid

GAINESVILLE – In anticipation of the upcoming flu season and to prepare for the approval of the COVID-19 booster dose for the general population, District 2 Health Departments will be re-opening some of its off-site COVID-19 mass vaccination sites.

Approval for the booster dose is still pending; however, starting Monday, September 20, Forsyth and Hall County will move to their designated off-site locations to begin administering Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines.  The district will not administer booster doses until approval and guidance is granted by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and FDA.

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) will await recommendations from the CDC and ACIP before releasing a plan to administer booster doses of Pfizer COVID vaccine in Georgia. The FDA’s discussion and review of data about the need for COVID vaccine boosters is a first step in the process; the same questions will be considered by ACIP during meetings currently scheduled for Sept. 22-23. When CDC/ACIP provide recommendations and guidelines for booster shots, DPH has the inventory to quickly ramp up access to Pfizer COVID vaccine statewide.

“We anticipate an increase in traffic in our health departments with the administration of both the COVID booster dose and flu vaccine,” said Dr. Zachary Taylor, District 2 Public Health Director. “By moving our COVID-19 operation off-site, we will alleviate the influx of people inside our waiting rooms.”

Forsyth County Health Department will operate its COVID-19 mass vaccination site at Northside Forsyth Hospital, Suite 360, located at 1200 Northside Forsyth Dr. Cumming, GA 30041.

Hall County will operate its mass vaccine site from the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center, located at 1855 Calvary Church Rd., Gainesville, GA 30507.

The hours of operation for both sites are Monday through Friday 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Appointments are not required. If an individual prefers to schedule an appointment, they may do so using the VRAS scheduling system via the District 2 Public Health website.  Hours of operation and locations may change due to demand. Reference the schedule of locations and hours posted on the public health website to ensure the vaccine site in your county is operational.

For more information on the COVID-19 booster dose visit the CDC website to learn more.

Pickens BOE receives digital learning and COVID-19 updates

Board of Education, Community, News
Elementary school principals speak to BOE about digital learning

PICKENS, Ga. — The Pickens County Board of Education focused on COVID-19 and digital learning updates during their September meeting. Six Pickens County principals and the Director of Health Services gave presentations to the board, bringing them up to date with the district’s current COVID-19 related procedures.  

Digital Learning in Pickens County

Itslearning, an online education service, has been used in Pickens to assist with digital learning since the beginning of the pandemic. Now that most students are back in school, teachers and administrators have faced new challenges with online learning. However, school faculty members are tackling the task head on. 

Jennifer Halko, principal of Hill City Elementary, began by emphasizing their success with itslearning to the board. “I think we are really on the right track with it now,” she noted, “it is just part of our daily use in the classroom.” Halko went on to detail the three scenarios in which itslearning is utilized in the elementary schools: in-person classes, small quarantines and full school closures. Use during completely in-person classes helps the students get accustomed to the program. This often daily practice prepares students for use at home, ensuring they can properly navigate the service. “In that situation, the students are very familiar with itslearning. They have been using it everyday, all year,” Halko ensured the board. She also addressed possible concerns with teacher support, bringing up communication options and live video meets supported through the service. 

Board members also raised concern about student accountability and participation while using itslearning. The principals addressed these questions, noting that the program automatically logs the amount of time a student spends actively working. Halko clarified, “We send out those expectations beforehand … we are monitoring their progress toward the standards.” Marla Callahan, principal of Harmony Elementary, also pointed out that students have an opportunity to complete their online work when they return to school. 

During his presentation Dr. Chad Flatt, the Pickens Junior High principal, explained how PJHS uses itslearning and reiterated its importance. He told the board, “You have to have something, ‘cause we can’t operate anymore without that sort of necessity.” Principal Chris Wallace of Pickens High School also addressed the BOE. He emphasized teacher feedback during his presentation, sharing the teachers’ opinions of the service. Wallace ended the superintendent report on digital learning by thanking the board for providing itslearning to the schools.

COVID-19 Status Report

District Health Director Gail Smith also addressed the Board of Education during the September meeting. She began her COVID-19 status report saying, “We’ve been in this school year now well over a month, and so it’s time to reevaluate our Covid practices and see if we need to adjust anything.” She pointed out the recent quadrupling of COVID-19 cases among children across the state of Georgia. She then shared that from July 26 through Sept. 2 a total of 1646 individuals in the district either tested positive, were exposed, or were suspected of being COVID-19 positive. Out of the 1646 cases, 316 were confirmed positive through rapid, PCR, or at-home tests.

She then stressed the effectiveness of the district’s mitigation strategies. Out of the 316 confirmed cases, only 57 were determined to be school transmissions. Smith explained, “If we, as a school district, were not doing contact tracing and quarantine, [those confirmed cases] would have been spreading that virus.” Citing the increased infectiousness of the Delta Variant, she told the board those 57 individuals would have infected an additional 342 people at minimum. “We’re saving lives,” Smith said. 

Smith then brought up the “attack rate”, or the severity threshold, of COVID-19. She explained that when 3% of a given population tests positive for the flu, mitigation strategies need to be put in place. Comparing the flu to COVID-19, she noted that all Pickens County elementary schools are below the 3% threshold. Smith specifically pointed out Tate Elementary’s 0.61% attack rate. She then noted that during the 2021-2022 school year only two students and one staff member have been hospitalized, and there are no recorded deaths. 

At the end of her presentation, Smith highlighted again the importance of community action—vaccinations, masks and mitigation strategies. She concluded the meeting by turning to the community. Smith urged, “If there are any parents listening: the biggest thing we can do to reduce the numbers at these campuses is for the children 12 and up to be vaccinated.”

Ask The Doc! Breast Implant Lymphoma and Throat Cancer

ask the doc

This morning, the doctors discuss Breast Implant Lymphoma. How common is it? Did the Surgeon make a mistake? The Doctors also touch on Throat Cancer of the Epiglottis. Is the treatment plan correct? The doctors also discuss Covid-19 and the vaccine. What’s True And What’s False? Which of the Vaccines is the most effective?

Kemp Expands COVID-19 Vaccine Access

News, Politics, Press Release, State & National
Vaccine District 2

ATLANTA, Ga. – After weeks of mounting pressure from teachers and other groups, Governor Brian Kemp announced plans to expand Georgia’s access to COVID-19 vaccines.

In a press conference earlier this week at the Capitol, Kemp said that this was one step closer to getting kids back in the classroom.

“Moving forward, we cannot delay full in-person learning any longer,” said Kemp. “Georgians deserve to return to normal as soon as possible, and that will not happen without school doors open to instruction each and every day.”

Brian Kemp

Gov. Brian Kemp

The Governor’s larger goal is to provide vaccine access to teachers and relieve the tension many Georgia parents feel as they try to navigate virtual learning sites while trying to juggle work life. The pandemic has been especially hard for single-parent households.

“I cannot say thank you enough to our school staff who have persevered through these truly unprecedented times,” said Kemp to reporter on Thursday. “We cannot delay full in-person learning any further. Our children can’t wait until fall. The costs are simply too high.”

Since the school year began, school systems have struggled with implementing a virtual learning system while trying ease concerns for teacher that hesitated to go back in the classroom without a vaccine. Consequently, this lead many teachers to seek out desperate measures, so much so that Georgia’s Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey pleaded to teachers not to cross state lines to get a vaccine.

Thursday’s press conference didn’t stop Kemp from giving access to just educators and school facilities. Starting March 8, parents with intellectual and developmental disabled children or adults with said conditions and their caregivers will now access these vaccines. This new expanded phase will bring the total number of eligible individuals to 3 million Georgians.

So far, healthcare workers have given over 2 million doses, with 751,000 people fully vaccinated across the state.

For more information, visit

Ask The Doc! Types Of Breast Cancer And The Flu Season

ask the doc

This week, the doctors discuss the different types of breast cancer. They also touch on a question from a viewer regarding the treatment of their husband’s heart tumors. Is he getting the right treatment? What happened to Flu Season? What’s the latest on Covid-19? All this and more on Ask The Doc!

Ask The Doc: Long Term Effects of Surviving Cancer

Just For Fun, Lifestyle
ask the doc, Surface time

This week, Dr. Whaley and Dr. Raymond Tidman discuss some questions sent in by viewers. They touch on the long term effects of Cancer and some possible complications of surviving cancer. They also discuss how to know when you’re cured of cancer. Is there anyway to prevent future complications for cancer survivors? The doctors also discuss the current numbers of cancer survivors compared to in the past.

Ask The Doc! Gastric Bypass Complications And Sarcomas

Ask The Doc! Recovery Process Of Covid-19

This morning, the Doctors discuss Gastric Bypass Surgery and its complications. When is this surgery needed? What are its complications? They also answer a question regarding a Sarcoma. Dr. Whaley discusses why you shouldn’t google medical information. They also discuss the latest vaccine news. Who should be receiving the vaccine?

Ask the Doc! Cologuards and the Lance Armstrong Shot

ask the doc

Dr. William Whaley has returned for the new year and is ready to answer your questions about colonoscopies vs the Cologuard test and the other about Myelodysplasia and the Lance Armstrong shot.


Dragon's Corner, News

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE    December 16, 2020

Jasper, Georgia – The district is providing additional information regarding our COVID-19 numbers within the system
along with details about meals and information from schools.
• Pickens County School District has seen a spike in cases within the school district. There are currently
(2:45 p.m. on 12/16/20):
o 451 individuals in quarantine or isolation
o 30 individuals who are positive for COVID-19
o 25 individuals who are awaiting test results
• Of the 451 individuals, 37 are employees and approximately 32 of those individuals would require a
substitute. It would be extremely difficult to adequately cover these positions. The numbers reported
above represent cases related to COVID-19 and do not include those who might be absent for other
reasons. The total number in quarantine/isolation represents close to 10% of our school district
• Pickens County School District is the largest employer in our area. Seeing first-hand the sudden spike
in numbers of positive cases within the system, we believe that remaining open would continue to
increase the burden on our local healthcare providers.
Here is a comparison from yesterday morning to this afternoon:

Date Positive Cases Total Q/I Total Employees out
7:30 AM
12/15 13 270 17
2:45 PM
12/16 30 451 37

• Christmas is important to our school staff and students. All elementary schools along with Jasper
Middle School will host their classroom Christmas parties on Friday, January 8th. If your child did
not bring their gifts, ornaments, etc. home with them yesterday, teachers will be reaching out
between now and Friday. If you have questions, you may call your child’s school.
• Meals for students: Bus Routes (see attached schedule) and curbside service (11:00 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.)
at all schools will be available on Thursday ONLY. Students will receive meals for Thursday and
• If you have any questions, please reach out to your school administrator or the district office.

Lunch Buses
Bus S76: Mountainside Manor Apartments (264 Bill Hasty Blvd, Jasper GA) (Load lunches @HES)
Bus S56: Foothills IGA Market (70 Foothills Pkwy, Marble Hill GA) (Load lunches @TES)
Bus S77: Hinton Milling (9272 GA-53, Jasper GA) (Load lunches @HCE)
Bus S57: Old Twin Tanks (Henderson Mountain Rd @ Hwy 53 W.) (Load lunches @JMS)
Bus S58: North Ave @ Pickens St. (11:15) (Load lunches @PHS)

Mount Calvary Apartments (11:25-11:35)
Cherokee Trail @ Cherokee Wood Hollow Drive (11:50 – 12:00)
Lawsons Landing-Bridle Path Drive @ Brigadier Ct. (12:05 – 12:15)
Eagles Nest-Eagles Perch Rd. @ Eagles Nest Trail (12:20 – 12:30)
Bus S59: Mineral Springs Rd. N. @ Diane St. (11:10) (Load lunches @PJHS)

Bethany Rd. @ Danburg Ct. (11:25)
Bethany Rd. @ Moorings Run (11:35)
Mountain Lake Dr. @ Ridge Dr. (11:55)
Ridge Dr. @ Ridge Crest (12:05)
Henderson Woods Dr. @ S. Woods Court (12:15)
Bus S 47: Twin Mountain Lakes (11:15-11:30) (Load lunches @JMS)
Hood Rd. @ Hannah Ridge Apartments (11:35-11:40)
Gennett Dr. @ Hood Park Dr. (11:45-11:50)
Birch St. @ small complex just past Woodbridge Inn (11:55-12:00)
Forest Glen Apartments (12:05-12:10)
Library Lane (12:15-12:30)

Bus S46: Hobson Road (from Philadelphia to Whispering Waters) (11:15-11:30) (Load lunches @HCES)

Whitetail Dr. @ Little Doe (11:35-11:40)
Daisy Lane @ Hobson Dr. (11:45-11:50)
Mill Creek Dr. @ Mill Creek Pond (11:55-12:00)
Whispering Waters Dr. @ Whispering Pebble Trail (12:05-12:10)
Lance Rd to Mountain Laurel Dr. (12:15-12:25)
Jones Rd. to Hidden Creek Rd. (12:25-12:30)

UPDATE: Pickens Schools closed beginning Monday

Community, News

Pickens County Schools announced they will close all schools starting Monday, Oct. 26 through Nov. 6. Traditional students will transition to distance learning on Monday.

The decision comes after the district had 27 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 584 students, teachers, and staff in quarantined.

According to a press release from the system, the buildings will be deep cleaned during the closure as well as all buses.

“We are making this decision with a heavy heart but with the best interest of everyone in mind,” said Destini Shope, Director of Community Engagement and Public Relations.

The decision was based on recommendations from the Department of Public Health.

Staff members are encouraged to avoid entering the buildings unless absolutely necessary and should contact the building administrator.

Tate, Hill City, and PJHS will continue to serve as polling locations on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. Those locations will be cleaned before and after Election Day.

Continue to check back for updates.


Ask The Doc! Fighting Off Covid-19

Community, Lifestyle
Ask The Doc! Recovery Process Of Covid-19

This morning, The doctors address a comment left on one of the Ask The Doc Segments. What drugs are good for fighting off Covid-19 or do we just wait on a vaccine? The Doctors also address the President and first lady testing positive for Covid-19. What do the Doctors have to say about testing positive with no symptoms? When could he have contracted the virus? How long has he had it? All this and more on Ask The Doc!

The Pickens County Community Thrift store has closed due to possible coronavirus exposure

Community, News

The Pickens County Community Thrift has closed due to possible Coronavirus exposure.  It must remain closed until at least October 6th.  The store will be unable to make collections and will not be accepting donations.

Since the Thrift Store has no storage area, donors are asked to hold any donations until the store reopens and can process them. Once again, the Community Thrift store hopes to open on October 6th.

Do not call and leave a message as the call center cannot be monitored.  The volunteers at the Thrift Store thank you for understanding and look forward to seeing you when the store re-opens.

Thrift Store Closes


Contact:  Dan Huth

(770) 894-4589 voice or text

[email protected]



Ask The Doc! College And Covid-19

Ask The Doc! Recovery Process Of Covid-19

This morning, the doctors discuss how colleges are dealing with Covid-19. When a Student tests positive, the colleges continue classes and give the infected student their own quarantined dorm. Is this the approach we should be taking with everything? Should we worry over the numbers? Hear Doctor Whaley and Doctor Tidman’s point of view on this right here on Ask the Doc!

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