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After discussions, ACS to drop mask requirement after school year

The decision was delayed by a few days, but a determination has been made on mask-wearing in Athens City Schools.

The mask requirement for students and employees at ACS will remain in place for the rest of this school year, but then masks will become recommended but not required.

ACS Director Robert Greene suggested that to the board during a special called meeting Thursday and it was unanimously accepted.

According to Greene’s suggestion, masks will remain required for the rest of this school year, but then will become recommended but not required beginning with the system’s summer program. No determination has been made yet on COVID-19 precautions for the new school year in the fall.

The decision was originally going to be made during Monday’s regular meeting and board members had previously discussed continuing to require masks for employees and 3rd through 8th graders through the summer program and then decide later about what to do in the fall.

However, the decision was tabled Monday after a pair of residents requested that the board members scale back on precautions.

After a lengthy discussion that ranged from mask-wearing to consideration of allowing parents to attend school functions, the board members decided to delay their decision and schedule Thursday’s meeting after they had some time to consider what was brought up.

When Thursday’s meeting began, Greene suggested altering the planned decision on masks.

“I’d like to recommend we finish the school year with the mask mandate, but starting with summer school we make mask-wearing optional,” Greene said, adding that masks will continue to be required for “anything that takes place in the schools.”

That was reworded slightly after Greene agreed with a suggestion by Board Member Dr. Amy Sullins.

“Should we say masks are recommended, but not required? I would feel comfortable with that wording,” she said.

Board Member Chris Adams added that he likes keeping the door open to possibly amending that decision in the future “if something happens either way, it gives us leeway.”

Board Attorney Bridget Willhite also recommended adding some language to the eventual motion, noting that the policy should be “subject to any recommendation from our pediatric task force, from the State of Tennessee health department and the CDC.”

“We would consider those, but we don’t have to do it,” Greene added.

He said this change in policy will line ACS up with other systems in the area.

“I surveyed all the systems in southeast Tennessee and, to my knowledge, every one of them either has no mask mandate or it’s optional,” Greene said.

As for the fall, he noted that recommendations from governmental agencies are changing too much too quickly to decide anything now.

“We’re going to be, I think, late in the summer before we try to nail something down (for the fall),” he said. “It could be a lot better or it could be a lot worse by then, who knows.”

McMinn Central High School graduates toss their caps in the air after Friday night’s graduation ceremony. A total of 173 students moved on to the next chapter of their lives after that.

There were hugs and smiles aplenty following Saturday morning’s graduation ceremony for the McMinn County High School Class of 2021.

McMinn Central speakers give words of encouragement during graduation

A message of overcoming the odds was given to graduates of McMinn Central High School Friday night.

The Class of 2021 included 173 graduating students as graduation ceremonies returned closer to normal after last year’s COVID-19 disruption.

Three students took to the stage to give their valedictory addresses — Madison Hensley, followed by Joshua Loveday and then Emily Partin.

Hensley spoke to her fellow graduates about fighting the odds and coming out on top.

“As most of you already know I am a cancer surviver. I’ve never liked to talk about it, but if I didn’t today I wouldn’t be able to be valedictorian,” Hensley said. “The doctors told my family that I would never be able to learn like a normal kid and that I would have to have a tutor for the rest of my life, however God had a plan for me and He gave me the ability to come out on the very top ... You can accomplish much more than you ever thought yourself capable.”

Loveday then spoke about the importance of mental and emotional health.

“You may feel like the walls are closing in around you, but you are not alone,” Loveday said. “Whether you are suffering from depression, anxiety or any other mental disorders I want you to know that joy is out there for you. A joy so fierce and powerful that everyone around you can feel and see it.”

He shared his story of how he started to “free fall inside” starting in his 7th and 8th grade years of school.

“I kept a normal face to the outside world. No one knew what was going on inside my head because I feared what the world would think about me,” Loveday said. “God gave me a great group of friends and a support system. These friends gave me the courage and strength to not go through my battle alone. Because of Jesus Christ and my friends and my family, I was able to receive a joy that I could not even describe. I say this because I know there are some people here tonight that are in desperate need of hearing this, so if you are one of these people know that I am here for you. If you do not feel comfortable talking to someone about your feelings you can talk to me. It is OK to ask for help and guidance.”

Partin followed them, describing the joy and uncertainty of life after graduating high school.

“Not even two weeks ago we had to ask for permission to go to the bathroom, yet nearly everyone expects us to know exactly what we are doing post high school,” Partin said. “Whatever path you choose we wouldn’t have made it to this point without teachers throughout the years ... In short, four years ago we walked into Central High School as freshmen and today our journey is complete. We may be done with high school but this is only the beginning for us, the class of 2021.”

McMinn County honors a 'unique' graduating class

McMinn County High School’s Class of 2021 withstood pandemic precautions to reach the pinnacle over the weekend.

McMinn’s graduating seniors were able to celebrate with their friends and family during the school’s 118th commencement on Saturday at Cherokee Stadium. They are perhaps one of the school’s most unique graduating classes after spending their entire senior year dealing with the challenge of COVID-19.

Senior Class Chaplain Grace McDonald, one of McMinn County High School’s eight valedictorians, began the ceremony with a moment of reflection.

“Dear Lord, I thank You so much for this day and for all of the graduates sitting in front of me,” she said in prayer. “We’re so grateful that through the inconsistency and craziness of the past year, You’ve remained constant.”

Assistant Principal Marla Cobb shared some words of encouragement with the senior class.

“As I look into your faces, I know the stories of triumphs over challenges, your victories over your defeats, your happiness over your sadness, your strength over your weakness and the greatness that rests within and in front of each one of you,” she said. “Here we are at your graduation — an accomplishment that no one can take away from you. … I want you to remember this time, especially when life picks up and challenges feel like they’re going to knock you off your feet.”

Assistant Principal Ashton Innis introduced the group of valedictorians, who, along with McDonald, included Marina Ajinov, Emma Brown, Isabella Coleman, Anna Cunningham, Gabriel Kovach, Makayla Millsaps and Diana White. Each valedictorian achieved a 4.35 grade point average.

“These eight valedictorians have earned this title by choosing the maximum rigor available at McMinn County High School and maintaining all As,” said Innis.

Principal Joe Young presented the senior class for graduation.

“As you reflect on your time here at McMinn County, I hope that you remember all the experiences that you had — the good and the bad, the laughter and the tears, the wins and the losses, the love found and then lost, and some of you found love again,” he said. “Remember remote learning, masks, blue dots, hats and hoodies, temp checks; remember hand sanitizer. It’s important to remember the good and the bad for it’s the culmination of all your experiences that help to define who you are.”

Director of Schools Lee Parkison accepted the senior class for graduation.

“I am so glad that you are here live and in person and we are not virtual,” he said. “These seniors have fought through a senior year that none of us could have imagined a year ago. The Class of 2021 will be remembered as unique and one of a kind. They have endured one of the toughest times in our nation’s history. Thank you seniors for your perseverance, your determination, your stamina to overcome the challenges put before you the last 13 years, and especially your senior year.”

Young read aloud the names of each graduate as they walked across the stage to receive their diploma from Parkison. Following the presentation of diplomas, the senior class officers were joined by the Cherokee Singers to lead the crowd in the school alma mater. The graduates then turned their tassels and threw their mortarboards skyward in celebration as their friends and families joined them on the field.

Assault on wife, officers ends with local man in jail

Alleged assault on his wife and then on responding officers sent a man to jail last week.

On May 10 at almost 5:30 a.m., Athens Police Department Officer Shaun Thompson responded to the I-75 Campground in reference to a man — identified as Jeremy Ray Jack, 29, of Athens — allegedly “beating his wife and threatening his children.”

Upon his arrival, Thompson said he knocked on the door and Jack gave an expletive-laden response for him to enter.

Thompson did so, finding Jack in front of the doorway “very irate and yelling.” That led Thompson to put Jack in handcuffs, but the suspect reportedly “remained irate and continued to yell and cuss at me.”

Thompson began taking Jack to his patrol car, but the suspect allegedly “kept tensing up and refusing to walk” until he reportedly turned and “spit in my face” and told Thompson that “it was going to take more than just me to get him in the back of the vehicle.”

It was then that APD Corporal Casey Patterson and Officer Robert Moses arrived and Moses began assisting Thompson. That led to him allegedly being spat on by Jack, with the suspect then reportedly beginning to kick the officers.

All three officers eventually took part in trying to get Jack inside the car as the suspect continued allegedly kicking and spitting on them. After a spray to the face by the officers, they were able to get Jack situated in the vehicle, but he reportedly “laid in the back seat and began kicking the driver side back window” to the point that the glass flexed and the door almost opened.

After another blast of spray to Jack’s face, both Thompson and Moses transported him to the McMinn County Justice Center where Jack again reportedly started kicking the driver side back door window, allegedly causing more than $1,000 damage to the car.

As Jack was being booked in, Patterson remained on site to speak with the alleged victim. She reportedly said he had been in a bad mood recently and had “been drinking all day and had drunk at least four Hurricane 40s as well as a bottle of Listerine.”

He had allegedly been yelling at people in the campground earlier in the day, but she was reportedly able to calm him enough to start watching a movie.

However, a comment during the movie allegedly made him upset and he “struck her in the face and arm with his fist, knocking her lip ring out.”

When she attempted to call someone on the phone, she claimed he told her that “if she called anyone, he would kill her and all of their kids.”

That’s when she moved the children to their room as Jack allegedly “began to throw beer bottles at the walls and floor.”

Patterson noted that all the children were under the age of 10 and “were still scared to the point that they would not come out of the room.”

As a result of the incident, Jack was charged with resisting arrest, assault by domestic violence, false imprisonment, vandalism over $1,000, three counts of assault against a first responder and four counts of assault by domestic violence (intimidation).