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Rockdale to hold in-person graduations, but proms are cancelled
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CONYERS — Graduating seniors in Rockdale County Public Schools will be able to take part in in-person graduation ceremonies, the school system announced Tuesday, but school-sponsored proms will not be held due to the ongoing coronavirus public health crisis.

The graduations will take place at each high school’s stadium on the following schedule:

♦ Salem High School, May 26

♦ Rockdale County High School and Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology, May 27

♦ Heritage High School, May 28

The times for the graduation ceremonies were not announced.

In a message to parents, Superintendent Dr. Terry Oatts said he understood the decisions about prom and graduation ceremonies would not be popular with all parents.

“As superintendent, I make numerous decisions on a daily basis, and I accept and respect that not everyone will agree with all of my decisions,” said Oatts. “That said, I will always make the decisions that I believe are ultimately best for our students.”

Oatts acknowledged that his decision to cancel proms would be an issue for some, but he noted the nature of proms makes it difficult to safely plan and execute this type of event.

“As a former high school principal, I fully understand the priority that our students place on time-honored rituals such as proms and graduation ceremonies,” he said. “After careful consultation with our high school principals and our assistant superintendent for schools, I’ve decided that our singular focus should be on ensuring safe and successful graduation ceremonies at each of our high schools as we conclude the 2020-21 school year. The logistics of attempting to safely host hundreds of seniors and their dates in formal attire within enclosed space for an event that is typically characterized by close congregant gathering, dancing, eating and mingling are simply not feasible.”

Proms were also not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oatts said other options for prom were considered, including outdoor events, however, “the typical hot and humid spring weather, even with tents, would not make for the most comfortable experience involving hundreds of students in formal attire such as tuxedos and gowns.”

Work underway to improve railroad crossing

Work is underway to rehabilitate one of Conyers’ most challenging intersections — the six-way stop at Green and Main streets that also includes a railroad crossing. Crews have been upgrading the railroad crossing for the past week. Charles Stewart, spokesman for Benchmark Traffic Management, said he expected the work to be completed and detours reopened by this weekend. The work includes putting in new rails, ties and asphalt. The project should leave the railroad crossing smoother to cross; unfortunately, it won’t make navigating it any less confusing for drivers.

Covington Conyers Cycling Club donation brings Newton Trails near fund-raising goal
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COVINGTON — Newton Trails is nearing completion of its 2021 fund-raising goal for the Cricket Frog Trail. The organization announced Monday that it had already collected $22,400 toward its annual goal of $25,000.

Members of the Covington Conyers Cycling Club (C4) helped push fundraising closer to the finish line Monday with a donation of $2,500 toward completion of the multi-use Cricket Frog Trail.

Duane Ford, chairman of the Newton Trails board of directors, said priority for the funds will be installation of temporary surfaces to allow trail users to cross over East Bear Creek and West Bear Creek in eastern Newton County. Ford said work will begin first on the East Bear Creek crossing — installing planks and railings — before the organization moves on to the West Bear Creek crossing, which Ford said will require more work.

The Cricket Frog Trail is a 15-mile rail trail running through central Newton County along the rail bed once used by the Central of Georgia Railroad. Approximately 6.5 miles of unpaved trail are open for public use. Several sections of the trail have been paved, including:

♦ Turner Lake Road to Emory Street in Covington

♦ Pace Street to Conyers Street in Covington

♦ Covington Bypass (Hwy 36) to East End Road

♦ East Bear Creek (west of Mansfield) to Ziegler Road (east of Mansfield).

When Newton Trails reaches its goal of $25,000, the board of directors will authorize moving forward with creating a safe crossing over West Bear Creek.

In combination with planned paving by Newton County, completion of the two temporary bridge surfaces will offer the potential of opening an additional 5 miles of continuous paved trail from east of East Bear Creek to the eastern shore of the Alcovy River.

If any funds are left over after the temporary bridge surfaces have been constructed, they will be spent on trail signage, trail maintenance equipment, or amenities such as benches, pet waste stations, trash cans or bike racks, according to Newton Trails.

Ford said work is expected to begin this month on completing a crossing over Dried Indian Creek behind Covington City Hall, which will connect the paved portions of the trail that currently end at Emory Street and Pace Street. Ford also said Newton Trails is continuing negotiations with the railroad for a long-term lease that will allow the trail to extend from east of Mansfield to the Jasper County line.

According to Newton Trails, the Alcovy River Trestle is closed and will remain closed until it can be permanently renovated into a safe pedestrian and cycling bridge. Newton Trails is in the process of finding a company that can provide the engineering and design work needed as a first step in that renovation.

Newton, Rockdale to resume jury trials in April
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COVINGTON — Jury trials will resume in Newton and Rockdale counties after Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton on Tuesday lifted a suspension on trials he had imposed for a second time in December.

Melton’s statewide judicial emergency order, the 12th he has issued since the coronavirus pandemic struck Georgia last March, will allow jury trials to resume immediately if it can be done safely and according to a plan developed with input from local judicial officials.

The state’s courts have remained open since Melton issued his initial judicial order a year ago, but jury trials were suspended due to the number of people required to be present at courthouses.

In Rockdale County, Chief Superior Court Judge Robert Mumford ordered that the blanket suspension of jury trials would be lifted and that jury trials would resume the weeks of April 19 through April 23 and April 26 through April 30. Grand jury proceedings will resume as of April 5.

In addition, Mumford ordered that during trial weeks inmates may be transported from the Rockdale County Jail to the courthouse as needed, but will have their temperatures taken prior to transport, will be required to wear a mask and to follow all social distancing protocols.

In Newton County, District Attorney Randy McGinley said in a Facebook post that jury trials will be scheduled on the following dates:

Week of April 12: Civil jury trials in front of Judge Ken Wynne

Week of April 19: Criminal jury trials in front of Judge Jeffrey Foster.

Week of April 26: Criminal jury trials in front of Judge Wynne.

All defendants on the criminal jury trial calendars will be sent notices to appear for both the weeks of April 19 and April 26. In addition, they will need to appear for a pre-trial status conference on April 7 in front of Judge Foster.

“Over the coming weeks, I will be providing further updates to the public about jury trials to ensure that not just those involved are kept informed, but also the general public,” said McGinley. “The effort to restart jury trials has been and will continue to be a massive effort by the District Attorney’s Offices and the numerous other departments and individuals involved. I am committed to ensuring that they are handled safely for everyone.”

Melton first lifted the suspension of jury trials last October but prohibited them again in December following a spike in COVID-19 cases. Tuesday’s order noted that cases of the virus once again have subsided.

Jury trials are “fundamental to the American justice system,” Melton declared in a public service announcement due to air soon in which he appeals directly to Georgia citizens.

“You and every citizen are critical to this process because we cannot conduct a trial by jury without jurors, without you,” he said. “We have put into place the most rigorous safety protocols available.”

Safety precautions that will accompany jury trials include temperature checks, masks, plexiglas barriers, touch-free evidence technology, constant surface cleaning and the reconfiguration of courtrooms and jury spaces to ensure social distancing.

As with previous judicial emergency orders, Melton urged all courts to use technology to conduct remote judicial proceedings where practicable and lawful as a safer alternative to in-person proceedings.

The new order is set to expire April 8.

Melton is expected to address the judicial system’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in detail when he delivers his final State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the General Assembly March 16. The chief justice announced last month he is leaving the court on July 1.