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Gwinnett schools still on track to do in-person learning when students return to class as neighboring districts switch to online

As many of its neighboring school districts switch to plans to do virtual learning due to COVID-19 concerns when students return to class this week, Gwinnett County Public Schools is moving forward with plans to do in-person instruction, district officials announced on Monday.

Several districts in metro Atlanta have opted for virtual learning as COVID-19 cases spike while the new Omicron variant spreads. On Monday, Forsyth County became the latest district to announce plans for a virtual start to the new semester, coming on the heels of a similar announcement from Atlanta Public Schools on Saturday.

Fulton County Schools, DeKalb County Schools, Rockdale County Schools and Clayton County Public Schools have also announced plans for a virtual start when students return to class this week.

“Gwinnett County Public Schools has been preparing for the return to school,” district officials said in a message to parents and GCPS employees. “Keeping schools safely open for in-person instruction remains our top priority and there is no change to our scheduled reopening for students on Thursday, Jan. 6.

“Based on available staffing information, we are prepared to serve students in person this Thursday and Friday.”

Teachers are set to return back to work on Wednesday while students are expected to return to class on Thursday. The catch is that while they will be in person, they will be doing so with mitigation measures, such as a face mask mandate, in place.

Masks will be required because the Georgia Department of Public Health has classified Gwinnett County as being in the “High” community transmission category for COVID-19. District officials have previously said they would switch face mask policies to a system where the decision on whether mask would be required would be based on community transmission of COVID-19, using DPH’s classification as a benchmark.

“For the rest of the semester, families and staff will be notified via School Messenger each Monday afternoon about mask guidance for the rest of the week,” officials said. “Under the district’s current COVID-19 protocols, community transmission levels must be maintained at the ‘Moderate’ or ‘Low’ level for two consecutive weeks before district mask guidance transitions to ‘Strongly Recommended.’”

GCPS officials are not ruling out the possibility of a switch to a virtual start to the semester, however.

“District leaders will continue to monitor the current COVID situation and its impact on staffing to assess if high levels of unavailable staff might result in operational limitations that would require a move temporarily to a digital instruction model,” officials said.

“If that change is needed, GCPS will communicate that information.”

Last week, district officials said teachers, administrators and students who traveled internationally over the winter break are being warned that they should get tested for COVID-19. They could also possibly have to quarantine depending on whether or not they are vaccinated.

“For unvaccinated travelers, the CDC recommends that unvaccinated international travelers get tested for COVID-19 from three to five days after returning and self-quarantine at home for a full seven days after their return to the U.S.,” district officials said. “Fully vaccinated travelers do not have to quarantine. However, the CDC recommends getting a COVID-19 test from three to five days after travel and self-monitoring for symptoms.

“Individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 within 90 days of traveling do not have to quarantine or test. They should monitor for symptoms for 14 days after travel and isolate and contact a health care provider if symptoms develop.”

The district is also urging employees and students to take precautions to limit their chances of catching or spreading COVID-19, or reducing the severity of symptoms if they get it.

These steps include getting vaccinated, including getting a booster shot, and people staying home when they feel sick or have either been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID or have tested positive themselves.

“Individuals ages 5 and older are eligible to receive COVID vaccinations,” district officials said. “Please check with the Gwinnett Health Department or your health provider to learn more about the vaccination and where you may go to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.”

'Adjusting and adapting' — Amid tough times Food Network star Willie Degel continues to open new restaurants

Although his businesses have not been immune from the ravages of COVID, iconic restauranteur Willie Degel has still continued to grow his brand in metro Atlanta, most notably in Gwinnett County.

Food Safety News reported earlier this year that some 110,000 dining establishments have shuttered in the wake of the pandemic, but the Food Network star has opened three new metro eateries in the last year, including Uncle Jack’s Tavern, which made its debut in late November on South Clayton Street in downtown Lawrenceville.

“It’s been a tough road,” said Degel, who also owns Uncle Jack’s Meat House locations in Duluth and Peachtree Corners and Uncle Jack’s on Canton Street in Roswell. “Staffing is very tough. Finding furniture, equipment and appliances is very tough. In the last six months, a lot of people are gouging and increasing you everywhere they can and using every excuse to try and take as much money from you with this inflation.

“You have to be adjusting and adapting to everything that’s going on. You’ve got to have your boots on the ground and you’ve got to be sharp … I’m paying more for everything.”

Uncle Jack’s Tavern, a spin on the neighborhood tavern, is the largest of Degel’s Georgia bistros, with seating for about 300, including an outdoor beer garden that seats around 125. Degel said that Jack’s Tavern “is all about comfort food,” with a menu that boasts the popular and moderately priced Willie’s Plates, which change daily but often feature ribs, chicken pot pie, meatloaf and fish and chips (paired with suggested libations). There’s also plenty of other epicurean entries, including steaks, salmon and burgers.

“Uncle Jack’s Tavern is a new concept for me,” he said. “When I grew up in Pennsylvania, every summer we would go to this place in the country and it had a big wooden rectangle bar and everybody knew your name. It was something I always wanted to do — it was always a part of my vision.”

While Degel admits he’s like everybody else in his industry in terms of trying to staff his restaurants, the fact remains that his metro Atlanta properties employ close to 250 people, and he hopes to increase that number soon.

“If we were running and open seven days a week in all four locations, (employee numbers) would move up,” he said. “We could push the throttle more and we would go at least past 300 (employees). I take pride in coming to this state and being able to employ so many people.”

Although he said he’s taking a step back from his previous growth mode, Degel said he’s got another restaurant idea he’s itching to launch — Bar Jack.

“I want to do a Bar Jack’s concept,” he said. “I want a concept that is smaller and would work off the Beltline or near the Braves stadium that’s more like a cool dive-bar concept with small plates and fun. I want to have a brand for every style and today the cool dive-bar look and concept … will be cool and fun with great music and energy. I always had a vision of doing a place like that.”

For more information about Uncle Jack’s Tavern in Lawrenceville, visit

Gwinnett County mother charged with second-degree murder for failing to seek medical attention for 1-year-old son found dead on Christmas Day

A mother is facing second degree murder and cruelty to children charges after she allegedly failed to get medical attention for her 1-year-old son, who was found dead on Christmas, Gwinnett County police announced on Monday.

Police responded to an apartment complex at 231 Seasons Parkway in unincorporated Norcross on Christmas Day on a report about a deceased child. While they were there, the child’s mother, Oluwadamilola Imafiabor, 29, told officers that her son had been run over by a truck while he was playing outside on Christmas Eve.

“Initially, she stated the child appeared to be fine after the incident but died later during the night,” police said. “An autopsy was performed on the child, and the injuries appear to be inconsistent with the story provided by Imafiabor.”

Anyone who information about the incident is asked to call detectives at 770-513-5300 or Crime Stoppers, which lets tipsters remain anonymous, at 404-577-8477. They can also visit There is a cash reward offered by Crime Stoppers for information that leads to an arrest and indictment.

Tipsters are asked to reference case No. 21-105681.

Gwinnett Commissioners to vote on redistricting map

The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners approved a proposal for redrawn commission districts — that does not include an expansion of the commission — on Tuesday afternoon.

The maps were drawn up following a series of public input meetings where residents were able to offer their feedback on how the district lines should be redrawn. The lines have to be revisited every 10 years after the census is performed to adjust districts for population changes.

“I think it’s fantastic that we were able to create a map using citizen input that minimizes city splits and all the commissioners are happy with,” District 2 Commissioner Ben Ku said. “And, there will be multiple opportunities for the public to give additional feedback.”

The shapes of the four existing commission districts would be somewhat similar to what they currently are, but some areas would see themselves shifted form one district to another.

Some changes include shifting sections of far northwestern Gwinnett from District 4 Commissioner Marlene Fosque’s district to District 1 Commissioner Kirkland Carden’s district, which already included parts of Sugar Hill.

The southeastern edge of Carden’s district would also be pushed close to the western edge of Lawrenceville’s city limits. At the same time, it would lose a chunk of its southern edge — located between Lilburn, Norcross and Berkeley Lake — to Ku’s district.

District 3 Commissioner Jasper Watkins’ district would lose its far northern part, including Braselton and Interstate 85, to Fosque’s district but take more the area west of Snellville from Ku’s district.

The map largely avoids splitting Gwinnett’s cities between multiple commission districts. The only exception would be Suwanee, which would mostly be in District 1 while parts of its southeastern edge would be in District 4.

If approved by the Georgia General Assembly, the maps would go into effect for this year’s elections, when Ku and Fosque are up for re-election.

The question now will be whether is passes muster with Gwinnett’s legislative delegation.

Gwinnett’s legislative delegations rules stipulate a majority of legislators have to back it, but there have been rumblings that some Republicans and Democrats in the delegation are interested in expanding the commission to six districts.

On Monday, State Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville, said he was not sure if his colleagues still planned to pursue an expansion of the commission.

“We’ll have to see what the county commissioners’ map looks like,” said Park, who is the Gwinnett legislative delegation’s leader. “When all is said and done, we certainly want to respect the proposal from county commissioners and, ultimately, will want to pass maps that are in the best interest of the county.”

Park said legislation to pass districting maps for the commission and the county Board if Education will be filed on the opening day of the 2022 legislative session on Jan. 10. The delegation plans to hold at least two town hall meetings where residents can offer feedback on the proposed maps, but Park said the dates have not yet been set. County officials expect one to take place on Jan. 13 at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, however.