The Collins Hill High School community is in mourning after the death of popular language arts teacher Jason Appling, who was a former Collins Hill teacher of the year.
These are the top stories from the past week.
Collins Hill High School community grappling with death of popular teacher
The Collins Hill High School community is in mourning this week after language arts teacher Jason Appling, who was a former Collins Hill teacher of the year, died over the weekend.
Collins Hill Principal Kerensa Wing informed the school community of Appling’s death in a letter sent out to parents on Sunday. Appling’s cause of death was not disclosed in the letter.
“It is with a heavy heart that I share some very sad news with you,” Wing said in the letter. “Our school community was saddened to learn of the unexpected passing of Mr. Jason Appling over the weekend. Mr. Appling was a long-time, beloved language arts educator at our school.
“He was a caring teacher who cared deeply about the success and well-being of his students and I know that we all will miss him very much.”
Appling was Collins Hill’s teacher of the year in 2017 and had been an educator for more than 20 years. Prior to working at the school, he taught at Riverdale High School in Clayton County, according to an announcement from the Riverdale High School Alumni Association.
The educator’s Facebook page listed him as a graduate of Central Gwinnett High School and showed he was a fan of rock music — there is a picture of him with Ozzy Osborne on his social media page — as well as a husband.
Wing urged Collins Hill parents to be aware of his Appling’s death may affect students at the school, explaining that it can be difficult for teenagers to deal with death. The principal also told parents that counselors will visit Appling’s classes to talk with his students.
“Losing a teacher, friend, and member of our school family is hard, especially when it happens suddenly,” Wing said.
Parents of Collins Hill students who are upset over Appling’s death are being warned to expect their children to exhibit mood swings. The parents are urged to accept those mood swings and to provide support for their children as well as an environment where they can share their feelings.
The parents are encouraged to answer their kids questions honestly and with factual information.
They are being told to let their kids decide how and from whom they receive support as they process their grief. Parents are being told to encourage their teens to not only participate in school-based education support groups, but also use physical outlets to release their grief.
Collins Hill officials are also urging families to be prepared if their children begin exhibiting physical symptoms of grief, such as illness, body aches and pains. Families are also encouraged to give their kids some flexibility in completing school work as they handle their feelings.
“Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes and our students may need additional support,” Wing said in her letter to families. “The information provided ... is designed to equip families with a basic understanding of how to effectively yet sensitively support kids when a death occurs.”
Gwinnett BOC approves raises for county employees; 4% for many workers, 8% for public safety personnel
Christmas came early for full-time Gwinnett County employees on Tuesday.
County commissioners unanimously approved raises for employees, with the new salaries taking effect immediately. Many employees will see their salaries increase by 4%, but public safety personnel are getting an 8% raise.
The raises are expected to have a $5.8 million impact to the county’s budget.
“We’re a growing county and we want to continue to be the best and represent that standard, that gold standard, of delivering high quality services and we need a workforce to do just that,” Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said.
The raises affect much of the county’s workforce, with the exception of part-time employees who are not eligible to get a pay increase.
The public safety personnel who are getting the larger raises include police officers, firefighters and paramedics, sheriff’s deputies, corrections officers and E911 employees.
“In keeping with the Gwinnett Standard, employees have consistently stayed ahead of the curve with excellent performance on the job,” County Administrator Glenn Stephens said in a statement. “This increase solidifies our commitment to showing them how much we value their contributions.”
The raises were presented to commissioners as a way to keep the salaries offered by Gwinnett County competitive with neighboring government agencies as well as the private sector.
“We have to be able to stay competitive in a market where we are competing with the private sector and so adjusting the pay rates (not only shows) our appreciation for our current workforce, but (enables the county to continue) to recruit and retain the workforce that we have and possibly continue to grow and expand,” Hendrickson said.
The chairwoman said the county was able to afford the raises since revenues were higher than expected and the pandemic caused some expenses to be lower than anticipated as some offices had to close.
“Our funding is coming from our general fund,” Hendrickson said. “We looked at where we are in our budget process and saw that there was a need and a way to fund the positions that we’re requesting and increasing that pay rate, and we’re in a good position financially to be able to provide those increases.”
Buford mourning loss of wrestler Aaron Kirkland after fatal car accident
Buford High School and its wrestling program are mourning the loss of junior Aaron Kirkland, who died in a car accident Monday.
Kirkland was an honorable mention all-county selection last season as a sophomore after helping the Wolves win the Class AAAAAA Traditional and Duals state championships. He was fourth in the state at 195 pounds in the traditional state meet, and won the Region 8-AAAAAA title. He also won his match in the state duals finals against Creekview.
“Aaron was a great kid and a great teammate,” Buford wrestling coach Tom Beuglas said. “He started wrestling in ninth grade. He finished fourth in the state for us last season as a sophomore at 195 pounds. He was one of the hardest workers on our team and was really looking forward to this season. He was one of the most likable kids in our program and comes from a great family. Our program is devastated right now.”
Gwinnett's nearly 2,000-acre Rowen development is attracting interest from companies
Gwinnett County’s massive Rowen knowledge community is still on the drawing board, but it’s already prompting interest from companies that want to be a part of it.
The nearly 2,000-acre research-oriented mixed-use development was announce just over a year ago. The project, which has drawn comparisons to North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, is expected to generate 100,000 jobs.
Partnership Gwinnett Vice-President of Economic Development said the project, which will be in eastern Gwinnett between Dacula and the Gwinnett-Barrow county line, is already attracting attention.
“We already have companies that have frankly already been asking and we’re already filling out RFPs, RFIs in regards to submissions with companies to that particular site,” Carnes said.
The development, which will include housing and commercial options to support the research-oriented uses and jobs, is expected to focus on research in the areas of agriculture, the environment and medicine.
Gwinnett County Director of Economic Development Roman Dakare the research done at the site, which will have the benefit of being done at a location about halfway between research universities in Athens and Atlanta, will have a far-reaching impact.
“Multiple scientific disciplines are coming together to create that community that will not only affect Gwinnett County fiscally and economically, but also the research and innovations that come from that site in their respective disciplines,” he said.
Dakare said the first step toward companies beginning to build on the property has already been taken as the county’s Board of Commissioners has OK’d an expansion of sewer lines to the property. It’s something that Dakare describes as being the “first domino” to fall.
Work on the sewer lines is expected to begin next year.
“With that expected to be completed by 2024, we expect developments to begin happening as soon as the sewer services that allow development of our research facilities and commercial buildings happens,” he said.
Carnes concurred that extending the sewage lines to the property — which is mostly land that has never been developed — is crucial to getting the project started. After that, it is expected to take decades to build out with facilities for research as well as housing options for people working at Rowen and commercial options for them to do their shopping at.
“Obviously one of the big things is we’ve got to get sewer there, we need the infrastructure there first and foremost,” Carnes said. “But, these companies understand it and it’s going to become a knowledge community.
“I mean, think of Research Triangle Park, or RTP. Think of a more modern-day RTP.”
Gwinnett to join Hefty Energy Bag program for hard-to-recycle items
Gwinnett County is joining a program that will give residents a way to get rid of hard-to-recycle plastic items.
The county announced on Friday that it will begin participating in the Hefty EnergyBag program starting Oct. 15. The program will give residents an opportunity to set aside items such as plastic dinnerware, foam products, plastic bags and plastic packaging and wraps in what county officials are calling a “sustainable way.”
“The Hefty® EnergyBag program takes an important step toward a more circular plastics economy and a more sustainable future,” Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Executive Director Schelly Marlatt said. “We’re grateful for this chance to reduce the amount of plastics and foam products in our landfills, giving them a new life as they are repurposed into energy resources and other materials.”
Although the county announced it will participate in the program, disposing of items in the EnergyBags will not be as simple as just putting the bags out with other trash at the curb. Residents will have to take an extra step if they want to use the bags by taking them to WestRock, which is located at 384 Maltbie St. in Lawrenceville between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays.
WestRock will only accept the Hefty EnergyBags, and not regular trash bags.
The EnergyBags are identifiable by their orange color. They can be purchased at Kroger stores or on Hefty’s website. Items placed in the bags must have been cleaned and dried beforehand so there is no food particles or liquids on the items when they are dropped off, according to county officials.
Some of the items include: see-through chip bags; snack food bags; plastic pet food bags; salad bags; cheese stick packages; pudding cups; yogurt tubs; butter or margarine tubs; sour cream tubs; plastic air pillow packs; bubble wrap; plastic grocery bags; foam cups, plates, bowls, to-go boxes and egg cartons; and plastic dinnerware, such as utensils, cups and plates.
Other items — such as water and soda bottles, milk jugs, juice containers, shampoo bottles and detergent holders — should continue to be put out with curbside trash and recycling and not included in the Hefty EnergyBags, according to county officials.
“The program helps to divert hard-to-recycle plastics from landfills, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, increase efficiency at recycling facilities and improve the quality of other recycled materials,” county officials said in a statement.
Gwinnett police looking for suspect in three armed robberies
Gwinnett County police are looking for a suspect in a series of armed robberies that took place between June and September.
There are three robbery cases linked to the suspect. The earliest robbery was on June 14 and the most recent was on Sept. 25, police said. The locations of the robberies were not released by police.
“All victims say the white male entered the store, lifted his shirt and displayed a black handgun in his waistband while demanding money,” Police Officer Senior Hideshi Valle said. “The male left with over 750 dollars total for all three locations.”
The victims told police the man suspected of committing the robberies was White, bald, had a slim build, weighed between 160 and 200 pounds and was between 5-feet, 9-inches and 5-feet, 10-inches tall.
Anyone who has information about the robberies or the suspect’s identity or location is asked to call detectives at 770-513-5300 or Atlanta Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477. They can also visit www.stopcrimeATL.com. There is a cash reward offered by Crime Stoppers for information that leads to an arrest and indictment.
Tipsters are asked to reference case Nos. 21-046359, 21-050044 and 21-077621.
Gwinnett commissioners postpone decision on decriminalizing marijuana for one month
Gwinnett County commissioners put the brakes — for now — on a proposal to eliminate jail time as a punishment for violating a county ordinance barring the use of small amounts of marijuana on Tuesday.
The county commission voted to table a proposal to “decriminalize” possession of an ounce or less of marijuana under a county ordinance until its Nov. 2 meeting. The move is designed to give county leaders more time to weigh the impact of the change to drop jail time as one of the punishments.
“After talking with my colleagues during the informal discussion (earlier Tuesday), folks just felt we needed to get more consensus from organizations or folks that would be impacted if you decriminalize small amounts of marijuana,” said Commissioner Kirkland Carden, who has been a proponent of making the change.
The proposal that is being considered is setting the punishment for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana at a $150 fine and 20 hours of community service under a county ordinance. Minors who are caught with marijuana in their possession would also have to complete a drug treatment or education program.
The big change that is being proposed is dropping the jail time part of the punishment. Carden has previously said getting caught with small amounts of marijuana after the ordinance is changed — if it is changed — would amount to getting pulled over for a traffic violation that results in a person receiving a citation.
County attorney Mike Ludwiczak told commissioners that law enforcement officers in the county would still have the option to charge offenders under the state law, which does carry a punishment that includes jail time, instead of the county ordinance if they preferred to do so.
Carden said he has received emails from residents who oppose the change as well as correspondence from residents who support it, but he believes changing the ordinance will help people who need treatment for drug abuse.
County officials have also said it helps prevent residents who make what some people could be called a mistake from having it on their record permanently.
“It should be our goal to try to keep people out of being incarcerated,” Carden said.
Crumbl Cookies planning Lawrenceville location off State Route 316
A popular cookie store chain that began in Utah four years ago is coming to Gwinnett County.
Crumbl Cookies is in the process of doing build out on a bakery store in the Lawrenceville Market shopping center at the intersection of Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and Duluth Highway, just off State Route 316, in unincorporated Lawrenceville. The store will be located in a former MetroPCS store situated between MyEyeDr and Scrubs And Beyond, and is about six doors down from Target.
Crumbl currently has four locations in metro Atlanta, according to its website. Those locations are in Alpharetta, Cumming, Kennesaw and Marietta. It opened its first location in Logan, Utah in 2017 and currently has more than 200 bakery stores spread across 32 states.
Customers can buy a variety of cookies, ranging from milk chocolate chip and pink velvet to ruby chocolate chip, chocolate strawberry cheesecake, classic sugar and the pink doughnut, although the chain does rotate flavors on a weekly basis so other flavors are available as well.
It is not clear when the new store will open, but construction permit paperwork attached to the storefront’s window shows it will have about 1,606 square feet of space and Cumming-based M.L. Warwick Inc. is handling the interior construction work.
Gwinnett police officers return fire at suspect in shooting at tavern near Mall of Georgia
Gwinnett police returned fire at a suspect after responding to a shooting at a bar near the Mall of Georgia early Friday morning, but police said no one was hit in the exchange.
Public Information Officer Hideshi Valle said one person was shot at the Parma Tavern on the 3300 block of Buford Drive around 1:30 a.m.
Valle said Gwinnett police responded to a “shots” fired call. When officers arrived at Parma Tavern, Valle said they were alerted to gunshots nearby and returned fire. There are no known injuries to Gwinnett police officers or suspects, Valle said.
Officers located the victim at Parma Tavern, who had a gunshot wound to the leg. The victim was transported to a local hospital and is being treated for non-life treating injuries, Valle said.
“At this time, investigators are exploring all motives,” Valle said. “The Gwinnett Police Homicide Unit will handle any follow-up to the investigation. Detectives are asking anyone with information that may lead to the identification of anyone involved to please, come forward. Witnesses are encouraged to call GCPD Investigators or Atlanta Crime Stoppers with any helpful information.”
If anyone has any information to share in this case, they are asked to contact GCPD detectives at 770-513-5300. To remain anonymous, tipsters should contact Atlanta Crime Stoppers at 404-577-TIPS (8477) or visit www.stopcrimeATL.com. Crime Stoppers tipsters can receive a cash reward for information leading to an arrest and indictment in this case. The case number is 21081251.
Gwinnett schools concerned about TikTok challenge calling on students to slap teachers 'on the backside'
Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent Calvin Watts is warning parents about a new social media challenge calling on students to hit their teachers “on the backside.”
Watts sent a letter to parents on Monday night warning about TikTok challenges, such as the “Devious Licks” challenge that encouraged students to steal things from their schools in September. He highlighted a new challenge going around on the social media platform that calls on students to engage in behavior that Watts warned could result in sexual assault charges.
“In October, a new social media challenge has emerged, calling for students to slap a teacher on the backside,” Watts said in the letter. “Let me be very clear. Each and every person, especially each teacher, deserves our utmost respect and this behavior will not be tolerated.
“Encouraging others to strike another person is not funny. It is not appropriate to behave in this manner toward anyone, much less a teacher. In fact, it is sexual assault and will be treated as such in our school district.”
The TikTok challenges that have emerged during the current school year have not avoided Gwinnett County Public Schools. Watts said there were several GCPS students who engaged in the “Devious Licks” challenge last month.
Students who stole items from their schools as part of that challenge received disciplinary action, as well as criminal charges in at least some cases.
Watts is asking parents to talk to their children about the dangers of participating in the TikTok challenges. He also encouraged families to reach out to their schools if they need additional information about the challenges.
“One of the most important actions we can take as adults is to help our young people develop their instincts — instincts that can serve them well in the real world and in the online world,” Watts said. “Please continue to help your children understand that, while social media can help them to feel connected, not all information or people on social media can be trusted.
“Explain to them that they are responsible for their own words and actions on social media and that many of those actions may follow them for the remainder of their educational and professional careers. And, as a result, they need to realize that some behaviors encouraged on social media can get them into trouble at home, at school and even with the police.”
Mark Richt shares emotional moment with former University of Georgia player Tra Battle at Gwinnett County Co-op event
If Mark Richt had any reservations about the impact he had on his players, they were all but eradicated on Tuesday night.
The former University of Georgia and University of Miami head football coach was the headliner at the Neighborhood Cooperative Ministries’ 2021 celebration, speaking to hundreds of attendees that had a goal to serve others in need about his life and his faith. He didn’t expect someone he’d helped in the biggest way possible to make an appearance.
Tra Battle, one of Richt’s former players at Georgia, told his story about a night he will never forget. He had retired from football and returned to UGA to finish his degree, but felt like his life had no direction. He drove to a bridge near Athens, but right before he was about to jump, something told him to call Richt, who he hadn’t spoken to in years.
Richt’s response saved his life, Battle said. Richt invited Battle to his house, where former teammates and a chaplain were waiting. Richt paid for Battle’s therapy, and on Tuesday, Battle made his appreciation known.
“I’ve never said this to your face, Coach,” Battle said to Richt. “But I thank you. I thank you for saving my life. I thank you for being there when I made the call, and you answered. I’ll always be grateful for the man that you are.”
Neither of them could hold back their tears as they embraced in front of a standing ovation.
The event itself was a way to save lives in a different way — raising money for families in need in southwestern Gwinnett County, including those that have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last year, the co-op, which provides food and job fairs among other services, was able to make an impact more than ever before.
“We had been doing this for 30 years but I don’t think until COVID hit we realized how important we were to the community,” NCM Executive Director Shirley Cabe said. “We’ve never had anything like that before, of course. People in the community are already at risk anyway, but then to bring COVID in on top and for us to be able to be there — we never missed a day. We stayed open the entire time.”
The event featured an auction, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the co-op’s operations. Before that ended, though, Richt spoke about his life and his football career. He had the latter planned out perfectly out of high school, but it didn’t exactly turn out the way he’d envisioned.
“I had my game plan,” Richt said. “I was going to start as a freshman, be an All-American my second year, win the Heisman by the third, and then go pro. The only problem was Jim Kelly started to live my life for me.
“My identity was in football. I was a football player — that’s who I was. That’s the dangerous thing that we do sometimes, we make what we do who we are. That’s not very wise.”
Richt also touched on his recent Parkinson’s diagnosis, crediting how he’s handled it to the peace derived from his faith.
“Having time to think about it, I really have been thankful for my life and everything I’ve had to this point,” he said.
Tuesday’s event was the biggest that NCM had ever put on, organizers said. In the past, the co-op had raised $60,000 to $70,000 through fundraisers. But through sponsorships, organizers said the co-op had already raised $260,000 before Tuesday. Even so, the organization sees more challenges to meet on the horizon.
“I think what I would want people to know is the need for families who are dealing with COVID, it’s not over,” NCM board chairwoman Elizabeth Gross said. “The reality of it is, what I think we’re about to see is a lot of people who are not going to be able to pay their rent when the grants come off. There’s still going to be immense need in our community to help those families stay housed.”
And community service is certainly something Richt showed his appreciation for. During his time at UGA, he made sure his players served in some way, and not just for the community’s sake.
“If you help someone else that can’t help you back, it does something to you,” he said. “It changes your spirit and it changes the way you think about life.”
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