The Voice of the Gem City

July 15, 2020

This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.

School districts in the area are talking delaying school re-openings for two more weeks instead of the announced Aug. 10 date. The subject came up at Tuesday’s school board meetings in Putnam and St. Johns counties as elected officials grappled with coronavirus concerns and the state’s order that schools must reopen in August. In Putnam the district board heard from employees and parents about the proposed reopening of brick-and-mortar schools. They’re expected to make a decision within two weeks. St. Johns County are planning a special meeting after data from parents is tabulated. The board was leaning toward delaying opening by two weeks or more, but one member — Kelly Barrera – said she wasn’t ready to make a decision without more info. Among other options parents and students have is virtual schooling. Flagler County School Board meets today. Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, which serves a statewide population, has announced students who wish to attend will have to return to the actual school.

Coronarivus figures continued rising in the state. St. Johns County passed the 2,000 mark with 116 new cases announced Tuesday. That brought the total to 2,019 cases reported in St. Johns since the count began back in March. Putnam Country reported 60 cases on Tuesday, bringing the total to 835. Flagler County reported 20 cases, bringing their total to 529.

Deadlines are nearing for parents and guardians in St. Johns, Putnam and Flagler counties to decide how their students will get an education. Putnam’s deadline is Thursday. St. Johns is Friday. Flagler is Monday, July 20thth.  State education officials are quoting surveys raising concerns on just how much students learned during last school year after schools closed in March and learning went online.

Putnam County commissioners are seeking more input before they make a decision about a push to take down the Confederate monument and the oak trees on the Putnam County Courthouse lawn in downtown Palatka. Palatka Mayor Terrill Hill continued pressing for removal of what some call oppressive symbols. The oak tree removal would include the 170-year-old Maltby Oak. At one point proponents of the tree removal said oak trees are where lynchings took place. No historic evidence to back up that claim at the Putnam Courthouse has been found, but removal is still wanted. A number of people spoke or submitted pleas to leave the trees and statue alone. One person suggested Mayor Hill resign because of a conflict-of-interest. Because of coronavirus the meeting was held on-line, which some find inconvenient and not the best way to allow people to express opinions. Commissioners say they want to hear from more people before they make a decision.

The St. Augustine City Commission’s 3-2 vote to remove the obelisk honoring Confederate dead continues to face push back. Businessman Mark Bailey is suggesting the $300,000 to $400,000 it will cost the city to move the monument would be better spent to implement a Septic to Sewer project for West Augustine. That $450,000 project was cut out of the state budget and the city doesn’t have the money. In a letter to the mayor, Bailey said he and other businessmen and the community  would provide the remaining money for the sewer project if the removal money instead goes for the sewer project. He also questioned figures used by Mayor Tracy Upchurch when he cited the support for moving the monument out of the downtown Plaza de la Constitucion.

A traffic stop on Palatka’s Memorial Bridge early Tuesday morning led to the arrest of a Miami man listed as a career offender. Kenneth Eric Grimsley, 52, was arrested following a traffic stop by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office and was booked into the Putnam County jail on a $530,000 bond. A search of his vehicle found drugs with a street value of about $13,000 and led to charges of trafficking in opium or derivative and in oxycodone as well as possession of a vehicle know to traffic drugs. If convicted on the opium or derivative charge Grimsley faces a 25-year minimum mandatory sentence. The arrest comes after a year-long investigation by the Sheriff’s Drug and Vice Unit. Grimsley also had an active warrant in Volusia County for failing to register as a career offender. In Putnam deputies have worked drug cases involving Grimsley since 2013, according to the office.

 

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