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School district leader wants to listen
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The superintendent of the Caldwell County Schools wants ideas from the community on how to enact meaningful change in response to a photo taken by South Caldwell High School students that appeared to reenact the death of George Floyd.

In the photo a boy in a black T-shirt and blue shorts kneels on the neck of a boy lying on the floor with his hands behind his back. The boy who is kneeling displays a thumbs-up. Both boys are white.

The photo was shared on Facebook by a teenager who felt the image was hurtful for making light of the killing of a Black man by a white police officer, and it immediately sparked widespread outrage. By Tuesday afternoon, the fervor had died down, but the photo had been shared more than 600 times and had amassed close to 700 comments.

Superintendent Don Phipps declined to identify the boys or say how they were disciplined, citing federal law that makes educational records private, including disciplinary records.

The photo was taken inside a classroom at South Caldwell during a transition period, when students were entering and leaving classrooms, Phipps said. At the time, the teacher was in the hallway outside the classroom, where teachers must stand to supervise students as they switch classes.

Long before the photo was taken, Phipps had talked with Dr. Kenston Griffin, a consultant with Dream Builders Communication, a company that provides, among other things, training on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“He actually did a presentation for our leadership team when we first got together, either in July or August of last year,” he said. “He and I have been talking about what is needed specifically in Caldwell County.”

Phipps said that while he is open to public dialogue about the situation, he also intends to be thoughtful, rather than reactionary, in how he approaches it.

“To be impulsive and to just react to a situation and say we’re going to do X, Y and Z without truly thinking it through I think would be the wrong step for me to take,” he said. “But I want to take advantage of an opportunity, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I think the community is looking, and I think it’s time for us as a school district, whether you’re talking about adults or students, to do some things to bring folks together.”

While the school system has policies against discrimination and harassment, there is no clear-cut policy on how to respond to reports of racism at school.

“There’s not a procedure to pull out and say you go through step, you know, A, B, and C,” he said. “I think a lot of it is mindset, and a lot of it is understanding individual students and where they come from. I think that has something to play with what ultimate decisions are made on discipline, a lot of the other issues that we deal with.”

Phipps said he wants to hear from the community.

“I haven’t heard the voices from individuals that I think are critical to this conversation,” he said. “I want people to know that we will listen and we will address concerns that come up. And I don’t, I can’t speak to 20 years ago because I wasn’t here 20 years ago. … Where we are today as we speak, there are things that need to be addressed, and we want to find ways to get voices from our community to make sure that we’re moving in the right direction, whether that’s programs that we implement or policies that are changed, or whatever it happens to be.”

He said it could result in a community meeting the school system initiates, or it could be a conversation school officials partner with other organizations to offer. Regardless of how it happens, Phipps said, he wants to listen.

“When I go into the meeting, I want to go in with a completely blank notebook that I can take notes on and not go in and only fill in the blanks of a few things that I want to change,” he said. “There may be things that come out of these meetings that aren’t even on my radar for some reason, that are important to other people that we’ve got to look at.”

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.

Vaccine clinic now accepting walk-ins
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People who want to be vaccinated against COVID-19 now can walk into Caldwell UNC Health Care’s vaccine clinic without an appointment.

The clinic, which is at Robbins Medical Park on Mulberry Street across from Caldwell Memorial Hospital, began accepting walk-in appointments on Monday, said Heather Foss, director of quality, risk management and performance improvement for Caldwell UNC Health Care.

The clinic has the Pfizer and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines in stock.

It resumed use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines on Monday after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended it. The CDC had temporarily halted use of that vaccine while it looked into a rare adverse event involving blot clots in women younger than 50 years old, but the agency says the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its low risks.

The clinic still allows people to call and schedule appointments, but it is no longer necessary because the clinic has a steady supply of vaccine, Foss said.

“In a rare situation, if we don’t have vaccine, we’ll get it from the pharmacy and take care of the patient, but so far so good. We’ve been able to take care of everybody who has presented as a walk-in,” she said.

Many of the people who have come recently are “hold-outs,” “those that have said I’ve had family members, coworkers or friends that have been vaccinated, and they’ve been fine,” Foss said.

People who come for a vaccination should bring their insurance card if they have insurance, but there is no out-of-pocket cost.

Clinic staff ask that those with a photo ID bring it, but those who do not bring one will not be turned away, Foss said.

The goal, Foss said, is to get more people vaccinated.

As of Tuesday there were only three patients at Caldwell Memorial Hospital who tested positive for COVID-19, and one other patient is suspected of having the virus.

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.

Lenoir man facing trafficking charges
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A Lenoir man who investigators say refused to pull over for sheriff’s deputies and then tried to run away after he wrecked is accused of having a large amount of methamphetamine in his car.

Deputies tried to pull over Joathon Sherwood Watson, 32, of Sun Place in Lenoir about 7 p.m. Monday, a Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office press release said. The release didn’t say where Watson was driving when this happened or how long deputies pursued him before he wrecked into a concrete barrier, then got out and ran. Officers caught up to him in a creek a short distance away, the release said.

A search of the Watson’s vehicle was conducted, and narcotics agents found 234 grams — more than 8 ounces — of methamphetamine and $694 in cash, the release said. The drugs seized have a total street value of $35,100 according to North Carolina State Drug Guidelines.

Sheriff Alan C. Jones called it “a substantial bust.”

“That’s a lot of methamphetamine that won’t be hitting the streets of Caldwell County,” Jones said.

Watson was charged with multiple counts of trafficking in methamphetamine. His bond was set at $120,000 secured.