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Dawson moves up in classification
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THOMASTON - After rescinding a measure that would have allowed schools to deduct special needs students from the enrollment counts, the Georgia High Schools Association passed its reclassification of member schools Monday morning.

With the state moving to a six-classification system, big changes are in store for some local schools.

Dawson County High School will move up to Class AAA.

Also moving up to AAA, will be Gwinnett County powerhouse Buford High School, Jackson County, Banks County, East Hall and North Hall.

Gainesville High School will face one of the area's most significant adjustments, moving up to Class AAAAA for the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years.

With a full time equivalency enrollment count of 1,243 in grades 9-11, the Red Elephants join Flowery Branch (1,332) as the two area schools in Class AAAAA, the second-highest in the new realignment structure. The class ranges in size from Allatoona (1,426) to Dunwoody (1,124) and includes a total of 71 schools, or 16.25 percent of the total member schools.

Unlike past years, the committee had permission to tweak the percentages in each class to yield the fairest divisions possible, taking into account travel distances and other issues. Above Class A, each classification was allowed to have between 14-17 percent of total GHSA member schools.

Prior to the meeting of the reclassification committee, the full executive committee voted to rescind a controversial special needs policy that would have allowed schools to deduct certain levels of special needs students from official FTE counts.

"That was a wise decision," said GHSA executive director Ralph Swearngin. "We'd hate to sacrifice participation for institutional benefit, and I think that's what we would have been doing if the policy would have stayed."

Swearngin was also made aware of the growing wheelchair racing event in track and field, which has participation from students with both Class 3 and Class 4 disabilities.

With the policy rescinded, the only ways for schools to move classifications now is by either requesting to play up in class, or by being deemed isolated according to the GHSA, in which case the school would be able to move either up or down depending on which class would provide schools in a closer vicinity.

"I thought the committee did an outstanding job," Swearngin said. "But it's kind of a false sense of accomplishment, because we haven't had to put schools in regions yet.

On Dec. 6th the committee will meet again in Thomaston to place all of the schools in regions.

A number of area schools now have the possibility of finding themselves competing against powerhouse Gwinnett school Buford which, with an FTE count of 776, moves up in classification to Class AAA.

East Hall (783) is also moving up to Class AAA alongside North Hall (834) and West Hall (832). The class ranges from Carroll Central (854) to Islands (651) and includes 70 schools (16 percent).

Two former Region 8-AAA Hall County schools rise to Class AAAA in Johnson (982) and Chestatee (932). Wayne County (1110) is the largest school in the class and Hephzibah (862) is the smallest in a class with 71 schools (16.25 percent).

Riverside Military Academy (412) rises to Class AA, and Lakeview Academy (156) will stay in Class A.

Outside of Hall County the biggest move is Habersham Central (1,450) moving up to play in the highest classification (AAAAAA), which ranges from Morrow (1,431) to Mill Creek (2,766).

The Raiders will likely be placed in a classification with primarily Gwinnett County schools, because there are no Class AAAAAA schools in the area.

The GHSA considers schools isolated if the average travel to region schools exceeds 100 miles one way. As far away as Mount Airy is from Gwinnett County, Habersham Central does not fall under the category of an isolated school as per GHSA by-laws.

"It's tough with how far (Mount Airy) is from Gwinnett County, but those are the numbers," Swearngin said.

Chestatee and Johnson won't have to worry about that kind of travel, but the two current Region 8-AAA schools won't be in Hall County as often as the current alignment allows. Lumpkin County, with a count of 881, is the only other area school also moving up to Class AAAA with the two Hall County schools.

Class AAA will still have a large number of area schools. In addition to Buford and the Hall schools, White County (836), Dawson County (802), Jackson County (724) and Banks County (665) have all been slotted in the class.

In Class AA, which ranges from Pepperell (647) to Wesleyan (350) and makes up 66 (15 percent) of the total schools, Riverside Military will be joined by area schools Jefferson (619) and Union County (571).

In Class A, which ranges from Gordon Lee (348) to Woody Gap (22) and includes 97 schools (22 percent), Lakeview will be joined by area schools Commerce (291) and Towns County (266).