The Aiken County School Board will vote Wednesday evening on postponing the start of the 2020-2021 school year to the end of August.
Aiken County Schools Superintendent King Laurence proposed moving the start of school from Aug. 17 to Aug. 31 – a two week delay – to give the school district more time to prepare for the upcoming school year due to the impact of COVID-19 on daily operations and opening plans.
Before suggesting the delay, Laurence described tasks in providing technology and assigning teachers to teach online that have proven difficult for the district.
More than 7,000 students have enrolled in Aiken Innovate, the school district's all-virtual learning option for the fall, and more than 2,000 parents have requested assistance with devices and internet access, Laurence said.
“That’s a big undertaking for our technology department and for our instructional department,” Laurence said.
Although the district purchased several thousand new devices with funds from the CARES Act, Laurence said those devices are not expected to arrive until mid-September. Every student in third grade and above will have a device when they arrive, Laurence said.
In the meantime, the superintendent said the district is looking to use devices that are currently in schools to provide for Aiken Innovate.
About 80 K-12 teachers have applied to teach virtual classes, but this will not meet the needs of the 7,000 students enrolled in Aiken Innovate. Laurence said the elementary school level alone requires 134 teachers, so many teachers will need to be reassigned temporarily to teach online.
Multiple school board members, including Patrice Rhinehart-Jackson, John Bradley and Barry Moulton, said they have heard from teachers and principals who said they need more time to prepare for the start of school.
Rhinehart-Jackson said some educators have suggested starting three weeks late on Sept. 8, while Moulton said he has only heard suggestions for one- or two-week delays.
After some discussion, other board members, including Brian Silas and Bradley, spoke in favor of an Aug. 31 start date instead of a longer delay.
The board will vote virtually via Zoom meeting on Wednesday, July 29, at 6:30 p.m.
The school board approved an application to develop a new Career and Technical Education (CTE) course, Intro to Barbering and Cosmetology, with a 7-0 vote.
The 7-0 vote also included awarding high school credit with honors weighting for CTE courses Health Science II, Welding III, Baking and Pastry, and Early Childcare Education II.
All individual items on the agenda – personnel appointments, out-of-district transfer requests, an organizational chart update, the issuance and sale of general obligation bonds and first readings for new district policies – were approved with a 7-0 vote from the board.
Twenty-three school district employees have reported that they tested positive for COVID-19 since March, said Monica Mazzell, supervisor of nursing services for the school district. Four of the employees who tested positive were able to work remotely from home.
Mazzell also said the school district performed contact tracing related to four reports of COVID-19 cases for the district’s Academic Recovery Camp, or ARC.
Three of those reports were determined not to result in direct exposures at school, but parents were notified regardless, Mazzell said. One case, however, did result in direct contact, so Aiken County schools followed quarantine procedures for the affected people, Mazzell said.
Academically, students at ARC experienced no summer slide despite challenges from COVID-19, according to an update on the program from Kim Livingston, Aiken County Public School District literacy coordinator, and Holly Vaughn, site coordinator and literacy coach at Graniteville Elementary.
ARC focuses on English language arts and math for students from kindergarten to third grade. The camp had a 60% daily attendance rate with an average of 317 out of 530 enrolled students attending daily, according to Livingston and Vaughn’s presentation.
“We were very pleased to find out that most of the children were at the same level they were in March. We didn’t see a lot of summer slide. We had some children that were higher than we thought, so we’re really excited about our post-data that’s coming in,” Vaughn said.
Livingston said the program has followed several safety procedures due to COVID-19, including limiting each classroom to eight students and distributing grab-and-go meals.