Aiken school board makes decision on learning schedule; teacher has concerns


AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) — We now know how Aiken County School students will attend school after mid-January.

In December, officials moved to continue with the hybrid model of learning until at least January 15. Now, the board of education decided to continue with a model already used across the district. The board voted 7-1 to stay in the current hybrid models for at least 4 1/2 weeks. John Bradley opposed, and Dwight Smith was absent from the meeting.

Patrice Rhinehart-Jackson motioned to remain in the current hybrid models for at least the next 4 1/2 weeks, “with authority given to the superintendent to assess as needed using the matrix on a school by school basis,” she said.

Community members including teachers are making their positions known when it comes to challenges they’ve seen with education in the area. One teacher just a few years in says in spite of the problems going back and forth between models he agrees hybrid is the way to go an era of COVID. “It’s allowing both equability as far as giving students, parents and teachers a common outlook and an expectation per week, whereas we’re not being used like a yo-yo going back five days, this week and next week then maybe closing down for a day or two, and then going back hybrid, it’s given a sense of consistency,” he said.

Under the hybrid model of instruction, middle and high school students will attend in-person classes two days a week in two groups with three days of remote learning. Elementary students attending four days of in-person classes with remote learning on Fridays.

“It’s a matrix assumes a regular instructional baseline at 3% of student infections, you have to go to the more restrictive level. Once that situation is resolved, then you go back to the less restrictive model,” Superintendent King Laurence shared at the recent board meeting.

But there are could be potential issues over the reporting of data to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control outside of currently known problems the agency is having with updating numbers.

“The school numbers that have been reported for Aiken County as far as staff members are completely inaccurate of the numbers for the schools themselves,” the concerned teacher pointed out. “Is the information coming from the board accurately? If it is, where are they getting those numbers since they haven’t been updated through DHEC because I’m only one school and that’s happening at my school, what’s happening in other schools,” he added.

For these decisions, the board consults with the Back-To-School Advisory Committee. The panel reviews a number of data, including COVID-19 numbers, to make a determination on how the district should move forward. So far, we have seen one instance where the board went against the recommendations of the group.” I’m kind of lost for words as to why they turned down since the advisory council was right. The first time you would think they’d be more apt to listen to them,” the concerned teacher said.

The advisory committee recommended a hybrid model. The board overruled that. “That’s when we originally went five days a week and then the cases were getting so high because they went against that recommendation and then we went back to hybrid and that was before the Thanksgiving break,” he said.

But as NewsChannel 6 is now learning that the committee will no longer provide weekly recommendations to the school board. Instead, they will move to more of an advisory board to the superintendent on a less frequent basis.

The superintendent will have the ultimate decision of how to proceed on a school by school basis rather than a blanket decision affecting the whole county.

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