Aiken County school leaders discuss COVID-19 plans for new school year

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AIKEN COUNTY, S.C. (WJBF) — Aiken County students return to school on August 16th. Most of the changes of 2020 will still be in effect for 2021.

“It will look much the same, at least at the beginning of the school year,” Mike Rosier of Aiken County Schools told NewsChannel 6’s Aiken Bureau Chief Shawn Cabbagestalk.

School leaders say they will stay on top of COVID-19 mitigation strategies including having schools cleaned and disinfected regularly, air filters in all classrooms and other spaces, and social distancing. “We’ll also be limiting the number of visitors that are coming into the school buildings and things of that nature,” Rosier added.

Recently, the CDC announced they are recommending indoor masking for everyone in schools, regardless of vaccination status, due to increasing cases of the new delta variant. DHEC also saying that now. Aiken County schools are recommending that as well but not requiring them due to recently passed legislation.

“They’re not required on buses either. They are recommended of course,” he shared.

The CEO of Rural Health says not requiring masks isn’t a good idea.”I don’t support that proviso. I would not have recommended that proviso, and I know that CDC does not support that proviso,” Carolyn Emanuel-McClain said. “I think that the CDC has much better information than laypeople would have and that the governor would have, or that our legislators would have,” she added.

With spikes in COVID-19 numbers, nearly 20 people being hospitalized with COVID at Aiken Regional, and lower vaccination rates, Emanuel-McClain says it should be a concern for the entire community, especially children.

“Children are getting full-blown symptoms of this variant with the COVID just like we as adults did with the regular COVID,” she said. “If we did not get the children vaccinated, Shawn, it is going to be just like the adults not being vaccinated. It will spread and there will be lots of sickness and death,” she added.

Meanwhile, there will be protocols in place in case a large number of students or staff end up with COVID-19 a local school. “We’ll have some options for that for students who are quarantined. Those types of things are being worked out right now. There’s nothing that fully replaces that face-to-face instruction,” Rosier said.

Superintendent King Laurence issues the following letter to families within the district:

Dear ACPSD Families,

The 2021-2022 school year is quickly approaching. Like all of you, I have eagerly anticipated getting back to more traditional school routines. Unfortunately, with the continued rise in COVID-19 cases in our state and community, we are not quite ready for that step.

I strongly encourage all adults and all students who are 12 years old or older to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Based on what we have seen in the past few months, that one action could do more to slow the spread of the virus than anything else.

When we return to school on August 16, most of the mitigation strategies we had in place last year, including limiting volunteers and other visitors, will continue. Schools will be cleaned and disinfected regularly. We have installed specialized air filters in all classrooms and other spaces and are prepared for additional disinfecting as needed. To the extent possible students will remain in cohorts to reduce the impact of quarantines if positive COVID cases are identified.

Adults and students are encouraged to wash hands thoroughly at every opportunity. In situations where soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol should be used. Hand sanitizer is available throughout our schools. We know that 6 feet of physical distancing is not possible in most of our instructional spaces, however, we will maintain distancing to the extent possible.

Face coverings are not required in Aiken County Public Schools in accordance with a state proviso that prohibits school districts from requiring them, however, CDC and DHEC recommend face coverings or masks in indoor spaces. I recommend that staff members wear masks when they have to be within 6 feet of others. I encourage parents to have your children do the same. Please refer to the school district website for more information. We will continue to provide updates as conditions change.

While it has become necessary to slow our progress toward the traditional operation of our schools, I believe that together we can ensure that we safely meet the needs of our students and families. Thank you for your patience and understanding. Thank you for joining me in making the health and safety of our students and staff our top priority.

KING LAURENCE
Superintendent
Aiken County Public School District

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