AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) – At Tuesday’s Aiken County Board of Education meeting, Aiken County School Superintendent King Laurence gave a overview of what the school is seeing in terms of COVID-19 safety and how well students and faculty are being protected.
While state numbers are up and being monitored by the BOE, Superintendent Laurence said the jury is still out on whether the increase in numbers is the result of the backlogged data recently released by Augusta University or represent an actual uptick in cases.
Laurence said that the statistics for Aiken County Schools, as of Tuesday night’s board meeting, were lower than those shared at the previous board meeting.
Last week, there are 2 employees and 7 students who tested positive for COVID-19; down from 9 employees and 8 students the week before.
Quarantines and self-isolations are also down from two weeks ago, shrinking from 233 quarantines to 159.
Acknowledging the recent shift from a hybrid model, A-B schedule, for elementary school students to 4-days-a-week in-person instruction for face-to-face students, Laurence noted the necessity of adapting schools and classrooms in accordance with this change. This led to discussion of the impending arrival of Plexiglass desk partitions early next week.
According to Superintendent Laurence, these partitions will be installed immediately, the catch being that this is a first shipment and will not be enough for every classroom.
“Hopefully, another shipment will be right behind it,” said Laurence.
Priority will be given to those classrooms will the least space for social distancing due to class size and student volume.
“We do know that we have many elementary classrooms that, even though all the students are back in school, they are able to maintain the six feet,” Laurence said, adding that those classes are a little bit lower on the list of priorities. “We also have a number of elementary classrooms that can’t do it, so those are the highest priorities for the delivery of the partitions.”
Overall, 8,000 desk partitions have been requested from the state for use in Aiken County Schools, covering roughly half of face-to-face students, according to Tray Traxler, Chief Officer for Finance for the Aiken County Public School District.
“Our hope is that we’ll be able to have the state pay for some additional partitions,” said Traxler, who encouraged the board to vote as soon as possible to approve use of “mobile” funds.
These funds, not part of the general fund, are set aside in the budget for what are essentially emergency or immediate expenditures.
If a need arose for Aiken County schools to purchase more desk partitions, Traxler advised that setting aside the requested amount, $250,000, would mean that money would be readily available, strictly for buying desk partitions.
The board voted unanimously to approve putting aside the necessary funds for desk partitions, in the case that the state did not continue providing this particular kind of PPE.
Aiken County Schools are now steadily moving toward a more normalized schedule after the BOE voted last Tuesday, Oct. 6th, to accelerate the time table for returning students back to in-person classroom instruction. According to the current schedule, middle school and high school students will return to four-days-a-week instruction Monday, Oct. 26th.
Finally, Wednesday, Nov. 4th, all grades in Aiken County Schools are scheduled to return to a normal five-day instruction week. At the end of the current semester, families of virtual students will have the choice to re-enroll their students into face-to-face instruction.
District 8 Board Trustee Dr. John Bradley iterated early on in the meeting that, considering the relative population size of Aiken County Schools, 3,326 employees and 22,601 students, the current number of individuals testing positive for COVID-19, for both groups, is below 1 percent. The DHEC numbers, Dr. Bradley said, are irreflective of what is happening in Aiken County and Aiken County Schools.
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