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Up To The Task: A 2020-21 Back-to-School Update

UP TO THE TASK: BACK TO SCHOOL 2020-2021

With Aiken County Public Schools’ Back To School Task Force (B2S Task Force) already established, our local schools are a step ahead in preparation for the 2020-21 school year.

AcceleratED, a task force convened by State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman and comprised of educators and administrators who represent all aspects of the K-12 public education system, released broad recommendations Monday, June 22, for reopening schools.

“We’ve been closely following AcceleratED’s discussions, along with public health recommendations,” Executive Director of Middle Schools Dr. Phyllis Gamble, who is leading the District’s B2S Task Force, commented. “When AcceleratED released their framework Monday, I think I can speak for all of our local task force members in saying that we were relieved to know that we are on the right track with our planning.”

Thirty-nine individuals comprise the District’s B2S Task Force which includes representatives from varied roles in the District’s schools from teachers, counselors, and principals, to Departmental leaders and staff in Technology, Nursing, Transportation, Communications, Operations and Maintenance, Attendance, School Food Service, Special Programs, ESOL (English As A Second Language), Career & Technology Education, Extra-Curricular Activities, and Purchasing.

“While wanting as much insight and input as possible, we capped participation on the Task Force at 40 members to accommodate social distancing in available meeting spaces while ensuring representation from a variety of departments, and a heavy influence from our teachers, who make up more than a quarter of the Task Force,” Gamble continued.

Roughly half of employees and about a third of parents/guardians have provided insight already through the Task Force’s first survey fromnoreplyregistration@powerschool.com titled “Aiken County Public School District Requests Input on Returning to School” which was sent to all staff and the primary email address on file for each student in PowerSchool, the District’s student information system. Answering the survey is very important. Any parent/guardian who did not receive an email with the survey request for each of his/her students, is urged to please send an email to powerschool@acpsd.net.

Results of the first survey sent to parents/guardians have impacted every step in the Task Force’s decision-making as have parent insight offered from Task Force members, almost all of which are parents of children within our District. 

“Survey results indicate that monitoring the health of employees and students and ensuring comprehensive sanitization practices are the highest priorities among our parents and staff,” District Nursing Supervisor and B2S Task Force Member Monica Mazzell commented. “Those priorities will be heavily reflected in our recommendations.”

The Task Force held its fourth whole group meeting on Thursday, June 25, though smaller subgroups have been meeting independently to work through critical considerations such as face masks/shields, temperature checks, the number of student transportation passengers per seat and per bus, and learning models. The B2S Task Force is also working to develop school schedules that are responsive to social distancing guidelines projected to be in place in the fall and those that could result in response to a potential increase in coronavirus cases.

“All students (4K-12th grade) returning to a traditional school schedule right away on August 17 appears unlikely,” District Superintendent King Laurence conceded. “I encourage every parent, student, employee, and county resident to take personal responsibility for protecting the health of our community by following recommendations from the CDC and DHEC, doing so will allow students to fully return to their classrooms on a traditional schedule as quickly as safely possible.”

While planning is still underway, the Task Force’s recommendation is projected to include flexibility for students and families choosing exclusively online virtual learning, while serving the majority of families ready to return to the optimal learning environment for most students of in-person instruction, once it is safe to do so, with a gradual transition from a Hybrid Learning Model (in-person/virtual) to a Traditional Learning Model and a regular schedule.

The B2S Task Force is scheduled to present its recommendations to the school board and community at the Board Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, July 14 at 6:00 p.m. All school board meetings are open to the public, although, with continued coronavirus concerns, the community is encouraged to view the meeting live on the District’s website, acpsd.net. Members of the public who desire to attend in-person, should plan to arrive at the District’s Administrative Office on Brookhaven Drive in Aiken early as capacity will be limited to ensure social distancing.

“Uncertainty is uncomfortable,” Laurence continued. “I sympathize with our families, our students, our teachers and staff members, and our local employers, as we await 2020-21 school year plans. I also ask for your continued patience and trust in our teachers, schools and District to finalize this monumental task and create the best possible plan for student learning as health and safety considerations will allow.”