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Aiken County keeps hybrid learning, despite McMaster recommendation

Published: Jul. 21, 2020 at 11:12 PM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - The Aiken County Board of Education met to discuss its back-to-school plans and finalized decisions around whether students will return to classrooms in full, learn online or follow a mesh of both.

Last Tuesday, the board had already set a plan that gave parents the option of full online instruction, or a classroom-online hybrid. But last Wednesday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster made an announcement that all schools should either go all virtual or all in-person.

So Tuesday night’s meeting put a lot of big decisions on the table.

But before the board meeting, parents and teachers from the Aiken County Education Association protested outside, asking for the school board to keep its original plan of hybrid learning and delay the start of the school year until Sept. 8.

Thirty-three percent -- that’s the total occupancy teachers and parents at the protest said they feel comfortable with when it comes to sending their kids back to school.

And that’s the capacity Aiken County school officials originally proposed back in early July.

“I am so proud of the people that have worked on that plan and have heard from us and I think that we need to support that, as we do,” said Alicia, a teacher in Aiken County public schools.

A week later, on July 14, the board revised those plans to give parents the choice to do complete online learning or send their kids back to school two days a week, with the building at 50 percent capacity.

“I am concerned for myself. I am concerned for my family, for my friends, for my students, colleagues. I’m concerned for the entire community to be perfectly honest,” said John Ross of the Aiken County Education Association.

And then -- even more concern, when a day later, McMaster announced schools should do solely online learning or go back five days a week.

“Our governor has come out and basically declared war on public education,” Ross said.

School leaders at this special called meeting say they’ll let data drive their back-to-school decisions, not politics.

“The decision that we made last Tuesday stands. We’ll start school on the 17th of August, using the hybrid model.”

Protesters also want to delay the back-to-school date to Sept. 8.

“I’m afraid that if we open up our schools too soon, that we could turn Aiken into a hotspot before we know it,” Ross said.

The board voted that motion down, saying all decisions are in the best interest of the students and staff.

“As a teacher, I am so excited to get back to teaching my kids. I cannot wait to change their lives. But I want to do it safely,” Alicia said.

It’s a delicate balancing act -- playing out in districts across the state. If parents choose to enroll their children in complete virtual learning option, they have until midnight on July 22 to register.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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