Monday is the first day of school in the Aiken County Public School District. This year is an unusual one, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing sweeping changes to scheduling, cleaning procedures and more.
More than two thirds of students are attending in-person classes on a hybrid schedule that incorporates virtual learning, according to the school district.
Under the hybrid model, Blue Cohort students attend on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Red Cohort attend on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
This means the Blue Cohort students are attending their first in-person classes Monday, while Red Cohort students will not arrive on school property until Wednesday.
The remaining students are enrolled in Aiken Innovate, the school district's all-virtual option.
The school district has adapted to new rules and procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including mask requirements, social distancing and sanitation.
Inside school buildings and buses, all students and staff are required to wear face coverings. This is a statewide rule, and plastic face shields do not meet the requirements.
The South Carolina Department of Education defines a face covering as "a piece of fabric, cloth, or other material that covers the wearer’s nose, mouth, and chin simultaneously and is secured to the wearer’s face by elastic, ties or other means. Acceptable face coverings may be homemade, and they may be reusable or disposable."
There are some exceptions for people who cannot wear a mask for medical reasons, and medical documentation of a child's inability to wear a mask would need to be submitted to the school nurse, according to the school district website.
The school district asks parents to check their children's temperatures and keep students home if they have any symptoms of COVID-19.
Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, loss of taste or smell, new or worsening cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, chills, fatigue, headache, congestion or runny nose, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, according to the school district website.
If a student is exposed to someone with COVID-19, they are required to quarantine according to DHEC guidelines. Anyone with a positive case of COVID-19 is required to self-isolate.
DHEC, with the help of school staff, will conduct contact tracing to determine if someone with COVID-19 exposed anyone else in the school.
For virtual learning days, parents will need to order school meals in advance online.
Students attending school under the hybrid model can pick up three days' worth of breakfasts and lunches at the end of their second day of classes for the week.
Blue Cohort students will receive the meals on Tuesday afternoons, and Red Cohort students will receive the meals on Thursday afternoons.
The deadline to order school meals for virtual days will be noon before the day of pickup – noon Mondays for the Blue Cohort, noon Wednesdays for the Red Cohort. The orders do not automatically renew, so families will have to place an order each week.
Aiken Innovate parents will need to pick up meals each day on Monday through Thursday. On Thursdays, families can order two days' worth of school meals to make up for Friday.
Pickup times for Aiken Innovate school meals will be 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the student's home-based school.
Buses will operate at two-thirds capacity. The South Carolina Department of Education decreased the number of students inside buses at once in an effort to maintain social distancing.
Bus drivers will be responsible for sanitizing the buses after each route, according to the school district.
Students will load onto the bus from back to front and exit the bus from front to back.
While two students from the same household can share a seat, other students will not be allowed to share seats.
School bus routes for Aiken County Public Schools are online at acpsd.net. Go to Departments and click on Transportation.
Custodians will sanitize high-touch surfaces and bathrooms once per hour at elementary schools and after each class change at middle and high schools.
All restrooms will be disinfected hourly and fully cleaned daily, and all touchable surfaces will be disinfected when classrooms are not in use, according to the district's website.
Elementary students will stay in their assigned classrooms, which the students and their teachers will work together to sanitize throughout the day.
At the middle and high school level, schools will provide students with cleaning materials so they can take personal responsibility for sanitizing their desks, according to the district website, and teachers will assist with doorknobs and other high-touch areas.
The school district lists Sept. 21 as the possible date of return to full-time, five-day traditional classes for elementary school students. Special Programs officials said this date would apply for special education classes as well.
Middle and high school students will not return to traditional five-day classes until "conditions allow," the school district website says. Unlike elementary schools, middle and high schools cannot keep students in the same small cohort all day.
Aiken Innovate students, meanwhile, will have to remain in the program until the end of the fall semester. The school district will allow parents to choose to leave or stay in the program before spring.
For more information and updates about school operations, visit the school district website at acpsd.net.