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Aiken County School Board will discuss planned return to five-day, in-person classes for elementary schools

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The Aiken County Board of Education will meet after next Tuesday's town hall to discuss the planned Sept. 21 return to five-day, in-person classes in elementary schools and special education classes.

Superintendent King Laurence said the Back-to-School Advisory Committee, a group that reviews COVID-19 data and makes recommendations for the school district, recommends sticking to the plan of reopening elementary schools on Sept. 21.

However, board member Barry Moulton suggested looking – as a board – at the plan one more time.

"Let's look at the data again, and if we feel like the data is pointing to everything looks good, everybody is just going to have to understand it's time to go back to five days a week," Moulton said. "But if the data doesn't look good, then we've got reason to have a discussion."

The school board agreed to meet Sept. 15 after the scheduled town hall meeting at Wagener-Salley High School to discuss the elementary school reopening date.

Chairman Keith Liner cautioned that the school district had "advertised" three weeks of hybrid classes for elementary schools, and said people have already planned for that date.

"I don't have a problem with looking at it again. I think that's the smart thing to do, to take one last look," Liner said. "But my opinion is just that it has to be something overwhelmingly on the other side to change the decision we've already made."

Technology department

The school board voted to hire four more computer technicians.

Originally, the board would have voted on hiring just two computer technicians, but district officials explained that current developments are causing some large workloads for the technology department.

Thousands of devices are on the way for students throughout the county. Dr. Corey Murphy, chief officer of operations and student services, said there are currently 1,700 devices per computer technician.

"We're about to add an additional 10,000 devices, so you're going to take your devices per tech staff up to approximately 2,441 devices supported per tech," Murphy said. "So, to say that we're going to need some help – and in order to sustain this, we're going to need some help – is a big understatement."

Murphy said two computer technicians would be a good start, but the department would need more hires in the near future.

Board member Dwight Smith supported increasing the number of new computer technician jobs.

"I'm severely questioning if two is enough," Smith said.

Director of Technology Dan Pencille said hiring four new computer technicians would help the department.

Board member John Bradley changed the motion from two technicians to four, and the school board voted unanimously in favor.

Other business

Kevin Chipman, director of Facilities Construction, provided status reports about ongoing construction projects at Aiken County schools.

Belvedere Elementary, Midland Valley High, Millbrook Elementary, North Augusta High and Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary all have ongoing additions or renovations. Chipman said these projects are on schedule and within budget.

Additionally, the school board approved an increased budget for an upcoming construction project at Hammond Hill Elementary.

The construction budget estimate increased by almost $2 million, and a representative from Cheatham Fletcher Scott Architects said construction costs are up due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project goals at Hammond Hill Elementary include eliminating nine portable classrooms, removing old 1950s facilities, renovating existing 1990s facilities, improving vehicular and pedestrian traffic flow, improving school safety, making the entire school accessible to those with disabilities, improving aesthetics and developing an overall master plan for the campus, according to presentation slides from Cheatham Fletcher Scott Architects.

The school board voted unanimously to approve grants and donations for several Aiken County schools.

East Aiken School of the Arts and New Ellenton Middle STEAM Magnet School both received a $10,000 Arts in Basic Curriculum Grant Award from the South Carolina Arts Commission. The grants will fund a variety of arts-related expenses.

Two more schools, Aiken Intermediate School and Paul Knox Middle School, received grants in the arts field. The South Carolina Department of Education awarded each of them a $4,000 Innovative Arts Work Grant.

The Central Carolina Community Foundation awarded a $3,000 grant to be distributed equally among six Area 3 elementary schools. Byrd Elementary, Clearwater Elementary, Gloverville Elementary, Graniteville Elementary, Jefferson Elementary and Warrenville Elementary will receive $500 each for new books in their media centers.

Byrd Elementary will also receive a $1,500 Community Service Grant donation from the Rotary Club of Aiken to purchase additional books for the media center.

Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church donated $1,200 to Ridge Spring-Monetta Middle School to buy school supplies and materials for students.

Additionally, the school board approved an application for a grant.

Ridge Spring-Monetta High School plans to submit an application for a $10,000 John Deere Project Lead The Way Computer Science Grant. The money would help expand the school's PLTW Computer Science Principles course.

After an initial reading at the previous school board meeting, board members voted unanimously to adopt a statewide accommodation for breastfeeding mothers as part the South Carolina Lactation Support Act. The accommodation allows unpaid breaks for employees to express breastmilk.

The board also approved personnel appointments and out-of-district transfer requests.

Brian Silas was absent from the meeting.

Next week, the school board will hold a town hall meeting at Wagener-Salley High School. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Sept. 15.

The school district livestreams all board meetings on its website. Visit to view them.

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