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Aiken Innovate enrollment is about to drop. Here's why parents say they're staying or leaving.

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Melesia Farkas (copy)

Melesia Farkas, a teacher at Cyril B. Busbee Elementary School, interacts with her virtual class at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year.

More than 2,500 Aiken Innovate students will leave the all-virtual program and return to face-to-face classes Monday, dropping the program's enrollment by about 41%.

Despite the drop in spring enrollment, the school district did not accept new applications to join Aiken Innovate unless there was a documented change in a student's medical circumstances, said an official from the school district.

Some parents said their children have done well in Aiken Innovate.

Local parent Kat Williamson said her daughters, second and third graders at Aiken Elementary, are excelling in virtual school.

"The teachers we currently have are staying virtual, and they're amazing," Williamson said via social media. "I have concerns about if they're getting the same education they would have gotten pre-pandemic though. I don't think virtual is holding them back."

The transition will involve some Aiken Innovate teachers moving back to working face-to-face, according to school district officials. Parent Stephanie Ford said her son's previous virtual teacher will be moving back to face-to-face.

Still, Ford said her family has chosen to stay in the program to stay consistent, and because her son has done well in the program.

"For us, virtual has been completely amazing; it allows students who may learn differently the opportunity to excel through independent study and gives way more parental involvement," Ford said via social media. "I truly enjoy seeing my son's teacher and being able to observe the interaction between teacher and student."

Other parents said their children have not done well in Aiken Innovate, leading to their return to face-to-face classes.

Debbie Hope said her son does better with face-to-face teaching, and described difficulties in getting credit for completed assignments. Her child will be among those returning to face-to-face learning Monday.

"My child has fallen behind," Hope said via social media.

Crystal Howard said her son's grades dropped this year. Normally, he receives As and Bs, she said.

"The teacher has been wonderful. It had nothing to do with her. My son just really struggled …," Howard said via social media. "I feel like children that can sit still and pay close attention to the computer screen can do fine in AI (Aiken Innovate), however, my son is not one of them."

With 3,734 students remaining in the program, according to district data, Aiken Innovate students will account for about 17% of all students district-wide. About 28% of all students were in the program before the spring dropout.

Both quarantines and COVID-19 cases have been reaching new highs in the school district during January. Hundreds of students have been quarantined due to possible virus exposure at school, according to district data, and 156 students reported positive cases from Jan. 3-16.

During the same amount of time, virtual students reported just 17 cases, according to district data.

Blakeley Bartee covers the education beat at the Aiken Standard. She graduated from Georgia Southern University in 2020. You can follow her on Twitter: @blakeleybartee.

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