King Laurence mug 2019-2020

King Laurence

With coronavirus causing the shutdown of the public school system, districts have been affected on virtually all levels, but officials still don't know how extensively operations will be impacted by COVID-19.

Aiken County Schools Superintendent King Laurence would like to give parents the answers to all their questions – but protocols and recommendations for summer programs and the coming school year haven't been developed by state authorities yet. 

"We just don't know what's going to happen in the future with this virus," Laurence said Thursday. "We've been paying close attention to the education task force (AccelerateED), what the governor says and what the recommendations are… but it all depends on how this unfolds in the coming weeks and throughout the summer."

Due to its novelty, COVID-19 has been nearly impossible to predict.

The virus' severity and duration is also dependent on a number of factors, according to leading health experts, such as how well the public follows social distancing guidelines to limit its spread. As such, national and state health officials are scrambling to come up with appropriate recommendations and guidelines for a constantly-evolving situation.

"Things change every day," Laurence said. 

According to Laurence, altered events such as graduations and distance learning packet drop-offs will vary from school to school depending on their "individual character," such as size and space.

This will also apply to the final two weeks of school, when students will have the opportunity to pick up personal items left on campus and teachers will conduct closing-out activities.

"Hopefully, during packet pickup, they were able to bring back library books," Laurence said. "There’s still some close-out things that students, parents and teachers have to do. Depending on the size of the school, that’s going to look a little bit different."

The last day of class in Aiken County for the 2019-20 school year is June 4.

All Aiken County high schools will host graduation ceremonies in their own football stadiums at 10 a.m. on the previously designated dates of June 4 and 5. All ceremonies will also be livestreamed and recorded.

In an effort to ensure social distancing and meet the recommended guidelines, each graduate will receive two tickets, and tickets will be required for admittance into the stadiums, Laurence said.

As far as summer programs go, Laurence said the district will have to "wait and see" what recommendations state authorities provide, which may be available in June.

S.C. State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman and AccelerateED have held several public meetings and determined early on that summer programs will likely be pushed back to July. 

"That's when we are hoping to be able to do our reading camp for K-third grade students," Laurence said. "We’re making plans for that, and it’ll probably look a little bit different. We’ll probably have to accommodate students at every one of our elementary schools. It’s the only way we can really keep the numbers down."

Summer programs will not be canceled due to coronavirus, though the way they are held may vary drastically from the norm.

Spearman said during an AccelerateED meeting Wednesday that she was still awaiting social distancing guidelines for summer programs from state health authorities, who would not be able to give recommendations until late May or June. 

The final guidelines the task force creates will allow for flexibility within each school district.

Aiken County Public Schools, like all districts, will have the option of taking a personalized approach to implementing the guidelines for how administration believes would best fit Aiken County.

Laurence said the disruptions have been troublesome for some families, but they are necessary precautions. 

"Everything we do … our responsibility is to ensure learning and education," Laurence said. "We can’t do that if we can’t keep everybody safe."

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.