Aiken County school board divided on athletics amid COVID-19 pandemic | Education | #Education | #parenting | #parenting | #kids

Aiken County school board members, district officials and members of the Back-to-School Advisory Committee were divided at the Nov. 17 board meeting on whether school sports should continue amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The discussion was part of the broader talk on COVID-19 concerns in the school district.

At that same meeting, the Aiken County Board of Education voted to move elementary schools to a four-day schedule and return middle/high schools to the hybrid model used at the beginning of the school year.

Multiple schools in the area, including North Augusta High, Silver Bluff High, Aiken High, South Aiken High and others, have canceled or postponed games this year due to COVID-19 cases or quarantines.

Aiken High and South Aiken High’s rivalry football game was removed from the schedule entirely.

At the Nov. 17 meeting, board member Patrice Rhinehart-Jackson made a motion to return to four-day and hybrid schedules until Christmas Break, hold a called meeting to set the next semester’s guidelines, establish a data-based tiered threshold system to determine whether schools should be open for virtual, hybrid or in-person learning, “and cease, stop, athletics until the data supports it continuing without quarantine numbers increasing, because that seems to be the root of our problem at this point.”

Her recommendation to stop athletics resulted in some pushback.

Board members didn’t second Rhinehart-Jackson’s motion until it was amended later to remove the cancellation of sports. Schools Superintendent King Laurence said he suspected the call to stop athletics may have been why the motion didn’t receive a second.

“I like Ms. Jackson’s motion, actually, except the part about athletics. I know that sounds contradictory,” Laurence said.

Aiken County middle, high schoolers returning to hybrid, elementary students attending four-day

Board member Cameron Nuessle asked Rhinehart-Jackson to restate her motion without the athletics cancellation, but voiced support for stopping sports amid the pandemic.

“It doesn’t make sense – if we’re worried about if we should be hybrid or not – why are we playing athletics? I’m with ya’ … Just on a logical standpoint, it doesn’t make sense that we’re doing this, but doing that. I’d like to kind of prove that to myself first,” Nuessle said.

Nuessle said sports were not part of the Back-to-School Advisory Committee’s recommendation or the meeting agenda that night, and he recommended holding a special called meeting to discuss athletics.

“I’d like to give people some notice before we cancel basketball season,” Nuessle said.

Board member Patricia Hanks said it is common sense that if someone is playing contact sports, they are increasing their risk of contracting the virus.

Returning to hybrid: The Aiken County school board's hours-long discussion with the advisory committee

On the other side of the argument, board member and chairman Dwight Smith said basketball is played with mostly 13 players, gyms can be kept at one quarter occupancy, and track and field athletes can stay spread out.

Smith said if it weren’t for athletics, he wouldn’t have stayed in school growing up.

“I think we’ve got a little bit of obligation to kids who are with us who enjoy that aspect of coming to school. We’ve got to look at that,” Smith said.

Local pediatrician Dr. John Tiffany, who was present at the meeting as part of the Back-to-School Advisory Committee, said contact sports like basketball will result in the spread of the coronavirus.

“It’s a contact sport. You’re going to break the 6-foot rule, and until you put them in the NBA bubble, you’re going to have spread,” Tiffany said. “… You see SEC football teams test three times a week, and you still see SEC football programs get knocked down.”

The school board approved Rhinehart-Jackson’s amended motion, which includes a special called meeting at “a later date to determine whether or not the numbers support that athletics should be stopped for a while.”

To view a livestream of the Nov. 17 meeting, visit acpsd.net/Page/45152.

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