Aberdeen High School basketball player Javian McMillian defends against a Ruleville Central player during 2019’s first round of the playoffs. Last week, the Aberdeen School Board decided to forbid extracurricular activities such as sports for students who opt to do virtual learning for the upcoming school year.

ABERDEEN – When the Aberdeen School District’s new year begins Aug. 24, students will have the option of a hybrid model comprised of in-class instruction and distance learning certain days versus strictly distance learning five days a week.

Those choosing strictly virtual learning, however, will not have the option of participating in extracurricular activities such as sports and band.

“If it’s not safe to come to sit in a classroom with seven to 10 [students], then the same is true with a team with 30 or more,” said ASD Athletic Director and Aberdeen High School Assistant Principal Sherell Drake during July 20’s monthly school board meeting. “Even though the participation with the high school football team has been low, we’re looking for it to pick up once school starts. There again, the football team consists of about 60, so you’re at almost 10 times of what a class would be.”

Whether students using the virtual model can participate in extracurricular activities or not is a decision made at a school district-level. Some school districts throughout the state are allowing it and some aren’t.

ASD Superintendent Jeff Clay and school board members were in agreement to follow the extracurricular activities procedure not allowing virtual learners to participate in events such as sports. Reasons included safety, foremost.

School board president Jim Edwards said students participating through virtual learning won’t have the same level of social distancing training and acceptable safety practices.

“We’re here to educate them. I don’t want our district to be one of the districts that says, ‘Get your education however you can, but we want to sell tickets to football.’ I just think our responsibility is to educate our children. If the pandemic weren’t here, we wouldn’t even be here discussing the hybrid. The hybrid is here to protect them, and we’re doing all these things to protect them,” said AHS Principal Dr. Dana Bullard. “I don’t want a child to play football and basketball every day, double practicing and not come to school and all of a sudden, they’re not ready for college. That’s a fear of mine.”

School board attorney Nathanial Armistad recommended treating some COVID-19-related topics as procedure rather than policy, to allow leeway for unique situations.

“Somebody can be in Beta Club and Zoom in and have a meeting where they’re distanced. That isn’t the same thing as hitting each other in football,” Bullard said.

While the beginning of the new school year was slated to begin Aug. 6, the board approved the later Aug. 24 start date in order for technology funded by the CARES Act to arrive and to allow ample time for teachers to receive training on it and new procedures dealing with extra safety precautions.

“Because we have new programs and a new instructional paradigm, we’re going to front-load more professional development days,” Clay said.

By the new calendar, the last day for students will be June 9.

The school board also approved school board meeting dates for the upcoming school year. While August, September, November, April and May will remain on the third Mondays of the months, changed dates include Oct. 15, Dec. 17, Jan. 21, Feb. 11 and March 11.

Clay will be in further discussions with Aberdeen Police Chief Henry Randle in the coming weeks regarding the possibility of his department providing school resource officers. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office chose to not extend its contract providing the service.

In other business, there was brief discussion about school facility rental policies. While rental fees will remain the same, facility rentals are suspended for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic.

The school board also approved a shortfall resolution.

“The city came up $96,633 short this year on what they promised us so to collect that, we have to have a resolution to collect the shortfall from the city,” Edwards said.

The school board will meet Aug. 3 for the district’s annual budget hearing.

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