PICKENS — Thelma Aiken is worried. Her son, Blake, is just one of the approximately 320 students currently attending Hagood Elementary School — and one of 320 in danger of losing their school.
In September of last year, the firm Jumper, Carter and Sease was hired to provide recommendations on how the School District of Pickens County could put their resources to the best and most efficient usage over the next 25 years.
In their report, which was released in December, Jumper, Carter and Sease issued several “master plans” — some of which recommended the “consolidation of Hagood Elementary” to house the Adult Education and Alternative Education programs.
Essentially, Hagood would close and the students would be funneled off to other schools, a notion that doesn’t sit well with much of the community.
“Save Hagood” signs have appeared in business windows and on sign fronts all around Pickens.
“Blake attends Hagood Elementary and is in the special needs class,” Aiken said during an interview. “This is the only school in Pickens County that provides the services that he needs. He is tube fed and does not walk or talk, which requires him to be in an orthopedic based class. (Hagood) is the only school in Pickens County that has an orthopedic teacher.
“They are wanting to close this school and combine the students in other schools which is going to overcrowd the classes,” she said. “As of right now, I am not aware of a plan in place for the special needs class that Blake attends. I have heard they are wanting to mainstream the special needs children, which isn’t an option for Blake.”
SDPC information specialist John Eby stated that teachers are contracted through the district and aren’t necessarily tied to individual schools.
“If a student is requiring of special attention, they’re going to get it,” said Eby. “We’re required by law to provide for all students. No matter what the Board (of Trustees) decides, whether Hagood stays open or closes, services for these children will continue.”
Aiken remains unconvinced.
“Blake has improved so much since he has started Hagood two years ago,” she said. “They have went above and beyond in their jobs to help improve his skills. He is simply doing things that the doctors have said he would never do. I have two letters that I have sent to the school board explaining in detail the types of issues these children have and what the classroom provides for them on an academic level and also from a classroom designed specifically for them.”
She maintains that the board’s view is focused on the financial issue at hand and not the actual effect it will have on the special needs children and the other children.
“The class size has an average of 14 students per class. Most of the other schools are 17 and above,” Aiken said. “More children are being diagnosed with ADHD, ADD and Autism. The bigger they make these class sizes, the more their education is going to lessen.”
She said her daughter has ADHD and attends a second-grade class at Pickens Elementary that has six other students with ADHD and another four with various behavioral problems.
“There are 22 total kids in her class. Twenty-two,” she emphasized. “And the size of the room is very small. Overcrowding these classrooms even more is not in these kids’ best interest.”
Aiken says the SDPC has no idea how many accommodations it will take to meet the needs of special needs children.
“There are children in that class, including my son, with feeding tubes, who are not able to walk and crawl to get around,” she said, adding that some have brittle bone disease and traumatic brain injuries, a neurological disorder that causes a child to have no control over leg and arm movement.
“These children can’t be exposed to germs, they have compromised immune systems,” Aiken said. “My son can catch a cold and be in the hospital for a week. This simply can’t happen.”
According to SDPC, although no formal decision has been made regarding Hagood’s fate, the authority to consolidate schools lies with the board of trustees.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.