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Ashley Poston and Aynor Elementary School Principal Reggie Gasque talk in Poston’s classroom on Thursday. The school has had plexiglass in each classroom since Nov. 23. The state Department of Education is paying more than $4 million to install plexiglass in all Horry County schools as a step to return to five-day face-to-face classes. Photo by Janet Morgan/janet.morgan@myhorrynews.com

Superintendent Rick Maxey told the Horry County Board of Education Monday night that the district has opted not to offer rapid COVID-19 testing in local schools.

“When I heard about it, I thought it was a good idea,” Maxey said. “I have come to the conclusion we’re going to exercise our option not to participate in the program.”

Maxey said the S.C. Department of Education gave districts the choice whether to be included in this testing distribution, which was recently announced by Gov. Henry McMaster.

The Abbott BinaxNOW rapid result test is an antigen test, and it works best when someone is symptomatic. School officials said testing can’t occur in a school’s health room, so an additional room for testing would be needed.

Nurses would have to wear a face shield and surgical mask, a full-length surgical gown and gloves to administer the test. After each positive test, the custodial staff must clean the room, then leave the room unoccupied for one hour.

Maxey said the district decided against participating in the program because it would need additional staff to monitor the health room and do contact tracing, as well as to verify parental consent forms. The superintendent stressed that the district would still follow the guidance of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

“This does not mean that I or any other staff member isn’t being cooperative as far as testing is concerned. We will make it available if DHEC wants to conduct a test,” Maxey said. “When it gets to the point that vaccine distribution becomes a reality, we would be more than happy to collaborate with DHEC to conduct vaccinations at school sites. We want to do what we can to help the community.”

Director of Health Services Tammy Trulove told the board that while the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said some situations exist where a 10-day quarantine would be acceptable instead of the usual 14 days, district health officials recommend HCS continue with 14-day quarantines.

Currently, HCS has 91 active COVID-19 cases, with 62 students and 29 staff members testing positive.

Spring semester transfers underway

As of Monday, HCS officials said 1,051 HCS Virtual students have applied to transfer back to brick-and-mortar schools beginning next semester.

“Today was a big day,” Maxey said.

Last week, emails were sent to parents, detailing the process for those who want to change their children from HCS Virtual to brick-and-mortar, and those in brick-and-mortar who want to change to HCS Virtual.

Any transfer decisions made during this time are final, according to the district. Officials plan to have schedules ironed out by the end of January.

“Our goal is to have every student’s schedule accurate by Jan. 22,” Chief of Student Services Velna Allen said. “It will take us a little while after winter break.”

Allen said some schedules could change and some teachers could possibly move as well.

HCS Virtual parents who wish to transfer their child back to their assigned base school will have to complete the form found in their email Monday by midnight on Dec. 14.

On Dec. 15, brick-and-mortar parents will receive an email outlining how to transfer their students to HCS Virtual, and they will have to turn in their form by midnight on Dec. 22.

Those HCS Virtual parents who did not receive an email on Monday should email brickandmortarreturn@horrycountyschools.net before the Dec. 14 deadline.

Plexiglass progress and parent concerns

Last week, school district officials completed the installation of the first elementary school plexiglass dividers at Aynor Elementary.

Chief of Support Services Daryl Brown said that tabletop plexiglass shields are also in place at Homewood Elementary and Kingston Elementary, and installation is underway at Green Sea Floyds Elementary, Loris Elementary, Daisy Elementary and Conway Elementary.

The over $5 million project, funded by the S.C. Department of Education, is the latest in the district’s efforts to prepare for a return to five-day, face-to-face instruction.

School district officials said no date has been set for the return of five-day education, which would begin with elementary schools, yet. The district reiterated that parents would be given at least a week’s notice in advance of any instructional changes.

During the public comment period, parent Justin Yarbrough said he had spoken with hundreds of parents who were against the idea of the plexiglass shields.

“I have an 8-year-old son who has seen it on the news and he was almost in tears,” Yarbrough said. “When I saw it on the news, the first pics I saw, I was furious. It just looked like a cage.”

He said he consulted experts, including the CDC, DHEC, the Department of Social Services, state education officials, child psychologists and other early childhood development authorities.

“When I spoke with DSS, I asked them ‘If I was teaching my kid from home and put him in a closet and made him wear a mask for seven hours, would you be coming after me for … endangerment?’ They said yes and I asked them what is the difference, and they didn’t know,” Yarbrough said.

He said he read that the CDC stated in November that they weren’t sure how effective plexiglass actually is in preventing the spread of the virus.

“It’s a fluid situation, it’s a horrible situation," he said. "I know you guys are trying to do the best that you can. This is wrong in my mind — in a lot of parents’ minds."

Board chairman Ken Richardson spoke just before public comment to address some recent messages he had received from the public.

“We’re all in this together," he said. "We’ve got to work with it … Let us do our jobs. We’re trying to do the safest thing we can do, the best way we know how to do it."

Departing board members honored

District 5 board member Janice Morreale and District 9 member Chris Hardwick were honored for their service on the Board of Education during their last night on the dais. Morreale was defeated in the Republican Primary by former Horry County Councilman Howard Barnard. She has served since 2013. Hardwick, who decided not to seek re-election, will be replaced by James Edwards of Loris. Hardwick has served since 2017.

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