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“They like having their own personal space, some called it their ‘personal office,’” said Aynor Elementary School Principal Reggie Gasque. 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

As Horry County Schools prepares to wrap up the first semester of hybrid learning, parents and the public alike are keeping an eye on the spread of COVID-19 before the holidays.

Here’s the latest:

As of 10:15 a.m., there are 132 positive cases of COVID-19 at the school district, including 83 students and 49 staff members.

The current number of HCS staffers in quarantine is up two more staff members from Tuesday, for a total of 314.

That’s around 5.2% of the district’s staff total of 5,987.

Student quarantines are not displayed on the district’s COVID-19 dashboard for a few reasons, Horry County Schools spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said.

“Quarantined students do not prevent face-to-face operations of schools via the hybrid model, and due to the hybrid model’s schedule of two days per week of face-to-face instruction, a school nurse may not be able to confirm a quarantined student’s return status until the following week, and thus accurately reporting student quarantines five days per week is not possible when students physically attend school for only two days per week,” Bourcier said.

The highest number of staffers in quarantine, according to the dashboard, is at North Myrtle Beach High School, which has 20 staff members out, and at the district office, which has 21 employees out. Conway Middle School has 17 staff members in quarantine.

School-related rumors about possible school closures recently spread across social media, including one saying that the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) told the district to shut down a particular school but the district refused.

Officials with DHEC’s Emergency Response Team’s Joint Information Center said that while they work to provide information and help schools implement best practices for protecting students and staff, it isn’t their job to shut a school down.

“The ultimate decisions are made by the school and district,” DHEC officials said.

Horry County Board of Education Chairman Ken Richardson said Wednesday that a decision to shut down a school due to COVID-19 spread would be up to Superintendent Rick Maxey.

“We’ve given him that authority,” Richardson said. “[He doesn’t] even have to call the board.”

Richardson reiterated that the district won’t treat all schools the same in terms of the spread of COVID-19.

“If, for example, St. James has a high spread, and Midland [Aynor] has very few cases, we’re not going to shut down the whole district,” Richardson said.

In terms of the recent news that athletic trainers in the district sent a letter to district administration asking them to shut down school sports, Richardson said a  situation like that “is not their [the trainers’] decision to make.”

Richardson said it is his gut feeling that the plexiglass may not be completely ready for five-day learning in January, but he feels that by the official start of second semester on February 1, students will be back in school five days per week.

“I just visited those schools [who have installed plexiglass],” Richardson said. “I sat in those desks. I listened to instruction. You can see the teacher, you can hear the teacher,” Richardson said.

Another recent rumor in the mill was that Gov. Henry McMaster was planning on issuing an executive order in January, mandating each school district have students go back five days per week. 

“The governor has said before that if it was in his authority to do so, he would require school districts to offer an in-person option for students and parents, but he doesn’t have the authority to take such action,” said Brian Symmes, spokesperson with McMaster’s office.

Richardson said making these decisions is a hard balancing act.

“I don’t know the right answer, but I know if I lose anybody – child, student, or employee – it was the wrong answer,” Richardson said.

Bourcier confirmed Wednesday that 3,131 students signed up last week to move to brick-and-mortar learning from HCS Virtual, with 1,213 of those being elementary students, 939 middle school students, and 979 high-schoolers.

Midnight on Dec. 22 is the deadline for parents of current brick-and-mortar students to move to HCS Virtual for the second semester.

All decisions on these transfers are final, the district said.

The district said on Twitter today that winter break begins Dec. 23 and they will welcome students back on Jan. 4. Meal kits will be available by curbside distributions on Dec. 21 and 22, and more information is available at www.horrycountyschools.net.

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