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Horry County Schools announced Thursday afternoon that students will be attending school for the next week in a hybrid fashion.

"Horry County Schools received the weekly SCDHEC Disease Activity by County report which indicates that disease activity for the county is high. However, due to the low number of COVID-19 incidents directly affecting Horry County Schools, the District will continue to operate under the hybrid instructional model for the week of October 19, 2020," HCS said in a public social media post. 

The post also indicated that Superintendent Rick Maxey and the Board of Education would share more details on the mitigation efforts and models for decision-making at this Monday's board meeting.

In a surprise change from their usual protocol of relying on the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Disease Activity Report last week for how school would look, the district decided to wait an additional week to make decisions for the week of Oct. 19.

The move gives parents in the district only three days to make arrangements for their children to be home all next week if a virtual format was selected.

The Oct. 8 DHEC report indicated a high spread, which would have meant the week of Oct. 19 would be five days of full distance learning for all. Today’s Oct. 15 report indicates a high rate of spread, a high incidence rate and a high percent positive at 17.9%, which according to the district's previous plans would indicate distance learning next week.

Before last week's announcement, Board of Education chairman Ken Richardson said that as far as he was concerned, students would be attending in a hybrid fashion that week, since the data that the district is now keeping on their COVID-19 Dashboard (link) indicates that there is only a medium spread, not a high one.

“We’re looking at our own numbers now, and I can’t keep playing with these children back and forth on this thing. Four out of the last five weeks, some info we’ve gotten from DHEC has not been accurate and they’ve had to amend it,” Richardson said last week.

In the executive summary of the district’s Re-Opening Plan on their website, it states, “Our knowledge and understanding of the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, and our protocols and plans will be updated as appropriate, and as more information becomes available.”

Richardson commented that if the two data sets continued to vary greatly, he was considering asking Superintendent Molly Spearman’s office if the district could use only their own data for determining how school would look.

Ryan Brown, chief communications officer with Spearman’s office, said that they ask all districts to contact them in the event of a change of that sort.

“We ask all districts notify and consult with us prior to changing operational status,” Brown said in an email.

Brown said it is not mandatory that the districts use certain data.

“We encourage districts to use all the data available to them to make operational decisions in the best interests of their local communities,” Brown said. “Districts are not bound to use one single data source, but DHEC does strive to provide the latest data to help inform decision making.”

Spearman recently announced the funding of $33 million worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) requests to districts across the state.

“Proud that we can support the efforts of schools across South Carolina to return students to face-to-face instruction as safely as possible,” Spearman said in a social media post about the purchases.

Brown said that having children in school five days a week in-person has been their goal and “one that we are constantly working towards.”

Students have attended in a hybrid format since the first day of school Sept. 8.

The report DHEC will release today will determine how students attend the week of Oct. 26.

Across social media, both parents and teachers alike had things to say about the district’s decision to wait for this week’s numbers.

A Facebook group of parents who want the district to go back to full-time in-person instruction has nearly 800 members, and they started a petition late Wednesday for that purpose, which can be found here.

Myrtle Beach High School and HCS Virtual teacher Karen Patriarca-Elliott said she thought the decision last week to not immediately announce a week of distance learning for Oct. 19 was “so incredibly frustrating” to teachers.

“Because every day we are continually asked to be more flexible, more adaptable; do more, with less. It’s gotten to the point that teachers are beyond burned out and are answer that request to do more, for less with a resounding ‘No.’,” Patriarca-Elliott said. “Waiting until the last minute to shift gears when we see the case numbers rising in our schools, not just in our communities but actual student and staff cases, is just a recipe for disaster and unnecessary mass confusion again.”

She said that brick and mortar teachers are “anxious beyond belief and frustrated with the lack of control over their own safety.”

“I’m so thankful I’m able to teach virtually and I hope to continue next semester, regardless of the bumps in the road, because I’m watching my co-workers' health deteriorate as they try to stay safe, in an environment not adequately prepared for this kind of situation,” Patriarca-Elliott said.

As of Thursday morning, the HCS COVID-19 dashboard shows a total of 128 historic cases, and 16 current cases (seven among students, nine among staff) among ten schools. New cases are listed as active on the HCS Dashboard for seven days, then moved to the "historic" category. DHEC's cumulative report from Oct. 12 indicated cases at 27 schools. 

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