Horry County Schools Superintendent Rick Maxey attempted to clear up confusion on COVID-19 policies with a video sent to parents Tuesday afternoon.
"If you want to effect change - your desire for change in these laws is beyond the scope and authority of the Horry County Board of Education. Your many emails and calls to us are not falling on deaf ears. We just do not have the local control to do anything about it," Maxey said in the video.
Maxey addressed a handful of questions the district was asked recently, but the overall idea was that regardless of what the school district may want to do in helping to prevent the spread of the virus, their hands are tied.
He said the district and the board of education are doing all they can to address the issues to the extent the state law allows.
Maxey explained the district cannot enact a mask mandate because it would be illegal according to Proviso 1.108 that was recently signed by Governor Henry McMaster saying that no school district can use state funds to mandate masks.
If they do, their state funds could be pulled.
Regardless of what other districts have done - including the City of Columbia that recently lost its battle in the S.C. Supreme Court over their mask mandate - Maxey said HCS plans to stick to the law.
HCS received $247 million in state funds this past school year to help fund operations, and if these funds were denied, the district would be in a difficult spot.
"Where would we get a quarter of a billion locally to operate our schools ...?" Maxey said. "Given the [S.C. Supreme Court's] ruling, we do not think it is logical, advisable, or even legal for the school district administration or board to enact a face mask mandate in our schools."
As for plexiglass confusion - the plexiglass was put up after the Centers for Disease Control and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control shared data suggesting physical barriers would help reduce the spread of the virus, Maxey said.
Later in the spring, those same entities shared new science saying that the virus was spread via aerosols in the air, and barriers would not be effective, so they were taken down from HCS schools.
The plexiglass was recycled and a refund of $164,202 was returned to the district's general fund, HCS spokesperson Lisa Bourcier said last month.
Now the district is moving forward with installing bipolar ionization filters in every school throughout the district to improve air quality.
Maxey said many parents asked why the hybrid schedule was not an option this year, as it was a good way to help reduce the spread as well.
He said he agreed that it might be a good idea, but that state law prohibits the district from doing a hybrid schedule, and five-day instruction is what is required.
"I hope that it is clear that locally our school district and board are limited in what we can do to address the spread due to specific state laws that restrict us on actions we may have taken on a local level in the past," Maxey said.
He reiterated that the district will continue to adhere to the previous guidance of student mask-wearing on buses, and while vaccines are a personal choice, he said, they will continue to make vaccination opportunities available to the school communities.
Maxey said he hoped that the recent shortening of quarantines would reduce the amount of time that students are physically out of school.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the HCS COVID-19 dashboard showed a total of 696 positive cases of the virus among students and staff, with 9,700 students in quarantine.
View Maxey's full video here.