Horry County's elementary school students will return to five-day, face-to-face classes on Feb. 8.
That day will mark the end of the hybrid model of instruction, which involves some in-person classes and virtual education. The week of Feb. 1 will continue in the hybrid format.
“We have quite a bit of changes going on that first week – students returning to brick and mortar from virtual, almost 3,000 of them,” said Chief of Student Services Velna Allen, sitting in for Superintendent Rick Maxey. “We decided to have that one week as a phase-in – to get used to new students. High school students will start different schedules.”
If students are currently enrolled in the K-12 HCS virtual program or have enrolled in the virtual program for the second semester, this announcement does not affect those students.
The $5 million plexiglass additions were installed in elementary schools over the last week, and the district has also completed the installations at Socastee Middle, with Myrtle Beach Middle and Ten Oaks Middle coming soon.
The other middle and high schools will have different configurations. Building services employees are meeting with principals to plan for the completion of middle and high school installations.
According to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) guidelines, plexiglass on desks will allow students to be three feet apart safely, instead of six, therefore fitting more children back in the classrooms.
“What we’re doing tonight, we promised to give parents a five-day notice,” board chairman Ken Richardson said. “Now we’re giving you two weeks ... we told everyone there was going to be a transition.”
The chairman said middle and high schools will return to school in a different fashion than elementary students — once an attendance area is finished with plexiglass installations, that attendance area will return to five-day instruction.
Richardson said he wants to bring hope back to the children.
“We’ve lost more children to suicides than we have to COVID," he said. "It’s time to put them back in school."
He also reiterated that there were "strings attached" to the $5 million that came from the state Board of Education to pay for the plexiglass.
"We couldn't give it to teachers," Richardson said.
He said that the reason Horry County can't be compared to Georgetown County Schools is because HCS is so much larger than that district.
New District 5 chairman Howard Barnard asked Chief of Support Services Daryl Brown whether the local fire marshal signed off on the plexiglass installations, and Brown said he would have to check, but that the installations were signed off on by DHEC.
As for how to clean the plexiglass, Barnard asked for a definite answer, as he had visited a school or two where teachers were having to use one solution to clean the desks, and a different solution to clean the plexiglass.
Brown said he thought the plexiglass cleaning solution was Dawn dish detergent and warm water, because if other cleaners are used “the plexiglass can fog up.”
Teachers will have to help in cleaning, as Brown said HCS “does not have enough custodial help to do it all by ourselves.”
Barnard said he was concerned the extra cleaning was putting too much extra on the teachers.
Parent Justin Yarbrough spoke out against the plexiglass, saying he consulted "every government agency" he could and no one could tell him there was any benefit to the plexiglass.
"Parents are not happy about the plexiglass," Yarbrough said. "[The kids] aren't back in school; they are sitting in cages."
As of Friday, the HCS COVID-19 dashboard showed 163 cases of COVID-19 in the district, among 105 students and 58 staff members. Monday afternoon’s dashboard showed some changes since Friday with 132 cases total, including 82 students and 50 staffers.