Horry County Schools will spend the summer removing the $5 million worth of plexiglass barriers that the district installed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Superintendent Rick Maxey announced the change during a board meeting Monday night. He said the decision was based on the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has revised its recommendations as more of the population has been vaccinated for COVID-19.
“I do think that everyone will agree that certainly the plexiglass has served its purpose,” Maxey said. “But we’re also glad to be transitioning away from the use of it.”
On Monday, the district received a set of procedures for recycling the plexiglass from the state Department of Education, Maxey said. The district plans to hire a contractor to remove the barriers.
“We cannot manage the extraction,” Maxey said. “It took several months to put into place. It would have to be disassembled and also transported wherever we need to store it and/or recycle.”
The barriers, which district officials said would allow children to safely be three feet apart instead of six, drew criticism from some parents and teachers who said the plexiglass looked like "cages" and questioned its effectiveness.
As for wearing masks, Maxey said that guidance has also changed, though it could be different by the time school starts.
“Face coverings are recommended by CDC and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC),” he said. “However, of course we’ve entered into a different phase, that phase being that some people are fully vaccinated.”
District officials plan to begin the next school year with more relaxed COVID-19 protocols, though they stressed that the policies could change depending on the latest recommendations from health officials.
Some expected precautions include limiting non-essential school visitors and activities and providing sanitizing stations throughout school buildings. Those changes were implemented in response to the pandemic, but district officials want to continue some of these procedures. For example, they can hold virtual meetings with parents instead of in-person conversations. That’s sometimes for convenient for parents.
“We feel like that it helped us in lots of areas, not just with COVID-19,” HCS Chief of Student Services Velna Allen said of the pandemic-era policies.
Meal services would also be different starting in the fall. Food would be provided in disposable containers or bags to reduce contact. For example, at lunch students would go to the cafeteria, pick up their meal, then return to the classroom to eat.
The district is expected to receive more than $125 million in federal pandemic response funding over the next three years, and in order to get that money the district must prepare a plan for safely operating schools.
The plan, which is posted on the district’s website, must be reviewed every six months and updated based on the latest guidance from health officials. A survey about student needs is also posted on the district’s website through Friday. Parents, teachers and other community members can share their views on the plan through the survey there.