Parents of middle schoolers should be on the lookout Tuesday or Wednesday for announcements from Horry County Schools about which middle schools in the district will be opening for five-day, in-person learning.
“There is no solution that 100% of a population will be pleased with," HCS Superintendent Rick Maxey said. "I get that. What we have tried to do is take into consideration the health needs and emotional needs of our students in getting them back into school."
Maxey told the Horry County Board of Education on Monday night that he anticipates making those announcements at least five days in advance so parents can make childcare adjustments.
Last week, the district announced that on Thursday Forestbrook Middle, Socastee Middle and Myrtle Beach Middle would be returning to in-person, full-time learning.
Plexiglass installations in middle schools should be done by Feb. 26, according to HCS officials, after which they will move straight into high schools in order to finish completely by March 15.
Maxey noted that some other districts in the state also received and are using plexiglass in various forms, including Allendale, Charleston, Colleton, Greenville, and Spartanburg District 6. He showed photos of plexiglass setups across the district.
Virtual teacher Cori Canada told the board during public comment that the district’s employees are disappointed in their lack of honesty and leadership regarding the plexiglass installation.
“The plexiglass was a mistake. It is hindering instruction and learning, and no amount of staged pictures can change that,” Canada told the board. “We have worked harder than ever and our jobs are immensely more difficult because of the decisions you have made."
She said some classrooms have children on iPads seven hours a day because children can’t easily see through the plexiglass for their lessons. She added that raises should be in order for teachers and other support staff as well as substitute teachers.
Teacher opinions should carry more weight in the district's planning, Canada said.
“Consult with teachers about how something will impact classrooms because we are the experts in our field,” she said.
Parent Justin Yarborough also spoke to the board, saying that the explanations from Maxey and the photos of the plexiglass setups during the meeting only came about because he threatened lawsuits against the district unless they gave further explanation behind their decision to install the barriers.
“Plexiglass holds absolutely no benefit whatsoever to stopping the threat of COVID,” Yarborough said.
Yarborough has an ongoing petition asking for the removal of the plexiglass that has more than 1,300 signatures.
HCS officials announced a partnership between the district and Conway Medical Center to help provide vaccinations for school employees. The process will follow the protocols of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
“It’s an ever-changing fluid plan. We don’t know when implementation will occur because we don’t know when CMC will receive the vaccinations or when Phase 1B will actually begin,” HCS Chief of Student Services Velna Allen said. “We are prepared. As soon as we get notice, we can start within five days of that notice”
Allen said CMC will handle all facets of vaccination: event setup, registration, data entry and staffing. Vaccinations will be scheduled alphabetically by last name.
Filling the District 8 vacancy
With the death of board member John Poston, the board will begin to move forward in filling Poston’s District 8 seat on the dais.
Those interested in the position must live in District 8 to be considered, and the district map can be found on both the Horry County Schools website as well as the Horry County Government site.
Kenny Generette, the staff attorney for HCS, said that the seat must be filled within 90 days of the date it was made vacant. That means a new board member must be selected by April 30.
The deadline for applications will be March 18.
On March 22, the board will meet to receive the information about the applicants. After spring break on April 12, the board plans to interview their chosen candidates. On April 19, the new District 8 member will be given the oath of office.
Whoever is appointed by the Board of Education to fill the seat would serve until the next general election in November 2022. At that time, the voters would determine who serves the rest of the term, which runs through 2024.
Substitute teacher shortage solutions
The district’s human resources committee mulled over ways to get more substitutes in the district on Monday afternoon.
Committee chairman and District 4 board member David Cox suggested the creation of permanent substitute positions, where someone just out of school could be assigned as a permanent substitute to a certain school or attendance area to get to know the area.
Chief of Human Resources Mary Anderson said that such a position would not directly address the current shortage of substitute teachers.
“That is not going to solve our [substitute] problem," she said. "That would cover one teacher absence per day. Most schools have at least one teacher absence per day. Many schools have way more than one teacher absence per day. That’s not going to fully take care of our substitute issue."
The committee asked the HR department and Chief Financial Officer John Gardner for further information on what it might cost to outsource substitutes from an outside agency as well as the financial impact of hiring of 27 permanent substitutes in the district.
Before the pandemic, Anderson said the district had a pool of about 1,600 substitutes. Now that number is less than 1,000. Since January, just 300 of them have accepted positions, citing various reasons.
Gardner said that depending on their education level, the cost to hire that many new substitutes would range between $1.6 million and $2.3 million.
“We’ve got a lot of kids coming out of school with master’s degrees before they even start teaching,” Gardner said.
Anderson said that just on Monday there were 232 substitutes needed, and only 75% of that need was able to be filled.
“It’s obvious that what we’re doing is not working as efficiently as we’d like it,” Cox said.
Maxey reiterated that HCS is not the only district with this issue.
“We are not unique, especially in a pandemic environment," he said. "It’s a struggle to locate subs throughout the state. It’s difficult in ordinary circumstances."
The committee said decisions needed to be made quickly about which route the district will take in terms of employee raises. Gardner said they have until June to finalize their decision.
District 5 board member Howard Barnard said that paying a better rate might help draw more substitutes.
“Up the pay and you’ll get more people to participate,” Barnard said.
The average pay for a substitute in HCS is $80 per day.
Anderson and HCS Human Resources plan to gather more information to present to the committee in approximately two more weeks so decisions can be made quickly.