The Horry County Board of Education will meet again next week to discuss the options for this year's graduation celebrations.
“Each attendance area has its own traditions, history and uniqueness, and we certainly want to honor that,” said Horry County Schools Superintendent Rick Maxey, noting school officials plan to consider a range of choices from the least to the most restrictive. District leaders will include principals and other staff in the decision-making process.
Last week, after initially announcing that graduations would have to be virtual, the school district decided to look for more creative ways to celebrate this year’s seniors. Options could include (but are not limited to) the use of football stadiums, other venues or celebrating in-person ceremonies at a later date.
District 5 member Janice Morreale mentioned that some schools have talked about having students sitting six feet apart, and even having school nurses take people’s temperatures as they enter the event.
Morreale said the S.C. Department of Education will be coming out with some best practice guidelines that schools can use in their graduation ceremony planning.
“We need to be meeting and discussing," she said. "We might not have a choice but to have a virtual option, but we will look at several options on the table depending on where we are with the virus."
Richardson mentioned SCDOE Superintendent Molly Spearman's statement that she would give districts some discretion for graduation options.
“The problem is, I don’t know how much she’s going to give us," Richardson said. "I’d rather them shoot us down but have some good options to go to."
School board member Russell Freeman said he's glad school officials were discussing how to honor the seniors, but he also said he had received many complaints at the high school level from parents over the past few weeks about the large eLearning workload some students are having.
He noted the state Department of Education updated guidelines for coursework, saying high school students should have no more than 270 minutes per day, including all subjects, practice, reading and research.
“It seems to have gone up from what I heard. I hope we’re making sure these teachers know [the new guidelines],” Freeman said, mentioning he has three children at home doing work as well. “Our kids are spending a lot of time in front of computers. Sometimes 10 hours a day. We’re really putting a lot on our children and that’s the thing I keep hearing most about. Why is there so much? It’s getting over the top with many students.”
He said since there could be a second wave of the virus that might land the district in eLearning again at a later date, he wants to get a handle on the workload issues.
“It’s amazing what we have done as a district, I applaud everyone … it’s great how we’ve done this and so quickly. But our students are overwhelmed right now, especially in high school,” Freeman said. “I hope we can reiterate to our teachers that they need to back off … to 4.5 hours per day including everything [all subjects].”
The board also decided to follow the South Carolina School Boards Association’s lead in suspending public input until COVID-19 is over.
“There’s only one more meeting between now and the end of the school year that would even qualify for public comment – I’m hoping we don’t need to get into that,” chairman Ken Richardson said.
Not all board members agreed – the vote passed 9-2, with District 3 member Ray Winters and District 6 member Helen Smith voting no.
“Writing letters or emails could be appropriate,” Smith said.
Richardson said that the board would still be able to keep tabs on what concerns the public has.
“I get emails anyway," he said. "I don’t think we really lose sight of what the public has on their mind. Other districts are going with the position that this is temporary. I’m hoping this is over quickly."
Chief Financial Officer John Gardner updated the facilities committee on their financial situation, saying that before the pandemic, projected revenues from the penny sales tax were set to be around $68 million.
“With COVID-19, we know those numbers are going to change,” Gardner said. “With COVID, all bets are off.”
Gardner said they worked with their financial consultant with some scenarios that included reductions in sales tax revenues of 10% to 15%, and in both cases the district will be able to sustain and support their current capital project priorities.
District 2 member Sherrie Todd was worried about the revenues.
“I don’t mean to sound like doom and gloom, but Myrtle Beach is a ghost town … these projections are a little bit high," Todd said. "Our main concern has got to be sustainment and technology, and I’m just hoping and praying we can collect enough to do that."
Gardner said the capital projects would be fine for the next school year.
“Beyond that, the crystal ball is very uncertain,” Gardner said.
Gardner added that employees will not be receiving their STEP increase this year, and the state will pass a continuing resolution and address the 2020-2021 budget in the fall.
Chief Human Resources Officer Mary Anderson also added that the Teacher of the Year award, which was to be given to one of the top five finalists later in May, will be postponed until the fall because classroom observations were unable to be completed due to COVID-19.