HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Horry County Schools said Monday that nearly one in four students have opted out of wearing masks as of Monday, after Governor Henry McMaster’s executive order giving parents a choice.

Out of about 45,000 students, 10,360 of them have opted out of wearing masks, according to the district.

Some parents at Monday’s meeting spoke out against the opt-out form and masks.

“Why are we having to sign these?” one parent asked. “There is no mask mandate.”

“Our kids need to see people smile,” another parent said. “Parents must ban together.”

The deadline to opt-out of in-person learning was midnight Monday, but there is no hard deadline for students to opt-out of wearing masks.

“Either opt out of the mask with the signed signature and go to school without the mask or put on a mask and go to school because they need to be in school,” District 6 Board Member Helen Smith said.

Number of students opting out of masks by school groups:

  • High schools: 2,729
  • Middle schools: 2,514
  • Elementary schools: 5,117

Due to the order, students were also given the option to learn independently from home (separate from virtual) for the remainder of the school year. According to the district, 584 students have opted to learn from home.

Number of students opting out of in-person by school groups:

  • High schools: 480
  • Middle schools: 67
  • Elementary schools: 37

“Let’s try and finish out this year,” Board Chairman Ken Richardson said. “It’s been a complicated year but let’s try and get them out of school and get through and hopefully everyone have a good summer and come back ready to go next year back to normal.”

McMaster last week directed the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to create a standardized form to allow parents to opt their child out of wearing a mask in school.

SC for Ed, and education advocacy group, originally planned a protest for Monday due to the decision and several other complaints. The group said ending the mask mandate in schools is “last in a long line of abuse” by state leaders against school staff, including McMaster’s “repeated attempts to pit the interests of public school staff against those of senior citizens and others,” according to the flyer.

That protest was modified after the group received threats “from groups with extreme views about masking, who have falsely represented our event as being primarily mask-related.”