HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Some Horry County parents have created a Facebook group and petition asking Horry County Schools to be more lenient in their attendance policy.

“If you’re going to make us keep our kids home for every little thing now, then you guys need to be more flexible,” said Heather Hare, whose two kids attend Carolina Forest Elementary.

Flexibility is what around 60 Horry County parents in the Facebook group “Parents Against the Current HCS Attendance Policy” want from the school district.

“If we start back to five days a week and you know, and they send home all that information and it doesn’t say that they’ve changed or amended their attendance policy to handle this pandemic, then certainly we’re going to get it together and get it going,” said Hare on the petition the group has created to send to the South Carolina Board of Education.

Hare tells News13 last school year, school officials have sent her son, with asthma, home and said he can’t come back until the cough is gone.

After four unexcused days out, they started getting letters that they’d be taken to court if the child missed any more school.

That aligns with the South Carolina Department of Education’s policy that says if a child has three consecutive unexcused absences or five total, they are considered truant and can be asked to go to family court.

Moms like Hare and Ashley Rider say that policy needs to be changed.

“I want to see the school board support us as parents, because it seems like we have the most amazing teachers in the country here, but our school board could give two craps less about any of us, and that’s how it seems, and if it’s not, then they need to do a better job putting their foot forward,” said Hare.

The South Carolina Department of Education allows each district to choose how they define lawful and unlawful absences, according to Chief Communications Officer Ryan Brown.

Statement from South Carolina Dept. of Education

South Carolina Code of Laws Section 59-65-90 and State Board of Education Regulation 43-274 define truancy. The law and regulation stipulate that a child ages 6 to 17 years is considered truant when the child has three consecutive unlawful absences or a total of five unlawful absences.

School districts must adopt policies to define and list lawful and unlawful absences.

(A) Lawful absences include but are not limited to:

  • absences caused by a student’s own illness and whose attendance in school would endanger his or her health or the health of others,
  • absences due to an illness or death in the student’s immediate family,
  • absences due to a recognized religious holiday of the student’s faith, and
  • absences due to activities that are approved in advance by the principal.

(B) Unlawful absences include but are not limited to

  • absences of a student without the knowledge of his or her parents, or
  • absences of a student without acceptable cause with the knowledge of his or her parents.
  • (C) Suspension is not to be counted as an unlawful absence for truancy purposes.

Once a child meets the threshold for truancy, a written intervention plan must be created to address the student’s continued absence in conjunction with the student and parent(s) or guardian(s). Should the parent(s) or guardian(s) refuse to cooperate with the intervention planning to remedy the attendance problem, the school district has the authority to refer the student to Family Court in accordance with S.C. Code Ann. Section 59-65-50 (2004), and a report shall be filed against the parent(s) or guardian(s) with the Department of Social Services in compliance with S.C. Code Ann. Section 20-7- 490(2)(c)(Supp. 2002).

Horry County Schools is one of the only school districts in the News13 viewing area to require a medical note as an excused absence.

Districts like Florence County School District 5, Marlboro County School District and Marion County School District all accept parents’ notes.

Florence County School District 1’s website says students are expected to be at school each day unless they are sick or a family emergency arises. The website says a written note explaining the absence is required within three days of the absence.

Florence County School District 5 and the Marlboro County School District both tell News13 they accept notes signed by parents as an excused absence.

Florence County School District 3’s website spells out the state law that says a child is considered as meeting the definition of truancy if they have three consecutive unlawful absences or a total of five unlawful absences.

The Marion County School District’s website says within five days after returning to school, a student must submit a written excuse explaining his/her absence, signed by his/her parent/legal guardian and accompanied, if applicable, by a doctor’s statement.

Dillon County School District 4‘s superintendent tells News13, for financial reasons, they accept notes signed by parents as an excused absence.

For the Darlington County School District, students can have ten days of absences before a medical note is required.

Horry County parents Hare and Rider say a parent’s note should be sufficient, unless the child misses an abnormal number of days, because some parents can’t afford to take their child to the doctor each time they’re sick.

“When I was in elementary school or even junior high, I was allowed to have a parent note written out, had a phone number on it, my mom wrote it out, said I was sick, if there were any questions or concerns please contact her by phone,” said Rider, whose 7-year-old daughter previously attended Palmetto Bays Elementary.

Hare also says the school district’s threat to hold a student back grades if they have been absent an unlawful amount of time should be changed.

For now, Rider tells News13 she’ll keep her children in an online academy until the policy is changed.

News13 reached out to Horry County Schools for comment and is waiting to hear back.