Horry County Schools approves moving school start date to Sept. 8, releases proposed re-opening plan

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CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) — The board for Horry County Schools (HCS) unanimously approved moving the school start date to Sept. 8 due to the coronavirus pandemic at Monday night’s virtual board meeting that lasted approximately four hours.

The reopening task force’s five subcommittees for HCS also released their proposed plans for returning kids to in-person classes in the fall. A plan must be submitted to the state Department of Education by Friday, but HCS can ask for an extension.

Board chair Ken Richardson proposed moving the start date from Aug. 17 to the day after Labor Day, saying the move buys HCS more time to gather data and hopefully see the spread of the virus slow down dramatically.

“The one thing I don’t want anybody doing, at the state or federal level, is I don’t want anybody trying to tell us when we’re going to put our people back in schools,” Richardson said.

According to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), about 13.2% of all coronavirus cases in Horry County are in people in two categories made up almost entirely of school-aged children. About 10.2% of the county’s cases are in people aged 11-20 years old, while about 3.0% of the county’s cases are in children 10 years old and younger.

DHEC also released updated metrics for recent disease activity in South Carolina. That guidance says if classes began Monday, Marlboro County would be the only county recommended to have a hybrid of in-person and virtual classes, according to guidelines from the state’s AccelerateED task force. The other 45 counties would be only recommended for full distance learning.

In Monday’s updated DHEC metrics, Horry County had the second-highest incidence rate in the state (796.2 cases per 100,000 people over the last two weeks). The county also had the seventh-highest positive test rate of 25.2%. Both numbers have risen since last week when the incidence rate was 772.3 and the positive test rate was 24.3%.

Before HCS’s 2020-21 school year officially begins, there will be five days allocated for the LEAP program to help kids who fell behind during distance learning. Those days are August 20, 21 and 24-26. State law requires those five days of in-person instruction to be held before the start of the academic year.

Staff development days will be held August 27, 28, 31, and September 1-4. HCS superintendent Dr. Rick Maxey said about 250 new teachers are coming in this year and need to be trained.

Some of the HCS task force recommendations include signage for social distancing and having students start their days directly reporting to their classrooms, avoiding gathering in gyms or cafeterias.

The recommendations also include discouraging students from bringing book bags, backpacks, lunch boxes, or other containers unless absolutely needed. Students should also limit the sharing of pencils, pens, and other supplies.

Students and staff would be asked to perform daily self-checks before arriving at school. The district said there is currently not a plan for doing temperature checks at the door because the task force said it would take too long to get everyone in the building.

The school district would also like to establish a COVID-19 tracking system and have a dedicated space for symptomatic people. Anyone asked to leave school due to symptoms would not be allowed to return until they are symptom-free. If someone in a classroom tests positive, other students may have to quarantine.

Board member Janice Morreale, who represents the St. James and Socastee attendance areas, said she thinks more should be done to prevent students and staff with COVID-19 from entering a school building.

“I would just hate for a parent to send a little child to school because their child still has a fever and said they didn’t feel well, but they’re still sending them anyway,” Morreale said. “Then, that could infect more than just that child.”

There is no indication if HCS will need to pay for testing. The schools would limit non-essential visitors, typically for activities like clubs, presentations, and speakers.

Teachers and staff would be required to wear a mask, while students would only be encouraged to wear them. This was a big topic of debate during the meeting.

Some board members said no one should be forced to wear them. Others said in a lot of cities, masks are required and they’re only effective if everyone wears one, saying it’s not right to make the teachers wear them to protect the students, but not making the students wear them to protect the teachers.

The task force is also recommending that all desks in the classroom are spread six feet apart and facing the same direction so students aren’t breathing towards each other.

The district would also have cleaning and disinfecting procedures following CDC, DHEC and OSHA guidelines throughout the day, especially between classes.

Students would have to eat lunch in the classrooms, rather than in the cafeteria. The district is waiting on a USDA waiver so all students could get a free lunch.

School buses would operate at 50% capacity. Family members would be seated together and seats next to bus drivers would be left empty.

HCS surveyed families and staff members about how to re-open. When asked what they would want if in-person classes couldn’t be held five days a week, roughly 70% of parents preferred a hybrid method of online learning and face-to-face instruction. Fifty-three percent of parents said their students would not use bus transportation to get to and from school.

In the staff survey, approximately 65% of staff said they don’t have a problem with having to wear a mask. About 60% of staff said they were concerned about being able to enforce social distancing.

Read the summarized presentation below. Note: This is only a proposed plan and is subject to change.

The entire proposed re-opening plan can be read here:

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