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HCS says it hasn't made up its mind about instructional method for next week

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Poston COVID

Horry County Schools Board of Education member John Poston was not in attendance for the Jan. 11 board meeting due to his battle with COVID-19.

CONWAY — As students and teachers began their second week of COVID-19-related remote learning on Monday, Horry County Schools did not reveal what type of instruction will be in place on Jan. 19, leaving 30,000-plus hybrid students in flux and families with less than a week to make adjustments either way.

Velna Allen, the district’s chief officer of student services, indicated that HCS will make a decision on Wednesday and let both employees and students know at that time. The South Carolina Department of Education requires districts to give students and their families just five days notice of the instructional method.

Allen spoke on behalf of Superintendent Rick Maxey, who was not in attendance at Monday's Board of Education meeting for unknown reasons.

HCS reported 101 current positive cases of COVID-19 on Monday, including 48 among students and 53 with staff members. Meanwhile, 173 staff members are in quarantine.

The district has chosen not to report the number students in quarantine, while also not hosting ongoing testing efforts that were allowed by the governor’s office.

As of Monday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported that Horry County had an incidence rate of 785, nearly quadruple that which is considered to be “high.” Also, the county has had 2,779 cases over the past two weeks with a 7-day positive test rate of 29.8 percent (8,218 tests), including 34.1 percent on Monday.

The HCS district office has been the target of frustration for its employees in recent weeks, with teachers and support staff pointing to “unfair” and “discriminatory” treatment amid teachers and students being allowed to work from home, while support staff has been forced to work on campus.

On Saturday, the Post and Courier Myrtle Beach attained a note from teachers that called for the resignation of Allen after she allegedly told employees on a video call that they should not speak to the media.

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"The teachers of Horry County request Velna Allen’s immediate resignation for creating a hostile work environment by asking us to not speak truthfully about practices that directly put its teachers, staff and students in harm's way," the statement read. "Ms. Allen this goes against our right to free speech and it will not be tolerated. Your teachers will not be bullied anymore."

The board addressed its missing member, with John Poston, the vice chairman, hospitalized and on a ventilator while battling COVID-19.

A vote to consider the vice chairman for the year was postponed, called for by chairman Ken Richardson.

Allen updated the board on the number of students that have chosen to move back to brick-and-mortar instruction, with 3,152 moving back to in-person. There are also 893 students moving from hybrid in HCS Virtual, a full-time remote learning program.

In an update about plexiglass being installed on campuses throughout the district, a spokesperson said that 19 of 28 elementary schools have been completed. It is anticipated that elementary schools will be finished on Jan. 18.

District 6 representative Helen Smith questioned whether or not elementary school students could return to full-time, in-person instruction because those classrooms will be finished.

Richardson was clear where he stood, reiterating something he has said before.

"We didn't spend $5 million to leave the children at home," Richardson said.

High schools and middle schools have not yet begun.

Reach Nick Masuda at 843-607-0912. Follow him on Twitter at @nickmasudaphoto. 

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