CONWAY, S.C. (WMBF) – Horry County Schools has set a completion date goal to install plexiglass barriers at its middle and high schools.
The district said during a meeting Monday that it plans to have the barriers installed at all middle and high schools by March 15.
HCS Superintendent Dr. Rick Maxey’s report during Monday’s meeting included an update on the project. The barriers are currently being installed inside the district’s middle schools. Officials said the installation of the barriers was recently completed at Socastee Middle School and at Ten Oaks Middle School, with work currently ongoing at Myrtle Beach Middle School.
Work on Forestbrook Middle School and St. James Middle School are both set to start next week, and the district says it takes one to two days to complete barrier installation at each school.
The announcement comes as the district is facing criticism over the barriers and the process of installing them. An online petition circulated last week, asking officials to stop installation until certain issues are resolved. The petition calls on the district to perform background checks on outside contractors and asks the State Fire Marshal to approve all classrooms that already have, or are getting, plexiglass.
HCS responded to the petition, saying that it contracted local businesses and vendors to install the barriers, adding that vendors are “contractually obligated to hire skilled workers, complete a background check on each employee, and enforce HCS policy compliance while on our campuses.”
All Horry County elementary school students in the brick-and-mortar program are now back in class five days a week after plexiglass barriers were put in all classrooms.
Maxey also said the district is planning to have its teacher vaccination plan formalized next week. He added that HCS has been in talks with medical partners since last month.
Maxey also explained that the district sent out a survey to employees, showing that around half were willing to get the vaccine. He said the district will be ready once teachers and other school employees are eligible to be vaccinated.
The board additionally announced it had selected Neil James as its new vice chair, replacing the late John Poston. Poston died late last month after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
According to the HCS website, James is the representative of District 10, which includes areas of Carolina Forest, Conway, Green Sea Floyds and Loris. He was first appointed to the board in 2009 and was elected to office in 2010, 2014 and 2018.
James also previously served as interim chair from May 2018 through January 2019, according to the district.
HCS Chairman Ken Richardson also said the board will not discuss how to fill Poston’s seat until their next meeting.
The district also held a special-called meeting earlier Monday to focus on budgeting and staffing for the K-12 virtual program.
School leaders later voted to approve a personnel allocation formula, which will allow the district to add additional staff members to next years virtual program. Those roles will include assistant principals, guidance counselors and support staff positions for the K-12 virtual program.
The district said having those positions in the program will help schools support and respond to student needs better in the virtual environment.
The formula will also help determine the pupil-teacher ratio for the virtual environment.
As of now, the district projects around 5,000-5,200 students to be enrolled in the 2021-2022 virtual program. Based on that estimation, school leaders are looking to add 10-16 staff members, minimum. However, that number is subject to change because it’s based on student enrollment.
The estimated cost for the project is $900,000 to $1.5 million for non-instructional staff. The district said the funding comes from the CARES ACT.
The financial planning of the virtual program could not be done back in December due to second-semester decision date deadlines. Families had until Dec. 15 to decide if their students would participate in the virtual program during the second semester.
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