Horry County back in red zone for virus spread, parents continue to debate safety of face-to-face instruction

Parents weigh in on safety of face-to-face instruction, after national reports puts Horry County in Red Zone

HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - One Horry County parent says school leaders need to take another look at their plans to allow face-to-face learning at all schools. This comes after a White House report puts Horry County in the red zone again for the coronavirus spread.

The report ranks Horry County in the top-12 red zone counties for the state. Based on the number of new cases in the last three weeks, Horry County remained in that red zone list.

This has parents a bit concerned about whether the learning environment will be safe for their children.

Cindy Johnson has two kids enrolled in Horry County Schools’ brick and mortar program. Her daughter is in elementary school, while her son is in middle school. This is the second week her daughter is participating in full-time face-to-face learning inside the classrooms.

Because Horry County is in the red zone, Johnson says she’s concerned about in-person learning until the number of coronavirus cases continues to decrease.

Johnson said parents are constantly receiving information from national and state leaders about what schools should be doing to ensure the classroom is safe. She says after seeing the state Department of Health and Environmental Control’s latest numbers for the county, along with the White House numbers for South Carolina, she feels full-time face-to-face instruction is not the best option at this time for HCS.

“It is a lot of information and trying to decide what’s best and what’s true and what’s not,” Johnson said. “It seems like a lot of parents are confused because there are so many heated debates. Everyone thinks they’re right. But no one really knows the answers so it’s really about doing a lot of research and digging to see what’s best [for the students].”

Johnson referenced the CDC’s updated operational strategy guidelines that were released last Friday. It provides a specific outline and recommendations on what the best learning environment would be for school districts based on coronavirus data in their communities.

The CDC recommends districts in the red or orange zone to not implement full-time face-to-face learning for many grade levels. Those zones are considered to be areas where virus transmission is higher.

However, the CDC also said when mitigation strategies such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing are implemented, the level of transmission is lower. This can help to make sure face-to-face learning can happen safely.

Horry County Schools says based on those recommendations, they will continue to move towards five days of face-to-face instruction, adhering to the safety guidelines. The district’s spokesperson provided this statement to WMBF News:

“At this time, HCS will continue to move towards 5-days, face-to-face instruction. On Friday, February 12, the CDC issued an ‘Operational Strategy’ for K-12 Schools through Phased Mitigation and referred to it as a “one-stop-shop” for schools to use in opening for in-person instruction and staying open. Please note that much of the CDC guidance is not new or different from what CDC has issued around school reopening in the past; instead, it is put in one place and intended to be used as a roadmap. As stated by the CDC, when mitigation strategies are strictly implemented and adhered to, the level of transmission is slowed. This will in turn enable schools that are open for in-person learning to stay open and help schools that have not yet reopened to return to in-person instruction.”

Although some parents like Johnson are concerned about this plan, others say they support it.

Brandi Roberts has a daughter in the 7th grade who is also enrolled in brick and mortar. Like some parents, Roberts feels the safety measures in place on the school grounds make that learning safer for kids.

“Me and my daughter are excited,” Roberts said. “We’re excited they’re moving towards five days a week.”

Roberts says based on other places families choose to go, the classroom is a safer option for kids during the pandemic.

“If we can play sports and we can go out to eat and go to the grocery store, I feel like our children can go to school and be safe,” Roberts said. “And I trust Horry County Schools to do it.”

Roberts says there’s a list of things people do on a regular basis, such as going to work and church services, while implementing safety precautions. She says for that reason, students should have the option to go to schools.

“As long as Horry County Schools are doing the safety measures they’re doing and people are using the common sense factor [things will work out safely],” Roberts said. “If your kids are sick, don’t send them to school, it’s common sense. If you’re sick, don’t go to work or the grocery store and spread your germs. Let someone else go for you. If HCS can do what they can do to go the extra mile, I’m fine with it.”

The school district is working to get plexiglass installed inside all the middle and high schools. Once that’s complete, the district plans to implement five days of face-to-face learning for all traditional learning students.

Some parents have expressed concerns about if the barriers will prevent the spread of coronavirus.

DHEC previously sent guidance to schools about the barriers. It states in situations where a student is seated closer than six-feet, they would not be considered a close contact if they meet three criteria:

  • plexiglass barriers are correctly installed
  • students are at least three-feet apart
  • students also wearing a face mask or covering appropriately

Copyright 2021 WMBF. All rights reserved.