Horry County School Board chairman ‘cautiously optimistic’ ahead of new school year

Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 8:00 AM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Horry County students are returning to the classroom on Tuesday with no mask mandate in place as COVID-19 cases rise across the state.

Like many parents, teachers, and students, Horry County School Board Chairman Ken Richardson said he had hoped COVID-19 wouldn’t be a significant issue this school year. But even with cases still high, he said he is “cautiously optimistic” going into the new year.

“The CDC would tell us one thing on Monday and DHEC would tell us something on Wednesday, and then the state would come back down with something on Thursday. And then the following Monday, we we’re having to change everything. It made it look like we didn’t know what we we’re doing,” Richardson said as he reflected on the past school year.

But now, he said they have enough data to make decisions and fine tune and streamline procedures. Richardson said he feels prepared to respond to cases and quarantines inside schools. But he admits he can’t control how cases spread in the community.

“I know what’s gonna happen on Tuesday. The kids are gonna go to school, everyone’s going to be excited. But a week later, we could have some quarantines, we could have some other things going on. But all I can do, all I can do and the board can do, is take our data that we’ve got and try to do the best we can,” Richardson said.

When asked if the district would be in a better spot to protect students from COVID-19 if they could require masks, Richardson said he agrees with South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s decision to allow parents to choose.

He said either way, mask or no mask, no student should face any retaliation or bullying for their family’s decision on mask wearing.

RELATED STORY: No mask mandate & rising cases: How HCS plans to keep students safe this school year

Another big topic heading into the school year is addressing learning loss. However, Richardson said HCS students are far ahead other districts. He added parents stepped up and didn’t let kids fall behind.

But for those who were struggling, he said they’ve taken adequate steps to ensure they won’t fall behind more, and are already getting caught up.

“Summer school - some of our rates were at 80% for students who took summer classes. Some of our pass rates were 79, 80%. I mean that’s great. That’s letting us know what we’re reaching that bar that we need to reach,” he said.

When it comes to the American Rescue Plan funding, he said there’s more than enough money to do what the district needs.

“I think the ESSER funds are too much money,” Richardson said. “We’re out there looking for the best way we can to spend the money. But the thing is if you get in a situation where you get a lot of money in a two to three year period of time, that money is going to run out at some point. But it’s like getting a grant. You get a grant and everything’s going great as long as that grant money’s there.”

On top of money for COVID-19 supplies, ESSER funds have allowed the district to hire interventionists for elementary and middle students in both reading and math. While not all the spots have been filled yet, the interventionists are set to work with small groups and address learning loss alongside traditional teachers.

“We have not been in a situation where we’ve had this much money thrown at us this fast for us to find something to do with it,” he added.

But overall, Richardson said he wants parents, teachers, and students to know he wants to keep everyone in the building and have the school year be as safe and as normal as possible.

“We’ve got to make it exciting again,” he said.

The first day for Horry County Schools is Tuesday, Aug. 17.

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