HORRY COUNTY (WMBF) – The homeowners association in a Murrells Inlet neighborhood announced late Tuesday evening it would allow school buses to pick up students within the neighborhood.
This decision comes after residents in The Pines of St, James found out Monday that all bus stops for the neighborhood would be at the entrance alongside Highway 707. In the past, there were multiple stops throughout the residential area.
Homeowners in the area received an email from the community manager late Tuesday evening.
The manager said she worked with the board of directors and Senator Stephen Goldfinch to resolve "this school bus issue that has plagued our community".
Tuesday evening's email stated, "Horry County Schools has withdrawn its demand that the release be signed before school buses will enter your community."
Students were picked up from their regular stop for the first day of school.
Previously, the South Carolina Department of Education sent out waivers requesting permission for buses to travel down private roads.
Residents said they thought this issue was resolved during the Aug. 16 homeowners' association meeting.
It wasn't until many families went to orientation on Monday that they discovered the issue was not resolved.
Jim Wright, transportation director for Horry County Schools, said he can't drive the buses down the streets until the HOA gives permission.
The Pines of St. James' residents said they tried reaching out to their HOA, community manager and Board of Directors, but residents have not been able to get any answers.
"The homeowners association made this decision for the entire neighborhood, for all the parents, without talking to any of us," said resident Connie Kirk.
The community manager did not return WMBF's call for a request for comment.
"We're told by the HOA that it's a minor inconvenience. It's more than a minor inconvenience for a lot of parents," said resident Janice MacDonald.
Now, families are worried about the traffic and safety for their kids waiting along the four-lane highway.
Another issue is there is only one entrance in and out of the neighborhood.
"There's going to be a lot of congestion and potentially a very dangerous situation," Kirk said.
There have been 100 traffic collisions that injured 42 people in the last four years on 707 between the neighborhood and St. James Elementary School, according to the South Carolina Office of Highway Safety.
In 2016, there was also two pedestrian injuries along the road.
"There's a much bigger danger in having children ages 4 and up stand on that busy intersection on 707 during very heavy traffic hours," said local resident Maggie Parker. "I think that's much, much more dangerous than allowing school buses to come into the neighborhood."
The SCDOE revised a previously released version of the waiver. Wright said permission to drive on private roads is not new, but this year the waiver included a new title and stricter wording, specifically around liability.
An owner of private property/driveway needs to acknowledge "there are risks of damage to property if a school bus utilizes the private property/driveway."
The waiver asks owners to "assume these risks" and "waive any claim to liability" against the school district and SCDOE.
This is the section residents said their HOA is concerned about.
The community manager addressed this concern in her Tuesday email, "Obviously, the homeowner's association is not empowered to speak on behalf of an individual homeowner, nor is it appropriate for the county not to be held responsible for it's own negligence, should it occur."
A new and final version of the waiver removed the word "roadway."
"A bus should be able to travel until the word 'private' appears at an entrance or gate, which is private. 'Private property' is intended for such facilities as churches, convenience centers, etc.," said Ryan Brown, SCDOE's chief communication officer.
Brown said the form was changed so that HOAs would not be held liable for regular operation on privately owned but publicly maintained roads.
This is the final version of the waiver. The Horry County School District approved its changes.
"Everyone is trying to blame it on the county or the state or the HOA, but for me it all boils down to the safety of the kids," MacDonald said.
On Tuesday, the residents in the Pines of St. James HOA said they were still seeking answers from their HOA and anticipated the first day of school to be a "nightmare."
"I feel like some other people are trying to play a game and unfortunately the pawns that they are using are my kids," Parker said.
Residents can check out their local bus stops and routes here.