By Ruben Lowman
Horry County Schools announced on Monday, Aug. 31, that all schools will begin the 2020-21 academic year utilizing hybrid learning, which means that students will attend class in-person two times a week and utilize online learning for the rest of their coursework over the week.
The expectation over the past month has been that the hybrid option would be selected, based on the disease activity reports that have been released by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. The decision for which particular educational plan was selected came down to the incidence rate of coronavirus spread throughout the county in recent weeks.
“As far as our instructional models are concerned, if the disease spread activity is medium [the district] will be operating on a hybrid instructional day with groups assigned to a specific day,” said HCS Superintendent Rick Maxey.
The district’s students will be placed into three different groups, determining when they will be attending in-person classroom instruction during the week. Those in Groups A and G start their academic years with in-person instruction on Tuesday, Sept. 8, with students in Group B beginning Wednesday, Sept. 9. County officials stated that the schedules would be completed this week in PowerSchool.
“If we look at the meter for today, that means that we are going to start school the day after Labor Day with the hybrid instructional model,” Maxey continued. “What is important about this report is that it is an ongoing thing and we will receive that report from DHEC every Monday. And we will use that to determine what the following week looks like as far as the instructional model.”
HCS’s Board of Education had previously unanimously approved the reopening plans for all of the schools in the district, which focused extensively on extra safety and distancing protocols that will be implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The plan included two different options for instruction, hybrid learning and a completely virtual learning option.
Option 1 would see students receive either full in-person, hybrid or distance learning depending on how prevalent the spread of the virus is throughout the county. District officials have been advised by the South Carolina Department of Education to evaluate the disease activity reports two weeks before making any changes to the instructional model. If the incidence rate of coronavirus spread within Horry County spikes to high, schools will revert to virtual learning five days a week, and if it drops to low students will be allowed to return to classrooms every day of the week.
The past several months has seen a fluctuation in the statistics for individuals testing positive for COVID-19, resulting in anxiety as to how the schoolyear would begin safely while giving children something close to the traditional educational environment they are accustomed to. Over the past few weeks the positive rate has dropped, allowing students to return to classrooms part of the week.
The Option 2 instructional model is completely virtual, where students will receive their education solely through HCS Virtual, which requires prospective students to commit to online learning for the entirety of the semester. Students were given the opportunity to enroll using this option up until Aug. 10 and are assigned to the district’s Group E. County officials stated that nearly 14,000 of the district’s students have chosen to take their classes only using HCS Virtual.
Horry County is one of 18 districts throughout the state that has been assessed as having medium disease activity by DHEC, with 28 counties reporting high spread activity and no counties in South Carolina deemed as having a low spread of the virus.
The 2020-21 academic year will began on Tuesday, Sept. 8, for all students enrolled in schools within the district.