CONWAY — An Horry County Schools kindergarten teacher and a frustrated parent were outspoken during public comment at the Board of Education meeting on Feb. 22, with both making pleas to the board to rid classrooms of plexiglass.
Cori Canada, a teacher at Carolina Forest Elementary, spoke for nearly 4 minutes, addressing a bevy of topics, including plexiglass, the lack of teacher raises or bonuses and the ongoing issues with available substitute teachers that are willing to work for HCS.
“Members of the board, we are breaking,” said Canada, pausing to look at each board member. “And you have the power to lighten our load. Please, do the right thing.”
The “right thing,” according to Canada, is for the board to “take responsibility for actions when mistakes are made,” pointing to the plexiglass installation across elementary and middle schools, with high schools on the horizon.
Canada claims that beyond the plexiglass having no scientific advantage, there are new issues that the district isn’t addressing — including students still utilizing iPads with headphones because they can’t see nor hear.
“The plexiglass, that was half haphazardly installed, is now rusting, falling apart, screws are coming out, is easily broken and pushed over, and cannot be sanitized,” Canada said. “It’s only been two weeks of full time and It offers no protection from the virus. And, no, many of your students are not 3 feet apart with the plexiglass, because there is no space in already overcrowded classrooms.”
And while the district celebrated that it will have in excess of 150 teams playing spring sports on Feb. 22, Canada wasn’t as impressed.
“Young kids are not allowed to interact with one another or play on the playground, but sports can go on as usual,” Canada said.
Justin Yarbrough, a parent of multiple HCS students, pushed aside his prepared speech, instead directly addressing Rick Maxey, the HCS superintendent.
Maxey pointed to an Oct. 5 recommendation from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control that indicated that plexiglass can be utilized in order to allow students to be 3 feet away from each other inside the classroom.
The superintendent also showed about 10 minutes of photos of elementary schools, where students appeared to be much closer than 3 feet.
“The plexiglass was a mistake and it is hindering instruction and learning. No amount of staged pictures and videos will erase that fact,” Canada said.
Yarbrough also took exception to Maxey’s slideshow, questioning why the district was holding onto a report that is 5 months old in order to make current and future decisions — particularly with the three guidelines from Oct. 5 include social distancing.
“Three guidelines — one of them being 3 feet apart. I would say at least 20 percent of the things you showed me didn’t have 3 feet apart. So you’re already violating 33 percent of it. So I guess you get to pick and choose which one to use,” Yarbrough said.
Yarbrough started an online petition on change.org titled “Do not cage out children in Horry County Schools,” and it has 1,418 signatures to date.
Canada’s angst also stretched to the lack of teacher raises or bonuses this school year, making it two years without a move forward with pay for those that have remained in the district.
She also indicated that a “lack of consistency, honesty and equal treatment among teachers and support staff” has impacted the stable of substitute teachers available to the district.
At the outset of the meeting, David Cox, the District 4 representative, confirmed that the district was attempting to find a more permanent solution to having more substitutes on hand, pointing to many of the current lineup “are in a classification that would be considered at-risk.”
Canada says that substitutes only making $80 per day impacts the quality of teachers the district can attract.
“With a substitute shortage and teacher shortage, why aren’t certified employees of this district office substituting in our classrooms?” Canada said.
“We are asking that the board and district start consulting with teachers on how something will impact our classrooms because we are the experts in our field.”
Reach Nick Masuda at 843-607-0912. Follow him on Twitter at @nickmasudaphoto.