COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — School districts in South Carolina now have the authority to require masks and should check with their lawyers on what kind of accommodations they need to make for medically vulnerable students, the state’s education chief said Wednesday.
Molly Spearman, Education superintendent, issued the memo. It came after a federal judge ruled in favor of parents of disabled students. They said that a state ban on mask mandates was discriminatory against them as they did not feel safe sending them into public schools without face coverings.
The temporary restraining order was immediately in effect. Governor Henry McMaster, the state Attorney General Alan Wilson and the governor promised to appeal. Meanwhile, the lawmaker who introduced this ban threatened to withdraw money from districts that need masks.
Spearman’s memo stated that districts now have the “discretionary authority” to order masks.
Spearman wrote that the Court used strong language in its order to express grave concerns about barriers to meaningful accessibility to programs and services for students with disabilities.
The Republican superintendent is asking the Republican governor, and Republican-dominated General Assembly, to let districts pass mask rules if they so desire.
McMaster and Republican legislators have been urged by teachers, doctors, and school administrators to reconsider their position that each family should decide whether or not their child wears a mask in school.
The House added a provision to this year’s budget stating that no state money could be used by districts to enforce mask regulations. Nearly every school district is funded by the state.
Some districts ignored the provision, while others tried to avoid it by using federal COVID-19 relief money. However, most said they were unable to do anything other than to urge lawmakers to return to special session to change the rules. The General Assembly has so far not moved.
Many school districts are still trying to process Wednesday’s ruling. Greenville County, the state’s largest, called Thursday’s special meeting. This is where members will receive confidential legal advice about the ruling.
According to the lawmaker who introduced the mask mandate ban, Tuesday’s decision not to repeal it meant that states could ignore federal laws and rulings. This idea is known as nullification. It was this idea that saw South Carolina leave the Union in 1860 and start the Civil War. In posts on Facebook, Rep. Stewart Jones threatened to sue districts for violating the ban.
“Massive budget cuts will be made to schools districts that have defied parental authority or state law as soon as the South Carolina General Assembly reconvenes.” Don’t be surprised. Laurens Republican wrote that the state budget was about to shrink BIGTIME. He is not a member of the House’s Ways and Means Committee, which writes budgets.
This provision was added to the budget in June at a time when the state was experiencing an average of 150 new cases of COVID-19 each day. Soon after, the state saw a spike in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant. This was just before vaccines became widely available.
According to state health data, nearly 75,000 students, teachers, and school staff were infected by COVID-19 during this school year. Nearly 200,000 of them had to be quarantined for close exposure.
U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis ruled Tuesday that she sided with parents who sued The American Civil Liberties Union.
It is uncontroversial that children have to attend school. They have the right to all reasonable accommodations to enable them to do so. Lewis stated that no one could reasonably claim that wearing a mask to accommodate children with disabilities is an undue burden.
Lewis compared the General Assembly’s prohibition of mask requirements to telling schools that wheelchair ramps cannot be installed.
The judge stated that masks should be available for schools to use to provide accommodations for people with disabilities.
The South Carolina Supreme Court is currently considering a different suit regarding the mask mandate ban.