S.C. superintendent cancels mask policy for students in schools

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 2:01 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTV) - South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman announced Wednesday the state would be canceling the current face mask policy for schools.

The move, which is set to take effect immediately, will only affect students on school campuses. Children will still be required to wear masks on buses, as it is a federal requirement.

Gov. Henry McMaster issued Executive Order 2021-23 on Tuesday, which empowered South Carolina parents to decide whether their children should wear masks in public schools throughout the state.

PREVIOUS: S.C. gov. allows parents to opt children out of school mask requirements

There was some confusion over McMaster’s executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of mask requirements at school, as he had no authority to use an executive order to remove masks in schools.

The S.C. Department of Education issued the following statement to district superintendents on Wednesday:

“After a thorough legal review of Executive Order 2021-23, the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) finds no legal grounds by which the Governor can set aside a policy and regulatory directive issued by another constitutional officer or constitutional board whose power is not derived from the state of emergency nor the Executive Branch but by the South Carolina Constitution and Code of Laws This power is reserved solely for the South Carolina General Assembly. The Governor thoroughly understands the rule of law and surely recognizes this but has been successful in his mission of circumventing public health guidance by inciting hysteria and sowing division in the waning days of the school year.

“Rather than wage a debate over constitutionality that would pit elected officials, students, and families against one another, Superintendent Spearman has, effective immediately, rescinded the state face covering policy with the exception of the school bus requirement that is now required by the federal government. The SCDE recommends school boards and administrators confer with their legal counsel as to what liability protections, if any, are provided by DHEC’s opt out form. Superintendent Spearman and the SCDE continue to urge schools and districts to follow DHEC’s public health guidance as they have throughout the pandemic.”

When asked for a response to SCDOE’s statement, Gov. McMaster’s office said, “The governor appreciates the department’s cooperation and willingness to follow the law.”

In a press conference, Superintendent Spearman said the governor’s order threw everything into chaos for schools. According to her, schools didn’t know how to interpret the order and didn’t have a lot of time to find out.

According to Executive Order 2021-23,The South Carolina State Department of Education says students still need to have masks with them.

Education leaders were trying to figure out how to implement the order in schools. The State Department of Education said state face covering guidelines would remain in effect before Spearman’s announcement.

PREVIOUS: S.C. Department of Education says students will still need masks at school

Parents had the option to sign a waiver, which allowed their child to go to school without a mask. The absence of the form is the reason the state department of education was not implementing immediate changes previously.

Local schools that still had face mask rules in place include:

  • Rock Hill Schools
  • Lancaster County Schools
  • Chester County Schools
  • Chesterfield County Schools
  • Fort Mill Schools

The Rock Hill School District  Board of Trustees  will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday at 6 p.m. for the purpose of modifying Board Policy ADD Face Coverings/Masks to discuss an opt-out option for staff.

Spearman says parents should continue using the opt out forms. She hopes that will protect schools from possibly getting sued.

The mask mandate still applies for students riding the bus. That’s because it’s a federal requirement and not just a state one.

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