Teachers, nurses, and pediatricians call for lawmakers to repeal mask mandate ban

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 10:15 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina educators, school nurses, and pediatricians are calling for state lawmakers to head back to Columbia for a special session as soon as possible to repeal or modify the state law that is stopping schools from enforcing mask mandates.

“By not allowing districts to make masking and safety decisions, the legislators are responsible for the interruptions that this has caused in our day-to-day operations,” South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East said.

Data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control’s weekly school reports show those interruptions have affected tens of thousands of students and staff so far this school year, which just began about a month ago.

DHEC reports a total of 22,490 people — 20,936 students and 1,554 staff — have had to isolate this school year because they have had a confirmed or probable positive, while 88,661 people — 86,770 students and 1,891 staff — have quarantined because they have been a close contact of someone who is infected.

These numbers are what schools have self-reported, so doctors said they are likelier higher in reality.

“Our primary care pediatricians are overwhelmed and struggling to keep up with the number of sick kids in South Carolina,” Dr. Deborah Greenhouse, a Columbia pediatrician, said.

Greenhouse joined other members of the South Carolina chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the South Carolina Association of School Nurses, the South Carolina Parent Teacher Association, the South Carolina Education Association, and the Palmetto State Teachers Association on Tuesday to demand lawmakers return decision-making control regarding masks and virtual learning back to districts and schools.

“We want the local school boards to make the decision that is best for their local community. The general assembly is not a super school board,” PSTA Executive Director Kathy Maness said.

Teachers in attendance on Tuesday said giving districts the power to decide if masks will be required will not just protect students’ health but also their learning.

“What students are getting right now is a disrupted, inconsistent learning model that is hard on teachers, that is hard on students, and it is hard on families,” PSTA Director of Government Affairs Patrick Kelly said.

“Those two or three students that are quarantined this week, next week, it’s a different two or three students that are quarantined. There’s not a break. It becomes more of a revolving door. So there’s not a lull in the action for our teachers. They’re consistently having to work with students who are not in the classroom, and that is incredibly taxing and frustrating on our teaching force,” Lexington County School District One Superintendent Greg Little added.

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