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S.C. schools can mandate masks after federal judge’s ruling, state superintendent says

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Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 12:41 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 29, 2021 at 7:28 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) - State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman is responding after a federal judge temporarily blocked the ban on mask mandates in South Carolina schools.

“In light of the Court’s ruling, the SCDE [South Carolina Department of Education] strongly suggests schools and districts consult with their legal counsel on actionable steps that may need to be taken to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities under these federal laws,” Spearman said in a memo to district superintendents Wednesday.

The Disability Rights South Carolina, Able South Carolina and parents of children who are disabled filed a lawsuit last month against Gov. Henry McMaster, Attorney General Alan Wilson, Spearman, and several school districts, including Horry County Schools.

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The lawsuit seeks to stop the enforcement of Proviso 1.108, which bars school districts from using state funds to enforce school mask mandates. The plaintiffs also filed motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

Federal judge Mary Geiger Lewis reviewed the case and granted the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Proviso 1.108 on Tuesday, stating that it discriminates against children with disabilities.

That population includes many kids with special needs like David Warner’s 10-year-old son, Zakkary.

Warner said Zakkary just recovered from having the coronavirus. He feels very strongly that his son was possibly exposed on the school grounds.

Warner is concerned the risk of transmission is higher right now because students aren’t forced to mask up, so he supports the court’s ruling to temporarily ban the proviso.

He further stated the decision was spot on because as the judge mentioned, the law was in violation of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act that outline protections and necessary accommodations for those with disabilities.

“These ADA laws are placed there for a reason and they are to give our kids access to the facilities,” Warner said. “And if you’re in a facility that is not safe, without those laws being followed, you really don’t have access to the facility.”

Under the American Rescue Plans Act, school districts that received elementary and secondary school emergency relief funding were required to create a Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services plan.

In this plan, districts were asked to address how they were addressing each of the CDC’s recommendations for mitigating the spread of COVID-19, including the universal and correct wearing of masks.

Spearman said in her memo Wednesday that districts that made reference to Proviso 1.108 as the reason for not following the CDC’s recommendations in their plan will need to revise their plans immediately after the court’s ruling.

Horry County School Board Chairman Ken Richardson released the following statement in response to Spearman’s memo:

The Horry County Board of Education is aware of the federal judge’s recent ruling regarding Proviso 1.108. Legal guidance is being sought regarding the impact this ruling may have on Horry County Schools. Should there be any further comments or potential responses provided by the Board, they will be made at the next scheduled board meeting, October 11, 2021.

The South Carolina Department of Education said they will continue to monitor further action taken by the judicial system and may alter their guidance and correspond with schools and districts accordingly.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Gov. Henry McMaster have both said they will appeal the judge’s ruling in the matter. McMaster said that he 100% disagrees with the ruling.

“I believe the parents should have the final word in whether their children should be required to wear masks in school,” McMaster said on Wednesday.

He said that they will take it to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

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