S.C. superintendent gives green light for mask mandates in schools, AG going to appeal court ruling

The one-year mask mandate ban was put into this year’s budget back in June, but a little over a month ago, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ban.
Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 7:05 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTV) - South Carolina’s mask mandate is temporarily blocked.

A U.S. District Court judge issued a temporary restraining order on budget proviso 1.108 which is a mask mandate ban for school districts. That means school districts across South Carolina can require masks now.

The one-year mask mandate ban was put into this year’s budget back in June, but a little over a month ago, the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ban. The organization claimed the ban discriminated against students with disabilities or underlying health conditions, both groups that are considered high-risk if they get COVID. This is the argument the ACLU and several other groups took to court.

The groups argued that having the ban excluded students with health conditions and disabilities from public school altogether—a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act.

The U.S. District judge agreed, likening masks to ramps, which were installed to help students with disabilities have access to schools. This lead to the temporary mask mandate ban.

Reactions from parents after the major decision about masks in South Carolina have been just as divided as they have always been. If a person supports a child wearing a mask in the classroom, this decision is considered a “win.” On the opposite end, the judge’s rule is thought to be a loss for parents who are against masks in schools.

Courtney Greene is one of those parents. Greene is the president of a parent group for choice, called Lancaster Parents for Choice. The choice is not only masks, but choice over mandates in general. Her group feels that is quickly slipping away.

”We’re fighting for our kids to be in schools with the choices that their parents make and not the choices some government official or judge makes,” says Greene. ”My freedoms are being taken away again. My children’s freedoms are being taken away again.”

That might not happen as quickly as they are thinking, or at all. All five of our seven districts, Lancaster Schools, Fort Mill Schools, Rock Hill Schools, Chesterfield Schools and Clover Schools, that do not already have a mask mandate in place tell WBTV “no comment” or “no change” will take place when asked about potential mask policy changes. Many of the districts said since the guidance just came out, they still needed time to look over the ruling.

“Yet is the keyword. There’s not mask mandates yet,” says Greene.

Superintendent Molly Spearman released a letter to the districts Wednesday morning saying ...”school districts now have the discretionary authority to require masks.”

With the new ruling and more potential school mask mandates on the horizon, a question pops up. What happens if districts do not mandate mask?

Mask are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the American Rescue Plan requires masks to be in district’s plans to get money for schools. But districts will not lose money if there is no mandate and Spearman only offered a suggestion, rather than a requirement, saying “The SCDE strongly suggests schools and districts consult with their legal counsel on actionable steps that may need to be taken...”

Greene says this move just is not realistic if schools choose to mandate masks.

”Are they going to put someone in every classroom that says no no don’t touch your mask, no no don’t put your mask down, no you gotta wear it this way,” says Greene.

State leaders are also weighing in. Governor Henry McMaster on Wednesday said that he still felt like it was the parents choice and the judge made the wrong decision.

“We will take it to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary,” says McMaster.

State Attorney General Alan Wilson issued a statement saying his office disagrees with the ruling and plans to appeal it.

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