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Per federal court ruling, districts now have the option for mask mandates

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Parents and community members lined the outside of the Berkeley County School District board building during a protest on Aug. 23. A federal judge has temporarily banned the state from prevening districts from enforcing mask mandates.

A federal judge has ruled that preventing schools from implementing mask mandates discriminated against children with disabilities, which has put a temporary ban on the South Carolina law that has kept many schools from enforcing such mandates. 

The temporary restraining order on proviso 1.108 was issued by the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina on Sept. 28, 2021. The proviso banned schools from using state funds to enforce mask mandates.

The American Civil Liberities Union filed a lawsuit responding to the proviso, arguing it violated the rights of children with disabilities and their parents. The case was brought before U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis who ruled that the proviso discriminated against children with disabilities by violating portions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In the lawsuit, plaintiffs argued many children with disabilities are more susceptible to severe illnesses like COVID-19.

Proviso 1.108 was issued before the school year began and stated that “no school district, or any of its schools, may use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students and/or employees wear a face mask at any of its education facilities.”

Now, the South Carolina Department of Education has released new guidance that says school districts have the “discretionary authority” to enforce mask mandates.

"The dynamic conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding recommendations and requirements have created a challenging environment for our schools and communities," State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said in a letter. "In an effort to ensure schools and districts are following the law and affording every child access to in-person instruction as handed down by the U.S. District Court, we offer the following guidance."

The SCDE says that it will continue to monitor further action taken by the judicial system that may affect the current guidance.

Gov. Henry McMaster and S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, both of whom were named as defendants in the ACLU's lawsuit, have said they plan to appeal the ruling.