Federal judge says South Carolina can’t enforce school mask mandate ban

State - Regional

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — A federal judge Tuesday said South Carolina can’t enforce its ban on mask mandates in schools.

Judge Mary Gieger Lewis said that the state’s Proviso 1.108 — which bans schools from requiring masks — violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and discriminates against children with disabilities.

Under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, public schools cannot exclude students with disabilities or segregate them unnecessarily from their peers. Schools are also required to provide reasonable modifications to allow students with disabilities to participate fully.

“It is noncontroversial that children need to go to school,” Lewis wrote in her decision. “They are entitled to any reasonable accommodation that allows them to do so. No one can reasonably argue that it is an undue burden to wear a mask to accommodate a child with disabilities.”

Lewis also wrote “It is true that the fundamental right of a parent to decide what is best for their child cannot be ignored. It is also generally true that parents are the ones who know their children best, what is best for their health, and their ability to learn. But, those same truths apply equally to all parents, including the parents of children with disabilities, such as a minor plaintiffs here.”

Lewis compared mask mandates to adding ramps to schools so students with mobility-related disabilities could attend school.

“Today, a mask mandate works as a sort of ramp to allow children with disabilities to access their schools,” Lewis wrote.

Lewis also writes, “As such, because the Court has concluded Proviso 1.108 is illegal, under both Title II and Section 504, it must be enjoined.”

The South Carolina Department of Education said it is reviewing the decision and will provide guidance to schools and districts Wednesday.

Brian Symmes, spokesperson for Gov. Henry McMaster released the following statement:

“The governor strongly disagrees with the court’s decision and will defend a parent’s right to decide what’s best for their children up to the United States Supreme Court, if necessary.”

Read the full opinion from Lewis here:

News13 has reached out to Horry County Schools and other area school districts for comments on the decision. We are waiting to hear back.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit claiming banning mask requirements excludes vulnerable students from public schools.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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