Court says South Carolina districts can require masks, but can’t use state funds to do so

State - Regional

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) – School districts can require masks as long as they don’t use state funds to do so, according to a judgement from the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The decision, announced Thursday, involves a state proviso which bars South Carolina school districts from using state funds to create or enforce a mask mandate. 

https://twitter.com/EducationSC/status/1443591585157976074/photo/1

The governor’s office filed an emergency motion on Thursday morning asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to stay the district court’s injunction pending approval, according to an announcement Thursday from Gov. Henry McMaster. 

McMaster said on Wednesday that he disagreed with a federal judge ruling on a different case stating that districts can create mask mandates, stating that he “will take this fight to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.”

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the proviso, which was passed by the state’s General Assembly earlier this year. Districts have defied the rule, stating that they’ll use other funds to circumvent the ban on using state monies for a mandate. 

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said on Thursday that districts should take steps to make “reasonable accommodations” for students with disabilities.

Tuesday, a federal judge said South Carolina can’t enforce its ban on mask mandates in schools — saying it 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.

Now Spearman said in a statement that schools and districts should “consult with their legal counsel on actionable steps that may need to be taken to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities.”

Spearman said the judge’s ruling made it so mask mandates in schools are now legal, at least on a temporary basis.

Horry County Board of Education Chairman Ken Richardson released a statement after Spearman, saying:

“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.”

Florence District 3 Director of Communications and Technology Brian Huckabee also released a statement saying:

“The safety of our students and staff during this pandemic remains FSD3’s top priority. The district will continue requiring students and staff to wear masks while inside district facilities and on school buses.”

Thursday’s decision, however, is unrelated, and involves a case from Richland County School District 2. The decision found that Proviso 1.103 and Proviso 1.108 are constitutional, but that the South Carolina Department of Education’s guidance to districts remains valid.

“Because the Federal District Court found that Proviso 1.108 violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, both the state and local school districts are prohibited from enforcing Proviso 1.108 and school districts maintain the discretionary authority to require masks,” according to a statement Thursday from the South Carolina Department of Education. 

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