South Carolina districts can continue to require face coverings in the state’s schools under an appellate court’s decision this week.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday denied a request by state Attorney General Alan Wilson that a law prohibiting school mask mandates be allowed to take effect while a lawsuit continues. A federal judge has suspended the state from enforcing its rule banning school districts from requiring masks for students.
Parents of disabled children, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, have sued the state.
They argue that South Carolina’s ban discriminated against medically vulnerable students by keeping them out of public schools as the coronavirus pandemic continues.
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 Associated Press contributed to this report.