Federal judge temporarily blocks ban on mask mandates in S.C. schools

Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 8:40 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – The controversial state law that keeps school districts from implementing mask mandates in the classroom has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge.

Disability Rights South Carolina, Able South Carolina and parents of children who are disabled filed a lawsuit last month against Gov. Henry McMaster, Attorney General Alan Wilson, State Superintendent Molly Spearman and several school districts, including Horry County Schools.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the enforcement of Proviso 1.108, which bars school districts from using state funds to enforce school mask mandates. The plaintiffs also filed motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.

McMaster has said that the issue surrounding masks in schools should be a decision made by the parent and the child. Meanwhile, Spearman has said that she disagrees with the school mask mandate ban and has encouraged lawmakers to reconsider it.

According to the plaintiffs, “school districts with students who have disabilities… that make them more likely to contract and/or become severely ill from a COVID-19 infection have a legal obligation to ensure that those children can attend school with the knowledge that the school district has followed the recommended protocols to ensure their safety.”

They also contend that prohibiting any school from implementing a mask mandate interferes with the school’s ability to comply with its “obligations under federal disability rights laws and illegally forces parents of children with underlying [health] conditions to choose between their child’s education and their child’s health and safety.”

Federal judge Mary Geiger Lewis reviewed the case and granted the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Proviso 1.108, stating that it discriminates against children with disabilities.

“This Court has always been extremely deferential to governmental decision-making. It is not called to make law, but to interpret it. And, that is exactly what it has done here,” the court document states. “This is not a close call. The General Assembly’s COVID measures disallowing school districts from mandating masks, as found in Proviso 1.108, discriminates against children with disabilities.”

Lewis also added that allowing school districts to require face coverings is a reasonable modification, as the benefits of masking significantly exceed the costs.

“It is noncontroversial that children need to go to school. And, 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,” the court documents state.

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

WMBF News reached out to Horry County School about the ruling. A spokesperson for HCS said the district is waiting on guidance from SCDE.

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