COLUMBIA, SC – The South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday morning over mask warrants in schools and restrictions on virtual school.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson has sued the city of Columbia after it took the lead and adopted a mask mandate in schools there. The attorney general said the decision violated state law, which does not allow state money to be used for mask warrants in schools.
Some districts – like Richland County and locally Chester County – have voted to require masks in all school buildings, prompting a court challenge.
The Supreme Court heard the arguments on Tuesday, asked a lot of questions, but did not render a decision.
Another issue they hear is about the limit on the number of students who can participate in virtual education. The state capped it at 5% per district, and schools that exceed that number risk losing state funding.
ACLU calls for end to South Carolina ban on school mask decrees
Disability rights groups and parents of children with disabilities want an immediate end to a South Carolina law that bans school districts from requiring face masks, as students statewide begin a new school year amid a further increase in coronavirus cases.
Last week, groups and parents filed for a temporary restraining order blocking law enforcement, while their legal action challenging the measure continues.
“The defendants are illegally forcing South Carolina families with children with disabilities to choose between their child’s education and their child’s health and safety,” wrote lawyers for the groups, which are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ban, they wrote, “unnecessarily and recklessly puts South Carolina school children and their families at increased risk of infection, hospitalization and death.”
State officials have until September 9 to respond to the request in court.
A budget measure passed this summer prevents school districts from using state funding to demand masks in schools. But some districts and towns in South Carolina have ignored the ban and implemented school mask warrants. The state attorney general is suing the capital of Columbia over one of those provisions, with arguments expected later this week in the South Carolina Supreme Court.
The ACLU lawsuit, filed earlier this month against senior state officials including Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, alleges the mask warrant ban disproportionately affects students with health problems or underlying disabilities, which are at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract COVID-19.
The plaintiffs allege that the ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, under which public schools cannot exclude students with disabilities or unnecessarily separate them from their peers. Schools are also required to provide reasonable modifications to allow students with disabilities to participate fully.
Current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone in a school building, regardless of their immunization status, wear masks indoors – guidelines that officials from the North Carolina Department of Education South have publicly stated that they could not keep up, given the budget reserve.
The State Department of Health and Environmental Control said it “strongly recommends the use of the mask for all people indoors in schools.” According to public health data updated Wednesday, 1,905 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in students and employees of public and charter schools across the state.
McMaster defended the budget provision, calling the trial arguments “totally inaccurate” and saying earlier this year that it was “the height of ridicule” for a school district to demand a mask over the wishes of any parent. that their child leaves without one.
Stressing throughout the pandemic his belief in personal responsibility, not universal mandates, to curb the spread of the virus, McMaster also urged South Carolina to get vaccinated against COVID-19, although the children of under 12 are not yet eligible.
On Monday, the federal Department of Education announced that its Civil Rights Office is investigating five Republican-led states, including South Carolina, that have banned masking requirements at school, saying those policies could constitute discrimination against students with disabilities or with health problems.
If investigations determine the bans were discriminatory, it could lead to penalties, including a loss of federal education funding.
(CAUTION BELOW: CDC recommends wearing masks in schools, regardless of immunization status)
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