South Carolina Education Dept says it will follow judge's order blocking mask mandate ban

South Carolina Education Dept says it will follow judge's order blocking mask mandate ban
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The South Carolina Department of Education on Wednesday said that it will follow a federal judge's recent order blocking the state’s ban on school mask mandates, informing school districts that they “now have the discretionary authority to require masks.” 

The state’s education superintendent, Molly Spearman (R), informed local school district leaders across South Carolina that U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis on Tuesday approved a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the statewide mask mandate ban. 

The measure, known as Proviso 1.108, had been written into the state’s budget and effectively put school districts that imposed mask mandates at risk of losing state funding. 

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Despite a statement from Gov. Henry McMaster’s (R) office shortly after the decision saying that he planned to challenge the ruling, Spearman wrote Wednesday that the “immediate effect of the Court’s order is that both the state and local school districts are prohibited from enforcing Proviso 1.108 and school districts now have the discretionary authority to require masks.” 

However, the superintendent noted that the state education department “will continue to monitor further action taken by the judicial system that may alter the aforementioned guidance and correspond with schools and districts accordingly.” 

Geiger Lewis in her ruling sided with the ACLU of South Carolina, which had filed the lawsuit on behalf of two disability advocacy organizations and a group of South Carolina parents of children with disabilities. 

The judge wrote in her decision, “No one can reasonably argue that it is an undue burden to wear a mask to accommodate a child with disabilities.” 

“This is not a close call,” she argued. “The General Assembly’s COVID measures disallowing school districts from mandating masks … discriminates against children with disabilities.” 

However, Brian Symmes, a spokesperson for McMaster’s office, said in a statement shared with The Hill Tuesday that the legal battle was not over yet, noting that the governor “will defend a parent’s right to decide what’s best for their children up to the United States Supreme Court, if necessary.” 

McMaster further railed against the court’s decision in a press conference Wednesday, telling reporters that he disagreed with the opinion “100 percent.”

“I believe that parents should have the final word on whether their children should be required to wear a mask in school,” he asserted in a video shared on Twitter, adding that his office had “already filed a notice of appeal.” 

South Carolina is one of several states being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights over whether its mask mandate ban violates federal protections for students with disabilities.