South Carolina court upholds mask ban; superseded by federal decision

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Two masked students from Camden Elementary School listen to South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talk about the school’s action to tackle COVID-19, Wednesday, September 15, 2021, in Camden, SC McMaster’s has spoken out categorically and repeatedly against the requirement for masks in schools even as the average daily number of COVID-19 cases in the state has increased since early June. (AP Photo / Jeffrey Collins)

PA

Two days after a federal judge ruled that South Carolina’s ban on school mask requirements discriminated against medically fragile students, the state Supreme Court was dismissed. okay, in a decision that won’t change the events of the week.

Federal law trumps state law, so the U.S. District Court’s decision allowing school districts to require masks is binding. In less than an hour, South Carolina education officials sent a note telling districts that Thursday’s state decision hadn’t changed anything.

The South Carolina Supreme Court has said districts can require masks without breaking state rule if they can find a way to avoid spending state money to enforce wearing covers – faces.

The court also upheld as legal a different state budget provision, which limits school districts to 5% of their students who learn most of the year, cutting state funding in half for each student beyond. above this note.

Lawyers for Richland School District 2 argued that the Legislature violated state law that requires legislation to cover only one topic. But the judges in their unanimous decision said that since the rules included clauses on spending state money, it was legal.

Where the two courts disagreed was on whether the state, not allowing districts to establish their own mask rules, discriminates against and prevents some students from obtaining the public education which they are entitled to obtain under the law.

U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis said it was not a close call alongside parents of disabled children who sued the state with help from the American Civil Liberties Union. Its preliminary injunction, released Tuesday, said any burden of wearing a mask is more than outweighed by the need to ensure that medically fragile students feel safe enough to attend school.

“It is not controversial 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 say that wearing a mask to accommodate a disabled child is an undue burden, ”Lewis wrote.

Governor Henry McMaster and State Attorney General Alan Wilson appealed the temporary restraining order on Thursday, asking higher court judges to reinstate the ban to avoid changing mask policies through the State now that the students are back to school.

The South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments in the state’s case on August 31, a week after the federal complaint was filed, and took a month to render its decision unsigned. He says any student can choose to wear a mask on their own because state rule treats all students equally.

“In this case, there is no evidence that students are receiving disparate treatment. Indeed, there can be no argument for disparate treatment, as the conditions apply equally to all students and all public schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12, ”the judges wrote.

The Richland County District was the first in the state to require masks after Tuesday’s federal decision. Several others demanded masks before the decision. Some have tried to ensure that state money is not spent on enforcing the rule, while others have simply ignored the state budget rule. And some, including the Oconee County School District, have said they won’t need masks not because COVID-19 cases and quarantines are on the decline again.

The Republican-dominated South Carolina home budgeted the provisions in June, as the state averaged about 150 new cases of COVID-19 per day.

Soon after, the delta variant caused a spike in cases, with unvaccinated young children being much more susceptible to infection.

About 75,000 students, teachers and school staff have been infected with COVID-19 this school year and nearly 200,000 have had to be quarantined due to close exposure, according to state health data.

The number of cases has tended to decline in recent weeks, but health officials warn with vaccination rates in the state just above 50% and no vaccine yet available for children under age 12, other peaks are possible throughout the school year.

Whether or not to allow local districts to require masks has become a political issue. The Republican-dominated General Assembly refused to return to special session to reconsider its rules and the Republican governor, while urging people to speak to their doctors and get vaccinated, has reiterated for months that parents should decide if their children wear masks at school.

Republican state education superintendent Molly Spearman, joined by state health officials, doctors, teachers and school administrators, urged giving flexibility to school districts.


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