State, BCSD Superintendents disagree over mask requirements on school buses

Berkeley County News

BERKELEY CO., S.C. (WCBD) – State Superintendent of Education, Molly Spearman, on Wednesday sent a letter to Berkeley County School District (BCSD) Superintendent, Eddie Ingram, addressing what she described as the district’s failure to comply with the statewide requirement that face coverings be worn on state-owned school buses.

Spearman acknowledged that “while Berkeley County has strongly encouraged the use of face coverings… it is imperative that [state] requirements be implemented with fidelity to keep students and staff safe and ensure a successful return to in-person instruction.”

She suggested that BCSD “use reminders and mechanisms consistent with other dress code policies” to enforce the measure, or move students and staff who refuse to comply to “one of the district’s virtual options.”

Should BCSD fail to implement measures consistent with state requirements, Spearman said that BCSD’s “ability to utilize 209 state owned school buses” would be revoked.

Additionally, Spearman said that she is “prepared to utilize the broad authority granted to the State Superintendent of Education in law and regulation that compels [her] to protect the health and safety of students and staff.”

Ingram on Thursday responded in a letter sent to Superintendent Spearman, lambasting her for threatening to revoke BCSD’s use of state buses, disqualifying the authority of the mandate, and calling into question Spearman’s own stance on the policy:

“I have worked with numerous state superintendents in my forty years in education and have never witnessed as disappointing an act from that position… If you will agree to indemnify the school district in any future claim or lawsuit involving COVID-19, we will quickly work toward implementing your mandate, which in our view is without authority… Frankly, regarding the mask issue, you have repeatedly interpreted your own policy with weak statements of how it was to be interpreted.”

Ingram claimed that BCSD and Spearman had come to a recent agreement on masks, and that the district “plans to stand by that agreement even in the face of [her] breach.”

He went on to assert that BCSD is working to keep students and staff safe, however “continuous changes in direction from [Spearman’s] proverbial ‘bully pulpit'” complicate the process.

The broad authority to which Spearman refers was challenged by Ingram, with him asserting “that the governance of schools lies within the locally elected school board,” according to SC Code 59-19-90.

Ingram ended the letter by essentially challenging Spearman to take the actions which she threatened against BCSD, implying that she is legally precluded from doing so:

“I would request one last time for your legal authority to do that which you claim you intend to do. Of course, the District recognizes your powers regarding school buses and your limited spending power and the carrot approach to promulgate limited regulations. However, we wholly disagree that any such spending power would extend to unrelated issues, can be retroactive, punitive, or can violate state law.”

BCSD provided an additional statement to News 2, saying that their “mask protocol is proving effective and practical and gives…students and employees needed mask breaks.”

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