SC Supreme Court: School districts can require face masks, cannot use state funds to enforce them

South Carolina News

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Thursday the state’s ban on school mask mandates is constitutional.

The decision comes only days after a federal judge issued a memorandum temporarily blocking the ban on mask mandates in South Carolina schools. The ruling granted plaintiffs in Richland County School District 2, et al. v. Lucas, et al. a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.

The South Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling clarifies school districts can still require masks and follow the state’s rule, set in Proviso 1.108, that they cannot use state money to enforce face mask mandates.

South Carolina lawmakers passed Proviso 1.108 on June 22, which blocked school districts from using state funding to mandate face masks for students and staff members to protect them against COVID-19.

“No school district, or any of its schools, may use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this
act to require that its students and/or employees wear a facemask at any of its education facilities. This prohibition extends to the announcement or enforcement of any such policy,” Proviso 1.108 states.

The federal ruling says the South Carolina Legislature’s ban on mask requirements discriminates against medically fragile students who can’t feel safe in public schools without face coverings.

Federal Judge Mary Geiger Lewis stated: “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.”

Judge Lewis said that Proviso 1.108, which bans public schools from using state funds to impose mask mandates, is similar to preventing a school from building a wheelchair ramp.

She goes on to say “no one can reasonably argue that it is an undue burden to wear a mask to accommodate a child with disabilities.”

While Judge Lewis does not go so far as to say all schools must implement mask requirements, she said that “masks must, at a minimum, be an option for school districts to employ to accommodate those with
disabilities so they, too, can access a free public education.”

Both Governor Henry McMaster and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson filed a notice of appeal in U.S. District Court after Judge Mary Gieger Lewis’ decision.

“I completely disagree with a federal judge temporarily blocking parents from choosing if their child should wear a mask in school. We have already filed a notice of appeal and will take this fight to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary,” said Gov. McMaster in a video message.

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said in a statement that schools and districts should “consult with their legal counsel on actionable steps that may need to be taken to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities.”

Spearman said the judge’s ruling made it so mask mandates in schools is now legal, at least on a temporary basis.

But Justices with the South Carolina Supreme Court later ruled the proviso was constitutional.

“As we held in City of Columbia, Proviso 1.108 prohibits the School District from using funds appropriated or authorized under the 2021-2022 Appropriations Act to announce or enforce a mask mandate in its K-12 schools. We do not reject the possibility that other funds might be used to do so,” Justices said.

Both Gov. McMaster and AG Wilson have filed an emergency motion asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to stay the District Court’s injunction pending appeal.

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