U.S. District Court Judge Mary Geiger Lewis granted a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction Tuesday on Proviso 1.108, which bans school districts from instating mask mandates - but what does this mean for Horry County Schools?
“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,” said State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman in a emailed statement on Wednesday.
Proviso 1.108 stated that school districts cannot use state funds to enact or enforce mask mandates.
The Horry County Board of Education Chairman Ken Richardson acknowledged the ruling Wednesday afternoon.
"The Horry County Board of Education is aware of the federal judge’s recent ruling regarding Proviso 1.108. Legal guidance is being sought regarding the impact this ruling may have on Horry County Schools. Should there be any further comments or potential responses provided by the Board, they will be made at the next scheduled board meeting, October 11, 2021," Richardson said.
The South Carolina Department of Education announced Tuesday on social media that Judge Lewis found Proviso 1.108 is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (Title II) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504).
“It is noncontroversial 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 argue that it is an undue burden to wear a mask to accommodate a child with disabilities,” the court documents read.
In the order, Spearman said the court used strong language to share grave concerns about barriers to meaningful access to in-person education, programs, services and activities for students with disabilities.
SCDE officials said they strongly suggest schools and districts consult with legal counsel on steps that need to be taken for students with disabilities under these federal laws.
Court documents reference when ramps were added to schools to accommodate mobility-related disabilities so those needing that could still access a free public education, and claim that masks work in a similar way.
"Today, a mask mandate works as a sort of ramp to allow children with disabilities access to their schools. Thus, the same legal authority requiring schools to have ramps requires that school districts have the option to compel people to wear masks at school,” the court documents said.
The Horry County Board of Education and State Sen. Greg Hembree (R-Little River) butted heads at Monday’s HCS board meeting, after he took questions regarding his recent editorial piece explaining a way districts could work around the proviso to enact mask mandates without violating state law.
His suggestion is that with a carefully-worded policy, a district could avoid spending state funds and use COVID-19 recovery funds to hire temporary "public health enforcement officer" positions to help police a mask mandate.
Superintendent Rick Maxey went over the General Appropriations bill section with the board, saying that even the use of COVID-19 recovery funds could still be violating the law so he was not interested in a “work-around mechanism.”
State Superintendent Molly Spearman has said she disagrees with S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s views on masks in schools. McMaster has said that the decision for children to wear masks should be left up to the parents, and not mandated by the government.
Check back for updates.