MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — A federal judge said Tuesday South Carolina can’t enforce its ban on mask mandates in schools.
Judge Mary Gieger Lewis said that the state’s Proviso 1.108 — which bans schools from requiring masks — violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and discriminates against children with disabilities.
Under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act, public schools cannot exclude students with disabilities or segregate them unnecessarily from their peers. Schools are also required to provide reasonable modifications to allow students with disabilities to participate fully.
“It is noncontroversial that children need to go to school,” Lewis wrote in her decision. “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.”
Lewis also wrote “It is true that the fundamental right of a parent to decide what is best for their child cannot be ignored. It is also generally true that parents are the ones who know their children best, what is best for their health, and their ability to learn. But, those same truths apply equally to all parents, including the parents of children with disabilities, such as a minor plaintiffs here.”
Lewis compared mask mandates to adding ramps to schools so students with mobility-related disabilities could attend school.
“Today, a mask mandate works as a sort of ramp to allow children with disabilities to access their schools,” Lewis wrote.
Governor Henry McMaster’s spokesperson released a statement on the ruling stating that the governor “strongly disagrees with the court’s decision and will defend a parent’s right to decide what’s best for their children up to the United States Supreme Court, if necessary.”
The South Carolina Department of Education posted to Twitter saying that the department is “reviewing the decision and will provide guidance to schools and districts on its implications tomorrow.”
The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office released a statement on Wednesday:
“In response to a federal judge’s ruling blocking enforcement of Proviso 1.108, which prohibits the use of state funds to enforce K-12 school mask mandates, Attorney General Alan Wilson said, ‘We disagree with the judge’s position and we plan to appeal.”
On Wednesday, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman and the South Carolina Department of Education issued the following guidance and statement in response to the September 28, 2021 ruling by the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina concerning the enforcement of Proviso 1.108.
“The dynamic conditions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding recommendations and requirements have created a challenging environment for our schools and communities,” said Superintendent Spearman. “In an effort to ensure schools and districts are following the law and affording every child access to in-person instruction as handed down by the U.S. District Court, we offer the following guidance.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit claiming banning mask requirements excludes vulnerable students from public schools.
Greenville County Schools will hold a special called board meeting Sep 30. at 9 a.m. This will be on the Receipt of Legal Advice Regarding Disability Rights South Carolina v. Henry McMaster.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.