DHEC releases new school guidance for 2021-2022 academic year

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SOUTH CAROLINA (WSPA) — The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) released COVID-19 interim guidance for K-12 schools ahead of the 2021-2022 school year on Thursday.

DHEC stated the guidance reflects the latest COVID-19 trends and is meant to protect the community, but that they might change as situations evolve. This follows new increases in COVID cases across the country.

In the recommendations, DHEC strongly recommends everyone wear masks inside schools, especially when physical distancing isn’t possible.

The agency is also calling for at least 3 feet of distance between students.

DHEC also recommends continuing to follow the CDC order requiring masks worn on school buses.

However, state lawmakers previously passed a law that prohibits schools and school districts from using state funds for requiring masks. Then, the state education department issued a memo stating that state-fund buses were included in that law.

Children under two years old, anyone who has trouble breathing, or anyone unable to remove the face covering without assistance should not wear a mask. DHEC recognizes mask use cannot be mandated per the SC General Assembly but is providing the following guidance for teachers, staff and parents.

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman issued a statement Thursday morning in response to the guidance. 

“DHEC has been a tremendous partner for our agency and continues to provide sound public health advice for our students, families, and educators as we navigate the ever evolving COVID-19 pandemic. All members of our state’s education system should familiarize themselves with this latest guidance and schools and districts should implement the appropriate prevention strategies.

As noted in the guidance, vaccines remain the most effective tool we have to combat the virus and can ensure our school communities have the safest, most normal, uninterrupted school year possible. I encourage families of vaccine eligible students to speak with their pediatrician and strongly consider the personal protections and public health benefits of vaccination.”

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman
Greenville County Schools

Greenville County School officials responded to DHEC’s new guidance, saying if they followed it that they’d be breaking state law. GCS spokesperson Tim Waller said that following all of DHEC’s guidelines lawfully is impossible because it contradicts state law. Schools here will not be making any changes to follow it more closely.

“We have to follow the state law regardless of what health officials are telling us to do, we have to follow the guidance of elected state officials,” Waller explained.

Cherokee County Schools

“I would pay attention to DHEC’s and CDC’s recommendations. They’re the health experts,” Superintendent of Cherokee County Schools Dr. Dana Fall said. “We cannot legally mandate masks, but I highly encourage wearing masks; and I strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated as well. The more people we get vaccinated, the quicker we can return to a normal school year. Our number one priority remains the same and that’s keeping students and staff safe.”

Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted Thursday morning, saying parents can decide if they want their child wearing a mask to school.

SC Attorney General Alan Wilson also released a statement, saying state law does not allow mask mandates for students and staff but encouraging the use of masks is lawful. “As always students and staff have the freedom to exercise their right to wear a mask in the classroom,” he said.

To read the full DHEC guidelines, you can click here.

DHEC’s Thursday media briefing can be watched below:

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