COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — The South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control voted to ask state lawmakers to allow local decision making regarding mask mandates in schools.

The board voted unanimously to approve the measure Friday morning during a meeting.

Fourth District Board Member Dr. Robert Morgan introduced the motion after a lengthy executive session. He said, “In light of the data reviewed and received by DHEC, I move that the chair and Director of DHEC contact leadership of the South Carolina House and Senate urging them to consider providing local decision making authority regarding mask mandates in schools.”

Right now, a one-year state law, budget proviso 1.108 prohibits mask mandates in public schools. The board is encouraging lawmakers to return to Columbia to lift the ban.

This comes as DHEC reports 473 cases of COVID-19 in South Carolina public and private schools. According to Director Dr. Edward Simmer, there are ‘well over 1,000’ students quarantined. He said these quarantined students are forced to miss school for 10 to 14 days.

Director Simmer said one of the most effective ways to protect children and to keep them in school is to require the use of masks in schools.

During Friday’s board meeting, State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell and DHEC Director of Public Health Dr. Brannon Traxler shared recent studies and data showing the effectiveness of masks in school settings.

They said masks slowed the spread of COVID-19 and did not pose any academic, health or safety risks for children.

DHEC also updated their guidance to recommend school districts to require masks in schools, going against the budget proviso.

Friday, Richland School District Two petitioned the state Supreme Court to temporarily block the mask mandate prohibition in public schools.

A spokesperson for Governor Henry McMaster sent us this statement:

“As the governor has said, we all have to work together to keep the children of our state safe, but the most effective way to do that is for adults to stop spreading the virus by getting the vaccine. The bottom line is that Governor McMaster believes parents should be making decisions about their children’s health, and nobody should be able to tell a parent that they don’t know what’s best for their child.”

Brian Symmes, Communications Director

A spokesperson from the South Carolina Department of Education sent us this statement:

“Superintendent Spearman has been clear in her support for empowering South Carolina’s locally elected school leaders, with the input from parents and their communities, to make decisions impacting the health and well-being of the students they serve.”

Ryan Brown, Chief Communications Officer

Lawmakers are expected to return to Columbia in September.

You can watch Friday’s full meeting by clicking or tapping here.