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Beaufort Co. school board votes against putting a mask mandate in schools

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 10:27 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 1, 2021 at 5:55 AM EDT
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BEAUFORT CO., Sc. (WTOC) -The South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled the statewide ban on mask mandates in schools is constitutional.

The guidance to school districts from the South Carolina Department of Education says “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.”

However, the federal ruling blocking the proviso still stands... meaning right now, schools have the right to choose if they want to mandate masks.

The Beaufort County Board of Education took a vote Thursday night to see if they would mandate masks in their schools. The board voted 4-5-1 against putting a mask mandate in schools.

However, the decision did not come easy for the board. They spent the majority of the meeting discussing the legality of putting a mask mandate in place and whether or not they would be discriminating against students with disabilities by not masking students.

Several Beaufort County residents and families came to the special called meeting anxiously waiting to learn if their kids would have to wear a mask to school or not.

“There are mitigating strategies that never stopped from last year so something is working,” said board member Tricia Fidrych. “And something that just sticks with me, like Dr. Wisnefski said, that one size fits all.”

“I support the motion because masks are important,” said board member William Smith. “We’ve been following the science and I don’t think we should pick and choose when we should and when we should not.”

The board also had a long discussion on whether they’d be violating any kind of federal laws by not putting any masking requirements in place to protect students with disabilities. A district staff member says about 40 families of students with special needs have requested some kind of masking in Beaufort County schools.

An advocate for children with disabilities believes the district could face legal action because of it.

“They want to say ‘there are children with disabilities that can’t wear a mask,” said Cecile Bibaud. “Then we need to protect them, by other kids wearing masks. It’s not about protecting me wearing a mask. It’s about protecting everybody around me. It’s just - It’s ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, some parents want the district to find a way to accommodate students with disabilities and leave the choice to mask children up to the parents.

“The main thing is not making a mandate for everybody because we’re all different,” said Beaufort County parent Dawn Tielens. “God made us different. We were made in God’s image. I just want everybody to have their own individuality and do what is right for them.”

“As a board, eventually decided that with the numbers going down at the moment that they weren’t going to put a mask requirement in place,” said Superintendent Dr. Frank Rodriguez.

The county’s seven day average for COVID cases is at its lowest point since July 26. But that doesn’t mean every parent, or grandparent is any less worried.

“I would just like my grandchild protected. His dad has an immunocompromised system so I just think for the safety of everybody it would be beneficial to wear a mask,” said Tracy Amaya, Grandparent of Beaufort County student.

There was specific concern raised Thursday night about the health risks for special needs children. That concern was the exact reason a judge temporarily blocked Proviso 1.108 that didn’t allow mask mandates. WTOC asked the superintendent about how the district will move forward with that group of children in mind.

“What we want to do is continue to work with them to make sure that their students feel as safe as possible, that they feel safe as safe about it as well and we want to make reasonable accommodations to be as supportive as we can.”

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