S.C. teachers campaigning for masks in schools

(Live 5 News)
Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 9:29 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Drivers moving along some parts of South Carolina’s interstate highways this month may spot a plea from teachers among the many billboards dotting the roadways.

Those educators hope state leaders and lawmakers, especially, will see their messages: “Even One Child Was Too Many” and “#ProtectOurKids.”

Those phrases will be posted on billboards purchased by the teacher advocacy group SCforEd, going up at five locations in the Columbia, Charleston, and Greenville areas.

“We just very much have felt that the legislature has continued to ignore the cries of all school staff members,” SCforEd Board Member Nicole Walker said.

Walker said SCforEd is looking for those billboards to amplify those cries, claiming state laws currently on the books are not keeping kids safe at schools.

The group is concerned with two temporary laws written into the state budget, Provisos 1.108 and 1.103, which limit schools’ power to enforce mask mandates for students and staff and to switch from in-person instruction to virtual learning, respectively.

Last week, a federal judge temporarily blocked the mask law, ruling it discriminates against students with disabilities. The legal challenge to the proviso came from a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of South Carolina on behalf of disability advocacy groups and parents of students with disabilities.

Gov. Henry McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson have already filed a notice of appeal for the ruling, and the case will next move to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

“There is no assurance that that will be something that will be continuous by any means, and we also feel like this is a state-level responsibility that they are failing at, so it’s incumbent upon them to return and act,” Walker said.

In addition to the billboard campaign, SCforEd will hold a vigil the evening of Oct. 12 outside the statehouse. Walker said they will remember the South Carolina students and school staff who have died from COVID-19 and will again share their call for lawmakers to return to repeal the two laws.

Republican House and Senate leaders have said they have no plans to do this, while Gov. Henry McMaster has repeatedly reiterated he does not believe schools and school districts should enforce mask mandates.

“I believe that parents should have the final word in whether their children should be required to wear masks in school, and we will take it to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary,” McMaster told reporters last week after the temporary block was issued on the mask proviso.

The vigil begins at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 12 outside the statehouse and will feature speeches from a teacher, student, and others. SCforEd is asking everyone in attendance to wear masks and social distance.

The group and DHEC will also be holding a vaccine clinic at the same location from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

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