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School districts prepare for students to return without masks

Published: Jul. 14, 2021 at 4:42 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS/WRDW) - With the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year just more than a month away, many school districts have released COVID-19 safety plans. The CDC released updated protocols for schools on Friday, the main point of which is requiring everyone age 2 and up to wear a mask if they are not vaccinated.

South Carolina schools cannot require masks for any students or staff due to a proviso passed with the state’s budget. The proviso states that masks cannot be required on school property, or else a school can lose funding.

The CDC’s guidance also suggested that schools follow social distancing guidelines, COVID screening, and contact tracing, and using multiple prevention strategies. SC districts cannot require testing or vaccination, but they can promote and partner with healthcare providers to host testing or vaccination sites.

“Having things available is fine. Mandating is not. We’ve passed that point now,” Gov. Henry McMaster said.

Kershaw County School District Superintendent, Dr. Shane Robbins, says his district is ready to get back to a sense of normalcy. Kershaw County’s COVID safety plan does not include encouraging mask-wearing for students and staff, but instead just making mask-wearing an option.

“Quite honestly, we ended the school year last year using opt-out forms (for wearing masks) and most of our families took advantage of it,” Robbins said. “So, really my plan all along, and what I shared with our board was that we would go into this school year making it optional for students and staff.”

Lisa Ellis, founder of SC for Ed, says some teachers in the state will feel an added pressure to keep students and themselves safe from the virus, especially with the looming delta variant. Ellis hoped that masks would be required in elementary schools this year to protect children under 12 years of age that are not eligible for vaccination.

“We have continued to ask for support and in terms of, you know, protecting the students and ourselves and it continues to not happen particularly at the state level,” Ellis said. “And it really adds that that extra burden on teachers to try in not only creative and in the classroom environment that is inclusive and supportive. You’ve now got that added physical health issue.”

The South Carolina Department of Education is also giving districts the choice to require masks on buses. And Aiken County school officials say they won’t require masks to be worn — only recommend it. Many of you may be wondering how this can happen with a federal mandate in place for public transportation?

“We still believe the wearing of face coverings on our District’s school buses to be in the best interests of public health so we will continue to recommend that our students and staff wear them on our school buses.”

King Laurence, Aiken County superintendent

“The discretion to enforce that ruling on school buses falls to those entities that operates them and in South Carolina for public schools that’s our agency,” said Ryan Brown of the South Carolina Department of Education.

“We still believe the wearing of face coverings on our District’s school buses to be in the best interests of public health so we will continue to recommend that our students and staff wear them on our school buses,” King Laurence, Aiken County superintendent said in a stat

DHEC is currently reviewing the CDC’s updated guidance and the department plans to release revisions to the guidance in the coming weeks.

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