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How Aiken County schools could require masks despite state’s ban

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 12:10 AM EDT
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AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Schools and parents alike are expressing frustrations as the government is getting involved in debates over masks in the classroom.

“He had a moment of frustration and breakdown,” Abby Atkins said.

One week into the new year, Atkins got the call that her fifth-grade son had to quarantine.

“He hasn’t even gotten to know his teachers at all yet, and he’s pulled out, there was definitely a lot of frustration there,” she said.

The Aiken County Public School District says about 22 percent of its students are in quarantine. Last week, the district started implementing a new way for students to quarantine:

If you’ve been vaccinated or infected in the last three months, this doesn’t apply to you.

If a student is infected with COVID and they do not wear a mask, or if you’ve been 6-feet or closer for 15 minutes to someone who has COVID, you have to quarantine. And this goes for students who do wear masks.

But if both students are wearing masks, that means they can be three feet or more apart and not have to quarantine.

And that’s what Aiken leaders are hoping: more masks and fewer quarantines.

“I believe a mask mandate would help things,” said Dr. John Bradley, Aiken County Board of Education chairman.

He supports a mask mandate, but they have not passed one because South Carolina state law prevents it.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has made his stance very clear. As it stands, it is illegal for public schools in the state to enforce a mask mandate in schools.

In a statement, the U.S. Department of Education says local schools would be able to apply for Project SAFE grants that will allow them to restore funding withheld by state leaders when a school district implements strategies to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Bradley calls this new grant program interesting.

It does open up some avenues for us that we didn’t have,” he said.

The Aiken County Board of Education is going to talk about this grant program at its next meeting Tuesday, and Bradley wants to get more information and legal advice first.

“I wouldn’t even consider it until I’m assured that that money was gonna be there to do what we need it to do,” he said.

Bradley says he wants to be certain about when, and how much money the grand would give the district before they consider passing a mandate.

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