South Carolina officials who have been prosecuted over a law prohibiting school districts from issuing face mask warrants say they should be withdrawn from pending litigation.
This is the argument made in recent court cases by Governor Henry McMaster, Attorney General Alan Wilson and others sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of disability rights groups and parents with disabilities. disabled children of South Carolina. The plaintiffs are challenging a budget measure passed this summer that prevents districts in South Carolina from using state funding to demand masks in schools.
The lawsuit continues as South Carolina faces a new wave of COVID-19, driven in part by the delta variant and an immunization rate of just under 50% of eligible residents. Intensive care units in hospitals for adults and children are full and more than 750 deaths have been reported in the first half of September. The average number of new cases reported daily is still around 4,500 – a level exceeded only during the winter peak, before vaccines became widely available.
The resurgence has forced a number of schools and two entire districts to return to online learning within a month of returning in person. Some districts and towns have ignored the ban and implemented their own demands.
Such a move was made this week by the state’s second-largest school district, which voted on Tuesday to begin enforcing its own masking requirement, planning to use federal money to enforce the policy to its 48,000 students. Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court overturned the capital Columbia’s school mask mandate for children too young to be vaccinated, following a court case against Wilson.
ACLU lawsuit alleges mask warrant ban disproportionately affects students with underlying health conditions or disabilities, who are at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract COVID-19, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, under which public schools cannot exclude students with disabilities or unnecessarily separate them from their peers.
Schools are also required to provide reasonable modifications to allow students with disabilities to participate fully.
Last month, plaintiffs filed a temporary restraining order preventing law enforcement, with lawyers arguing that state officials “are illegally forcing South Carolina families who have disabled children to choose between their child’s education and their child’s health and safety ”.
Defendants filed individual briefs opposing the restraining order request, with McMaster’s attorneys saying the ACLU and its clients “cannot simply challenge their political preferences or go to court for their disagreements. with the decisions taken by their representatives at the General Assembly “.
McMaster’s attorneys also noted that the governor “has always encouraged Southern Carolinians to heed applicable public health guidelines, which include wearing masks in public places where social distancing is not possible. , and he encouraged those eligible and willing to be vaccinated. “
Wilson also filed a memo opposing the restraining order request, but also stating that he should not have been named in the lawsuit because “he played no role in an alleged violation of laws in question “.
Lawyers for several school districts argued that the injunction “does not show the existence of immediate and irreparable harm to the educational programs of the school board defendants.” In a separate brief, attorneys wrote that Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman “is not taking any substantive position on the issues” and “will continue to properly perform the duties” of her office.
In a response, lawyers for the ACLU wrote that in their documents the defendants “interested in the substance of the case – including the governor and the attorney general – confirm that the plaintiffs are likely to be successful on the merits” .
McMaster, who called the trial arguments “totally inaccurate,” has repeatedly said lone parents should decide whether children wear masks in schools and urged South Carolina to get vaccinated against COVID-19 , although children under 12 are not yet eligible.
“All we can do about it is get the information out to people, tell them what works, what doesn’t and let them make the best decision for their own family, their own life,” he said. McMaster said on Tuesday.
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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.