Above: Dawn Tielens, center, holds her anti-mask mandate sign during the Beaufort County Board of Education’s special meeting Thursday. Tielens and husband Jason were two of a dozen or so people who attended the meeting which dealt with a proposed mask requirement for the Beaufort County School District. Photos by Bob Sofaly.
By Mike McCombs
Just two days after a U.S. District Judge placed a temporary restraining order, preventing the enforcement of a South Carolina law preventing individual school districts from requiring masks, the Beaufort County Board of Education voted 4-5-1 at an emergency meeting Thursday night, Sept. 30, against requiring Beaufort County School District students to wear masks.
The “no” votes came from Christina Gwozdz, Tricia Fidrych, Rachel Wisnefski, Richard Geier and Angela Middleton.
Ingrid Boatright abstained from the vote, saying she still wasn’t sure where the district stood legally. Several board members seemed unclear on what the federal court’s ruling actually meant.
Others were concerned about exceptions for students who could not wear masks.
A dozen or so members of the pubic were in attendance, but there was no public comment potion of Thursday’s meeting.
The Beaufort County Board of Education in August entertained a motion to require masks, despite the budget proviso prohibiting mask mandates, but that motion was tabled until the S.C. Supreme Court ruled on Richland County’s challenge to the law after a contentious follow-up meeting Aug. 23 that saw more than 60 public comments on both sides of the mask issue.
On Tuesday, Sept. 28, U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis ruled that South Carolina’s budget provision prohibiting schools from imposing mask mandates for students and teachers discriminates against students with disabilities in violation of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Lewis affirmed in her decision that “No one can reasonably argue that it is an undue burden to wear a mask to accommodate a child with disabilities.”
“Years ago, ramps were added to schools to accommodate those with mobility-related disabilities so they could access a free public education,” she added. “Today, a mask mandate works as a sort of ramp to allow children with disabilities access to their schools. Thus, the same legal authority requiring schools to have ramps requires that school districts have the option to compel people to wear masks at school.”
Lewis’ ruling supercedes that of the S.C. Supreme Court, which ruled Thursday in the Richland County case that the state law is constitutional.
On Tuesday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected, for now, Gov. Henry McMaster and State Attorney General Alan Wilson’s challenge to Lewis’ ruling.
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.