Beaufort County school board schedules emergency meeting for Thursday night

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By Mike McCombs

The Beaufort County Board of Education has called an emergency meeting for 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30, at the district office with a single item on the agenda – to address board member William Smith’s postponed motion from the Aug. 23 meeting: “I move that the Beaufort County School Board of Education make mandatory mask wearing in Beaufort County Schools.” 

A Federal District Court on Tuesday evening blocked South Carolina’s ban on mask mandates in schools, ruling 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.

State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman issued a memorandum to S.C. school district superintendents Wednesday, Sept. 29, addressing the court’s ruling on Budget Proviso 1.108: “In light of the Court’s ruling, the SCDE strongly suggests schools and districts consult with their legal counsel on actionable steps that may need to be taken to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities under these Federal laws. (Referring to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973).

“Under the American Rescue Plans (ARP) Act, school districts who received Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funding were required to create and post publicly on their website A Safe Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan. In this plan, districts were asked to address how they were addressing each of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations for mitigating the spread of COVID-19, including the universal and correct wearing of masks. Those districts that made reference to Proviso 1.108 as rationale for not following the CDC’s recommendations in their plan will need to revise their plans immediately as a result of the court order.” 

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Gov. Henry McMaster said, “I completely disagree with a federal judge temporarily blocking parents from choosing if their child should wear a mask in school. We have already filed a notice of appeal and will take this fight to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.”

After several meetings and a lot of public comment, for and against, the Beaufort County Board of Education had voted to postpone a vote on Smith’s Aug. 23 motion until the S.C. Supreme Court had ruled on two legal challenges to budget proviso 1.108. Given the Federal court ruling, the second of those two rulings may never happen. 

There is no mention on the agenda for Thursday night’s meeting of a period for public comment.

Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews.com.