Aiken County school board prepares to send off resolution repealing proviso prohibiting mask mandate

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Sep. 19—Aiken County school board signed a resolution urging the South Carolina assembly to repeal the prohibition of masks mandates.

During a joint news conference in August, S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman — along with other state and health officials — disagreed with the current state law prohibiting masks mandates in schools and urged the use of masks and vaccinations to fight COVID-19.

"Folks, we're better than this. We're smarter than this," Spearman said. "... Send your kids to school with a mask on."

Inside schools, the state's Proviso 1.108, created on July 6 as a mask-mandate prohibition, states that no school districts in South Carolina, or any of its schools, may use funds to require that its students and/or employees wear a face mask at any of its education facilities.

Board member Cameron Nuessle came up with the idea of sending a resolution to the state Legislature asking for local control over mandating masks.

The resolution was signed by board members at the end of Tuesday's meeting.

Board members Sandra Shealey and Dwight Smith were not present when signing the document.

The board still needs their signatures before sending it out.

According to the resolution, the board said, "local school boards and superintendents, who ultimately bear the responsibility for the well-being of students and staff need flexibility — not limitations."

"Mitigation measures are vitally important to maintain in-person, full time education to ensure students do not fall behind or academically or socially," reads the resolution. "Proviso 1.108 serves as a barrier for school district leaders to consider every recommended mitigation available for the protection of the health and safety and staff."

While there was a suggestion from board member Patrice Rhinehart-Jackson to mandate masks regardless of the proviso, Aiken County school district Superintendent King Laurence and school board Chairman Dr. John Bradley said the board is not going to break the law.

"We will continue to encourage students and staff to wear a mask, maintain social distancing, wash and sanitize hands, and stay home when sick to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and get vaccinated if eligible," Laurence said.

Parents in Aiken County voiced their options about masks and vaccines during the public participation portion of Tuesday's meeting.

"This school board wants to scold the governor and the legislature for taking away local control over masks mandates, but that's the same thing you want to do to us is take away our ability to choose," said Jason Whinghter.

"Mask or no mask, vaccine or no vaccine, these choices are personal and should not be mandated by the government at any level."

State Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, said it is very clear that a large majority of South Carolinians, including parents, do not want mask mandates and that they want masks to be an option.

Another parent not in favor of the possibility of mandating masks was Gary McElmurray.

He said the children of Aiken County need a safe education and not to be discriminated against based on masks and vaccines.

"We are making the decision as parents. You will not force my child or any other child to take the vaccine or wear a mask...," McElmurray said.

Laurence continues to strongly recommend students and staff to wear masks indoors and to get vaccinated if eligible.

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