Local South Carolina school districts have the ability to impose a mask mandate in public schools and comply with budget proviso 1.108, commonly referred to as the mask mandate prohibition.
Simply stated, the mask mandate prohibition, passed as part of the state budget in May, prohibits school districts from using any of their state funding to implement, announce or enforce mask mandates in schools.
In South Carolina for fiscal year 2020-21, taxpayers provided an average of $14,801 per pupil, but of that amount only $6,658 was provided by the state.
The remaining $8,143 was provided by the local and federal governments.
On average, state funding is only 45% of the total funding provided for public schools.
Additionally, the federal government has provided hundreds of millions of dollars directly to South Carolina school districts in COVID-19 relief money.
None of these funds can in any way be considered state funding.
Districts could follow a few simple steps to impose and enforce a mask mandate and never touch any state funding.
1) The resolution passed by the school board to impose any mask mandate must contain clear and unequivocal language that NO state funding will be used to impose, announce, or enforce the policy.
2) The school district then exclusively uses federal COVID relief money to hire one or more temporary employees (think retired first responders) and designate them “public health enforcement officers.”
3) The school district provides these federally funded employees with a budget from federal COVID funding to carry out the announcement and enforcement of the policy. The duties of the “public health enforcement officers” could include producing and distributing announcements to parents, producing and distributing signage in the schools, and patrolling the schools and providing masks to violators of the policy.
This would be a temporary position that would last only as long as the mandate lasts.
This approach is not a commentary on whether a mask mandate is an effective or an appropriate strategy in any particular district; that is a question for local citizens, speaking through their duly elected school boards, to decide.
School boards have the money to carry out a mask mandate, and school boards have the legal authority to impose mask mandates and avoid violating state law.
To impose a mask mandate merely requires the will of the local school board.
State Senator Greg Hembree, R-Horry, is Chairman of the South Carolina Senate Education Committee.