Posted: Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Schools and districts were given no preview of the Governor’s Executive Order 2021-23, issued late this afternoon, or asked how it might impact operations. The order is 15 pages long and appears to be somewhat contradictory about whether political subdivisions can continue to mandate masks. As a result, our legal counsel has been charged with reviewing the order to determine how its contents might be reconciled with the guidance and requirements of public health officials or the liability legislation that was recently passed by the SC General Assembly. That legislation specifically aligns COVID liability to the levels at which businesses and other entities follow the advice and guidance of public health officials. It is also unclear when today’s order will go into effect since in it, Governor McMaster directed DHEC and the State Department of Education to develop and distribute a standardized form for parents to opt their children out of schools’ mask mandates. To our knowledge, DHEC has not changed its guidance on wearing masks when social distancing cannot be maintained, nor has the SDE rescinded its order that students wear masks on buses and when entering and leaving school building. As a result, districts are faced with conflicting direction from State entities. The press release issued by the Governor’s office quoted him as saying, “We have known for months that our schools are some of the safest places when it comes to COVID-19,” but his quote does not appear to recognize what role masks may have played in ensuring that safe environment.
If it is determined that the Governor’s executive order is binding and carries the weight of law, GCS will follow its directions related to masks just as soon as the SDE and DHEC distribute the parent opt-out form. In the meantime, GCS students will still be required to wear masks on buses, when entering and leaving buildings, and whenever six feet of social distance cannot be maintained.