SOUTH CAROLINA — Following a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruling yesterday, a district court order allowing mask mandates in schools to ensure students with disabilities have access to public school education, remains in effect in specific school districts and against the State Superintendent of Education.
The decision comes in a lawsuit challenging a South Carolina Budget Proviso that prohibits schools from adopting mask mandates. The court’s divided panel ruled yesterday that two defendants – Governor Henry McMaster and Attorney General Alan Wilson – must be dismissed from the lawsuit because of their commitment to the court that they are not enforcing the ban.
“We applaud the Governor and Attorney General for their pledge to not enforce the legislature’s ban on school mask mandates,” said Allen Chaney, legal director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “This is a win for disability rights, and parents of students with disabilities should be encouraged to demand that their schools adopt mandatory masking policies in accordance with public health guidance. The ACLU of South Carolina is watching intently, and is ready to assist parents if schools fail to accomodate their students with disabilities."
The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of South Carolina, South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, Disability Rights South Carolina, Wyche, P.A., and Arnold & Porter on behalf of Disability Rights South Carolina, Able South Carolina, and nine parents of children with disabilities.
“It’s imperative that school districts are able to adopt masking requirements where necessary to enable students with disabilities, who are at risk of severe illness should they contract COVID-19, to access public education,” said Louise Melling, deputy director for the ACLU.
The groups are arguing in the lawsuit that federal civil rights laws require schools to require masking to give students with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from their public education.
The following are additional comments from:
Adam Protheroe, Litigation Attorney with the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center: "This ruling is an important victory for the disability rights community. The proviso was a barrier to protecting children with disabilities. The district court removed that barrier and, for all practical purposes, that decision stands."
Rita Bolt Barker, Shareholder of Wyche, P.A.: “This outcome ensures all students can remain protected as we continue to ensure safe and equitable access to education throughout a continually evolving pandemic.”