COLUMBIA, S.C. — Students wearing a mask in public schools is a decision left up to parents. Governor McMaster made the announcement in his new executive order Tuesday.
State Superintendent Molly Spearman reluctantly followed suit Wednesday, announcing that the Department of Education is lifting mask requirements in schools.
However, administrators in some of the area's largest school districts say they will continue to require masks.
Although masks will not be required in South Carolina public schools, they will be mandated on school buses to align with federal rules.
"I did not agree with the executive order," said Spearman in a press briefing Wednesday. "I felt it was best to keep the mask mandate rule in place until the end of the school year."
Spearman says she had plans to rescind the rule for the fall semester, but acted early in response to Governor McMaster's executive order.
"We have some districts that are down to just 12, 13 days left in the year. Others have about 20 or 25 days," said Spearman. "I felt for the normalcy and the calmness we need in our community schools that it would have been better to wait and we would have taken care of it in just a few weeks."
DHEC Director, Dr. Edward Simmer, shares Spearman's logic.
"I think our preference would have been to delay this order for a period of time to allow more people to be vaccinated, to let the case rates drop further," said Simmer. "We've made the progress, but there is still much more to do."
While public schools in Sumter and Kershaw counties are giving parents the choice, a DHEC opt out form is required.
Richland School District Two will continue to require face coverings, following guidance from DHEC, the CDC and the State Department of Education.
In a statement sent to the district Wednesday, Superintendent, Dr. Baron Davis said in-part, "We are four weeks away from the end of the school year and in the midst of in-person standardized testing. Our number one priority remains the safety of our students and staff. The timing of this waiver and the confusion arising from it could not come at a less opportune time."
Davis adds that a definitive plan on the district's mask guidance will be shared in the coming days.
Richland County School District One says they will also continue to require face masks until further notice. They made this announcement Tuesday before Spearman's decision.
As for teachers opting out, state education officials suggest districts talk with their legal counsel first.
"I think most districts I talked with this morning though are planning to say that they are following DHEC requirements and will ask that masks be worn," said Spearman. "However, there will be parents in some communities more than others that will sign the opt-out form. So it puts our classroom teachers and the school personnel in a very precarious situation."
Department of Education officials tell us if a school district were to challenge the governor's executive order, a final decision on constitutionality would be handled in court.