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Education Secretary Cardona sends letter to SC governor, state school head over mask mandate debate

The news comes as McMaster battles various school systems and cities, including Columbia, which have initiated school mask mandates within their jurisdictions.
Credit: AP
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The U.S. Secretary of Education is weighing into one of South Carolina's biggest debates suggesting that the state's proviso restricting masks may violate federal law.

Secretary Miguel A. Cardona penned a letter to Governor Henry McMaster and State School Superintendent Molly Spearman on Wednesday suggesting that South Carolina's actions could limit the ability of local educational agencies (LEA), under the American Rescue Plan Act, to adopt a plan for the safe return to in-person instruction and continuity of services that they determine are necessary.

This news comes as McMaster and the state attorney general battle various school systems and cities, including Columbia, which have decided to apply school mask mandates within their jurisdictions.

In his letter, Cardona showed his support for them.

"The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction," he wrote.

Cardona also stressed that local educational agencies that receive elementary and secondary school relief from the ARP are required to adopt a plan for safe return. As such, the plans must describe "how the LEA will maintain the health and safety of students, educators, and other staff and the extent to which it has adopted policies, and a description of any such policies, on each of the following safety recommendations established by the CDC."

He added that safety recommendations by the CDC include the universal and correct wearing of masks.

With that in mind, Cardoza said that South Carolina's current actions could limit a local board of education's ability under the ARP act to adopt plans to protect their students, staff, and faculty.

"We are eager to partner with South Carolina on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators. In addition, the Department will continue to closely review and monitor whether South Carolina is meeting all of its federal fiscal requirements," Cardona concluded. "It’s critical that we do everything in our power to provide a safe environment for our students and staff to thrive."