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SC Supreme Court rules law banning school mask mandates is constitutional

Ruling comes a day after federal judge rules Proviso 1.108 discriminates against children with disabilities

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Two days after a federal judge ruled that a law banning mask mandates in schools discriminated against children with disabilities, the South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that the provisos are constitutional.

The state's highest court issued their ruling in "Richland County School District 2 v. Lucas" Thursday. The justices agreed the a budget proviso passed in June by state lawmakers prohibits school districts from using funds appropriated or authorized under the 2021-2022 Budget to announce or enforce a mask mandate in its K-12 schools. 

But the court then said, "We do not reject the possibility that other funds might be used to do so." They said they rejected an offer from the plaintiffs to give suggestions as to what those options might be. 

The district also didn't overturn the proviso that says there's a cap on how many students can be in virtual learning. The question came up in the lawsuit from a parent of a student with severe asthma who wanted to put her child in virtual learning but couldn't because the cap in her district had been met. The district said that rule didn't discriminate against the student.

"We also hold Proviso 1.103 is constitutional," they wrote. "We decline to give the School District advisory guidance as to its options and obligations regarding virtual education."

The case had been brought by Richland County School District Two and Malika Stokes on behalf of her three children against Speaker of the House Rep. Jay Lucas, Sen. Harvey Peeler and Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman.

Judges Beatty, Kitteredge, Hearn, Few and J James concurred in the decision. The Court's decision can be read here.

It's the latest legal decision in the ongoing battle over masks in South Carolina schools. On Tuesday, a U.S. District Court judge ruled the proviso violated the rights of students with disabilities and said districts were free to pass mask mandate rules.

The federal judge ruled children with disabilities are entitled to a safe learning environment and it is the school's responsibility to accommodate this by whatever means necessary.

“I don’t think it’s really necessarily an issue of accommodating one child at a time. Ultimately what we’re talking about are schools that have lots of compromised students, and what they need to do is have children masked if that’s necessary to provide a safe environment for those students," said USC Law Professor Derek Black.

That being said, schools statewide are now allowed to use whatever funds they have to ensure all students have a safe in-person learning experience.

“The ADA is saying regardless of where the money comes from, right, we don’t care, you cannot deny a student access to a room that gives them equal opportunity to go to school," said Black.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling, parents will have to comply with their children wearing masks at school.

“You know at home, you know, you wanna homeschool your children, then it is your right to not have them vaccinated. It is your right to not wear a mask. But when you enter someone else’s space, that affects us all, you’re giving up those rights.”

RELATED: Federal judge says SC schools can have a mask mandate

The next day, Spearman sent a note to districts that they could pass mask mandates. Some districts have chosen to do so, while others are not

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South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and Gov. Henry McMaster have appealed the District Court ruling to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Thursday's ruling was the second from the South Carolina Supreme Court on the proviso. Earlier this month, they tossed out a mask mandate passed by the City of Columbia. 

RELATED: SC Supreme Court strikes down Columbia school mask mandate