Gov. McMaster issues executive order on masks in South Carolina schools and local mask mandates

Greenville County Schools responds to the new order

WYFF 4 May 12, 2021


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South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order Tuesday letting parents opt their children out of wearing masks in public schools, citing widespread coronavirus vaccine access for adults across the state.

The order bans state and local government agencies from requiring people to show proof of vaccination in order to receive government services or access public buildings and facilities, as well. Brian Symmes, a spokesman for McMaster, said he had not identified such instances of so-called “vaccine passport” requirements in the state.Advertisement

(Video above: Wednesday morning headlines)

“We have known for months that our schools are some of the safest places when it comes to COVID-19,” McMaster said in a statement. “With every adult in our state having the opportunity to receive a vaccine, it goes against all logic to continue to force our children — especially our youngest children — to wear masks against their parents’ wishes.”

McMaster has directed the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, along with the state Department of Education, to put together standardized forms that parents and legal guardians can sign to exempt their children from mask requirements in any public schools.

Currently, guidance from the Department of Education requires students, teachers and staff to wear face coverings while entering school buildings, moving through hallways, and other instances where social distancing is not possible or optimal. The masks are also required on school buses.

At least one school district, Lexington-Richland 5, has removed its mask mandate this week, even after school board members learned employees were threatening to sue, The State newspaper reported.

The governor’s order also limits local governments from issuing mask ordinances based on his prior emergency declarations related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those governments will have to find justification for such mask rules within their own ordinances.

“Everybody knows what we need to do to stay safe — including wearing a mask if you’re at risk of exposing others — but we must move past the time of governments dictating when and where South Carolinians are required to wear a mask,” McMaster said. “Maintaining the status quo ignores all of the great progress we’ve made.”

McMaster himself never implemented a statewide mask rule, instead calling on South Carolinians to show personal responsibility in practicing social distancing and other public health guidelines.

Though some towns and counties have dropped their mask ordinances, city council members of Columbia — the state’s capital — agreed Tuesday morning to renew its mask rule through June 5.


Greenville County Schools issued the following statement Tuesday night regarding Executive Order 2021-23:

“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-19 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, 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 a 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.”