FLORENCE, S.C. – The mask mandate of Florence One Schools could place the district at odds with the office of South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.
The board voted unanimously Thursday evening to table discussion of the district’s mask mandate that was implemented at the board’s Aug. 19 meeting, leaving the mask mandate intact.
The difference between Wilson’s office and the district derives from an interpretation of a a recent South Carolina Supreme Court case in which the court declared a mask mandate established by the city of Columbia for schools within its boundaries violated a budget proviso preventing the use of state funds to enforce mask mandates in K-12 schools.
Wilson’s office maintains that the ruling applies to all such mandates enacted by counties, cities and school districts. Therefore, the district’s mandate would be against state law.
Board Chairman Porter Stewart said the district’s interpretation of the court’s ruling in the case is that the case strictly applies to the city of Columbia’s mandate and not every other mandate established by counties, cities and school districts. Therefore, it is unknown whether the district’s mandate is against state law.
He added that the district’s mandate could be affected by a case involving Richland School District 2.
Richard O’Malley, Florence One Schools superintendent, told the board during his report that the mask mandate wasn’t about politics – O’Malley typically steers very clear of politics – so much as it was about keeping students in school.
He told the board at the Aug. 19 meeting that virtual learning was not working for the district, thus, the primary aim of the district is to keep as many children in school as possible.
The desire to keep children in school is complicated by regulations promogulated by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control regarding when students must quarantine.
O’Malley said the regulations say that a student who comes into close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 must quarantine if the student is either not wearing a mask or remains unvaccinated.
Stewart also made specific reference to case numbers provided by O’Malley during his report.
O’Malley said that the district reported 252 total positive cases during the last week without a mask mandate compared to 244 total cases the week after the mandate was implemented and 157 this week.
This decline in case numbers mirrors the number of positive cases reported by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control for the state and the Pee Dee where mask mandates vary.
Three parents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting about the mask mandate. Two urged the board to reconsider the mandate and one person suggested that the mandate should not have been unanimous due to the differing opinions on the board.
The district’s mask mandate was established for 60 days and could be revisited by the board at its meeting scheduled for Oct. 14.