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Parents can decide on masks in schools; local mask mandates restricted
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Parents can decide on masks in schools; local mask mandates restricted

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Gov. Henry McMaster on Tuesday issued Executive Order 2021-23, which empowers South Carolina parents to decide whether their children should wear masks in public schools throughout the state.

The governor’s order also explicitly prohibits any county or local governments in the state from relying on prior orders or using a state of emergency as the basis for a local mask mandate and bars all state agencies, local governments and political subdivisions from requiring what has commonly been referred to as “vaccine passports” for any reason.

The order rules invalid any local ordinance that relies on previous action by McMaster for its authority. The Florence City Council’s most recent masking ordinance mask specific reference to McMaster’s declaration of a state of emergency and may, therefore, be invalid. Also, the ordinance is specified to terminate when the state of emergency declaration by McMaster is ended.

With regard to mask requirements in public schools, the governor has directed DHEC – in consultation with the S.C. Department of Education – to develop and distribute a standardized form a parent or legal guardian may sign to opt their child out of mask requirements imposed by any public school official or public school district.

“We have known for months that our schools are some of the safest places when it comes to COVID-19,” McMaster said. “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. Whether a child wears a mask in school is a decision that should be left only to a student’s parents.”

Concerning local ordinances, the governor’s executive order explicitly prohibits any county or local governments throughout the state from relying on prior orders or a state of emergency as the basis for a local mask mandate.

“With the COVID-19 vaccine readily available and case numbers dropping, I will not allow local governments to use the state of emergency declaration as a reason for implementing or maintaining mask mandates,” McMaster said. “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. Maintaining the status quo ignores all of the great progress we’ve made.”

Additionally, the governor’s order prohibits any local government, state agency, state employee or any political subdivision of the state from requiring South Carolinians to provide proof of their vaccination status as a condition for receiving any government services or gaining access to any building, facility or geographic location.

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