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Lowcountry school boards weigh in on governor’s mask order

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 9:48 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - School districts around the Lowcountry are reacting to Governor Henry McMaster’s order that the requires districts to allow parents to opt-out of the school’s mask requirements.

Justin Farnsworth is a school board member in Dorchester School District 2. He says there were rumblings that an order was coming, but they were given no warning before the announcement was made.

“The order that came out was, I don’t want to say, a shocker but just something we were not fully ready for or expecting yesterday,” Farnsworth said.

Farnsworth says changing policy overnight is more difficult than you might think, especially when there are mixed messages coming from Columbia.

“You’ve got the DHEC published guidelines, the Department of Education’s published guidelines, you have the consent form that has to be created and sent out,” Farnsworth said. “Guidelines are there for a reason, they come from the medical and scientific community. That said, the option is there and by all means if a parent thinks that it is necessity and wants to take that road, I absolutely do not want to be one to stand in their way to do that.”

After the Department of Education gave districts the green light to follow the governor’s order, DD2 and the Berkeley County School District immediately began offering the waiver. The Charleston County School Board held an emergency meeting, and after an hour of closed-door talks, also fell in line with the order.

However, board chair Rev. Eric Mack says he is still encouraging face masks.

“Teachers and staff have respected students and families all year long by serving children five days per week,” Mack wrote in a statement. “We are strongly urging families to respect teachers by having your child wear a face mask for the remainder of the year.”

That’s a message resonating with teachers who say, with just a month left in the school year, the governor’s order is unnecessary.

Jody Stallings is the director of the Charleston Teacher Alliance. He says most students have become accustomed to masking.

“I understand that a lot of kids don’t like wearing a mask they find it irritating,” Stallings said. “You know there’s this caricature of generation snowflake and we don’t want them to become that. This is a time to stay tough for a few more weeks, just grind through and let’s get out of here with a win. "

Farnsworth says, without masks, he expects the number of quarantine cases may rise which could be a big problem for end of year testing.

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