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Teachers criticize timing and safety of governor’s mask order

Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 8:00 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - With just weeks left in the school year, school districts are now scrambling to respond to the governor’s executive order restricting face mask mandates in classrooms across the state.

Many teachers argued that the timing of the action had put them in a difficult and frustrating position because they were required to sign their contracts just a day before the change was announced.

“To be honest with you, it has caused…chaos in many of our schools and communities across the state of South Carolina,” State Superintendent Molly Spearman said.

While many teachers said they are disappointed by the move, they were not shocked.

“We’ve been on this track all year long with the governor targeting schools and teachers for not wanting to do their job and making us the bad guy in a situation we don’t really want to have a lot of control over,” Beaufort County teacher Emily Mayer said. “I do think it’s highly suspect the decision came down the day after teacher contracts were due.”

The timing of the governor’s decision is being criticized by many with just weeks left of school and state testing underway, which requires all students to return to classrooms in-person.

“It’s caused a lot of confusion, a lot of frustration a lot of uncertainty at a time where schools were actually just starting to stabilize a little bit. Schools were just starting to offer in person options families settling into their routine for the end of the school year. Now the governor’s thrown all that up into the air with his order,” Palmetto State Teachers Association’s Director of Governmental Affairs Patrick Kelly said. “They have ping ponged between instructional models and approaches throughout the year and now to continue to be in this game of political ping pong on mask wearing is just draining for a group that really just wants to be able to teach and instruct students.”

Some teachers said they are also concerned about their own health and safety.

“I feel more at ease having experienced today than I did yesterday when it felt like the world was ending,” Mayer said. “I was concerned for my health and safety and that of my family. I needed to make sure if a student is unmasked and I have to approach their desk that I was going to be as safe as possible.”

Mayer said she’s also worried about what happens if a child gets sick with COVID-19 because they are no longer wearing a mask.

“As we get close to the end of the year, and our end of the year activities and graduation…I’d hate to see any students have to miss out on those activities because they ended up getting sick because they didn’t have to wear a mask,” Mayer said.

Spearman said she’s also worried about the burden this order will now put on teachers to enforce the opt-out forms for students during the final days of school.

Officials with Charleston County School District and Dorchester District Two said, as of Wednesday, several parents had requested information on transferring their child to virtual or remote learning because of the governor’s order.

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