Chester County Schools mask mandate challenges SC law, defies McMaster

CHESTER COUNTY, S.C. — The Chester County School Board made a significant move on Monday when it passed a mask mandate for all schools that goes into effect Aug. 30.

The action is a direct challenge to the South Carolina state law that bans masks mandates for schools.

Chester joins a growing number of school districts in South Carolina that are defying a provision from state lawmakers banning mandatory face coverings for students.

Some parents in Chester think it’s the right move.

“All I can say is to keep them safe … try to keep them protected as much as we can,” parent Ladaeshala Dye said.

According to the South Carolina attorney general, the mask mandate violates state law, which has already led to a lawsuit between the City of Columbia and the attorney general’s office. Gov. Henry McMaster has repeatedly said South Carolina schools cannot implement mask mandates.

Chris Christoff of Chester County Schools said the district “will have to consult with our legal counsel on that and move forward from there.”

On Tuesday, COVID-19 cases in Chester County schools jumped from 36 to 68, and 200 students are quarantined.

Victoria, a parent, who did not want to give her full name, told Channel 9′s Greg Suskin that at least 30 of those under quarantine are from Lewisville Middle School, where there are two confirmed cases.

“I had better hopes for this year because I was 100% virtual last year, and it was a hot mess,” Victoria said.

She also thinks masks alone aren’t enough to keep students safe. “That’s not going to help any of these kids if you keep them in four and five quads with their desks pushed together,” she said.

Channel 9 learned that when schools contact trace to decide who to quarantine after a COVID exposure, it’s more than just how close the contact was. It also involves mask wearing, vaccination status and how long the contact was.

Christoff understands that some parents are upset over the pace of getting information out.

“To those folks who are frustrated with us, I ask that you continue to work with us and continue being patient with us,” he said.

The mask mandate in Chester County will last for 60 days. After that, school leaders will review COVID-19 numbers and decide if it should be extended.

(WATCH: McMaster, South Carolina educators at odds over reopening schools)