South Carolina says its schools can’t follow CDC mask advice

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Despite updated federal guidelines recommending indoor mask use at schools nationwide, even for vaccinated students, South Carolina education officials said Tuesday that they won’t be able to follow the advice, due to recently passed legislation.

A budget provision that went into effect July 1 prohibits school districts in South Carolina from using any appropriated funds “to require that its students and/or employees wear a face mask at any of its education facilities.”

The measure was backed by Gov. Henry McMaster, who earlier this year called it “the height of ridiculosity” for a school district to require a mask over any parent’s wishes that their child go without one, during a debate over whether schools should drop mask mandates before this summer’s break.

The budget measure, the state Department of Education said on its official Facebook page, “means that while the use of face coverings and other COVID-19 mitigation strategies may continue to be encouraged in accordance with public health recommendations, South Carolina public schools will not be adopting the CDC’s recommendations for required mask use.”

Earlier Tuesday, McMaster sent a tweet about the masking situation, noting that “The General Assembly agreed with me — and that decision is now left up to the parents.”

“The delta variant poses a real threat to South Carolinians,” McMaster tweeted. “However, shutting our state down, closing schools and mandating masks is not the answer. Personal responsibility is.”

Parent Malobi Archike said she was initially thrilled about sending her second grader to school in person after a year learning remotely.

“It’s a very difficult spot to be in because, (my son) definitely needs to go back to school and get that social aspect but, obviously, health is so important,” Archike said.

Archike was optimistic as COVID-19 numbers started to look better.

“Now, I feel like the the circumstances have changed quite drastically,” the mother said. “So I’m no longer feeling the relief that he is going to go back. I’m a little concerned so right now, my husband and I, the decision we’ve made is, just sort of monitor it and how it plays out in the next two weeks and ultimately decide what we’re going to do.”

“If we value the most, having our children in school, then we should be sensitive to and responsive to recommendations from public health officials that says masking is a tool that matters,” said Patrick Kelly, a high school teacher and member of the Palmetto State Teachers Association. “So I’m concerned for my colleagues, especially working with younger children. I’m concerned most of all for our children’s health, as well as for their academics.”

The reliance on individual responsibility is one McMaster has trumpeted throughout the pandemic, refusing to give in to calls for a comprehensive statewide masking mandate, although some were in place temporarily for state buildings and restaurants.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed course on some masking guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the delta variant of the coronavirus is fueling infection surges.

Citing new information about the variant’s ability to spread among vaccinated people, the CDC also recommended indoor masks for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.

Earlier this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations that all students and staff should wear face coverings during the coming school year.

Vaccination rates in South Carolina have been among the lowest in the country, with just over 44% of eligible residents having been fully dosed, according to data updated Monday by state health officials.

New COVID-19 cases have been on the rise, with the average number doubling in the past two weeks to about 410 cases a day amid no signs of slowing down, according to state health officials.

(WATCH BELOW: ACLU sues McMaster for ordering state workers’ office return)