A temporary mask mandate in the Sumter School District failed again on Monday in another split vote by the district administration board, with the risk of losing funding appearing to be the lingering sticking point.
The local school board working session marked the fourth consecutive meeting in which school trustees discussed implementing a face mask requirement for students and staff, but not to pass the measure. For the third meeting in a row, a proposed two-week mask term failed by a 5-4 vote.
Directors voted the same in all three split votes, dating back to August 23. Board members Johnny Hilton, Brian Alston, Shawn Ragin and Gloria Lee voted in favor of the requirement, while directors voted against the motion, including President Barbara Jackson, Frank Baker, Daryl McGhaney, Matthew “Mac” McLeod and Sherril Ray.
Similar to the board meeting earlier this month, Hilton offered upfront to add a discussion and vote on the mask’s mandate to the agenda.
The apparent stalemate – based on the board meeting’s discussion in open session again on Monday – is an amendment to this summer’s state budget, specifically clause 1.108, which went into effect in June . It says school districts cannot use any state controlled or state appropriate money to implement or enforce a mask requirement for their students or faculty / staff. School districts that violate the conditional clause, which is a one-year law, may lose key education funding. The reserve was passed along party lines in the House.
Monday’s board discussion on the issue lasted 23 minutes. The longest board discussion in recent meetings lasted 58 minutes on August 23.
About seven school districts across the state (of 77 in total) have implemented mask warrants, but Sumter’s superintendent, Penelope Martin-Knox, said many of them were using money from their reserves. general fund to pay salaries of staff working to enforce mask requirements and not current ones. state funding.
According to a spokesperson for the state’s Department of Education, many districts are still waiting for the South Carolina Supreme Court to rule on the matter. The High Court has yet to rule on a related case involving Richland School District 2 and the ban on school mask warrants. The court initially heard the case on August 31.
ANOTHER ISSUE: HOW TO EXECUTE A MASK MANDATE?
The subject of the feasibility of implementing a district-wide mask mandate seemed to be another moot point among administrators, based on the discussion. Most board members said no punitive action should be taken against students who refuse to wear a mask at school.
Hilton, the Zone 4 administrator, noted that the Charleston County School District has a mask warrant and that students who refuse to wear a mask – except those who refuse for medical or religious reasons – are directed towards virtual learning.
Zone 2 administrator Sherril Ray noted that a third of parents and students who responded to the district’s recent online face mask survey were opposed to a mask warrant, and she also handed over in question the strategies of application of the masks.
Hilton countered that the survey also showed 67% of parents were in favor of a temporary mask requirement.
“Democracy says the majority makes the rules, so to speak,” Hilton said. “The majority respects the minority, and then the minority has to respect the decision of the majority. Now that’s not always the case, it’s true.”
When asked on Tuesday why she voted against the mask mandate, board chair Barbara Jackson did not directly answer the question.
She referred to the resolution that Sumter’s board passed at its last meeting, urging the state’s General Assembly to meet immediately and repeal the budget provision banning mask requirements. Many school boards across the state have passed similar resolutions in recent weeks.
But, last week, the Speaker of the Senate and Speaker of the House said they did not expect their chambers to probably return until November, and then it will be a matter of redistributing.
A school report from the Kindergarten to Grade 12 public health department last week shows 38,107 staff and students have been isolated since the start of the school year, meaning they have tested positive for COVID-19. An estimated 166,198 have been quarantined since the start of the school year. These estimates are likely low because some schools did not submit data for the report.
In Sumter, during the first five weeks of school, the average weekly student quarantine total is 1,675, and some students have undergone three rounds of quarantine.
A district spokeswoman said the face mask investigation was carried out with the aim of guiding board and administration discussions to identify ways to slow the spread of COVID-19 .
Monday night’s meeting ended around 10:45 p.m.