Incapacity rights teams sue SC officers, colleges over proviso blocking masks mandates | Greenville Well being
Disability rights groups in South Carolina filed a federal lawsuit against state leaders and local school districts on Aug. 24 challenging the June 2021 budget reservation that bans counties from using state funds for masking mandates.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of nine parents who alleged the health of their underage children with disabilities could be adversely affected by mask mandate enforcement and disability rights in South Carolina and Able South Carolina.
It names Governor Henry McMaster, Attorney General Alan Wilson, state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, and the Greenville, Horry, Lexington, Oconee, and Pickens counties school boards as defendants. None of these school districts introduced a mask requirement this school year, citing the state budget reservation.
It was submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of South Carolina, South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, Disability Rights South Carolina, Wyche, PA, and Arnold and Porter.
The parenting and disability rights groups argue in the lawsuit that the rights of students are violated under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Their children’s disabilities, including underlying health conditions such as asthma, congenital myopathy, autism, Renpenning’s syndrome, and compromised immune systems, make them particularly vulnerable to serious illness from COVID-19 and that the mask ban effectively excludes students from public schools.
The lawsuit comes a week after a similar federal lawsuit was filed by disability groups against Texas Governor Greg Abbott for banning local school districts’ ability to introduce masking mandates in Texas schools.
“The prohibition of schools from taking reasonable steps to protect the health of their students is forcing parents to make an impossible choice: their child’s education or their child’s health,” said Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s disability rights program. “This is a question of disability rights. Students with health problems or disabilities that make them vulnerable to COVID have the right to attend school without endangering their health or safety. Schools that have children with these conditions have legal obligations under federal disability laws. “
The school districts named in the lawsuit are described as “indispensable but not disadvantageous parties”.
The lawsuit comes as South Carolina sees an unprecedented wave of COVID-19 cases in children that has seen children’s hospitals fill to the brim. Pickens County’s school district temporarily switched to virtual teaching for a week after two weeks of classes resulted in hundreds of new COVID-19 cases or quarantines among teachers and students.
In June 2021, state lawmakers placed a reservation in the budget prohibiting school districts from using state funds to enforce a mask mandate. The caveat came as cases waned and schools began preparing reopening plans for the fall semester.
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Some lawmakers have pushed for a special session to lift the ban, but lawmakers have not been recalled. McMaster has repeatedly insisted that parents should have the right to choose whether their children wear a mask, and Wilson vowed to challenge all mask mandates in court.
Last week, Spearman said she disagreed with McMaster’s position on mask mandates and wanted lawmakers to revisit the issue.
During a joint press conference on Tuesday, SC Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman – along with other state and health officials – disagreed with the current state law banning masking in schools, calling for the use of masks and vaccinations to combat COVID-19.
“I’ve been very clear. I believe this is an issue that is best dealt with by the local school authorities,” Spearman said. “We have two ways of doing this. Either the legislature comes back and I kept asking them to do so, or it ends up in court and the courts decide that.”
Spearman said of her spokesman, Ryan Brown, that she looks forward to the court “making this matter final.”
“Spearman has made a strong commitment to empowering locally elected South Carolina principals, with input from parents and their communities, to make decisions that affect the health and well-being of the students they care for,” said Brown.
McMaster and Wilson were not immediately available for comment.
The ADA and Rehabilitation Act prohibits the total exclusion, denial of equal access, or unnecessary segregation of students with disabilities in public education, according to the lawsuit. The reservation interferes with a school’s ability to meet its obligations under federal disability laws and illegally forces parents of basic conditions children to choose between their child’s education and their child’s health and safety, the lawsuit said.
The suit includes parents of children with disabilities in Greenville, Pickens, Oconee, Dorchester, Horry, Lexington and Charleston.
It was filed in Columbia on August 24th.
Follow Nathaniel Cary on Twitter at @nathanielcary