Gov. Henry McMaster, who has proudly refused to issue a statewide mask mandate throughout the coronavirus pandemic, said Wednesday it was “ridiculous” for school districts to require students to wear masks at school.
A longtime proponent of getting South Carolina students back in classrooms five days a week, the governor’s comments came after he was asked to weigh in on parents pushing against the requirement that their children wear masks at school.
“Those parents are exactly right,” McMaster said, speaking to reporters at a press conference. “If they do not want their children being forced by the government to wear a mask in school, they should not be forced by the government to wear a mask in school against the wishes of the parents.
“It is the height of ridiculosity for a school district to make that decision for the parents, particularly since we’ve known even when the virus was rampant that the schools, the classrooms were the safest places of all.”
The governor said parents, not the government or school district officials, should decide whether or not their children must wear masks in school.
“It is the parents’ choice, it is no longer the school district’s choice,” said McMaster, who called on state education officials to adopt his stance.
The S.C. Department of Education currently requires students and staff in public schools to wear a mask when entering a school building, moving through hallways, during pickup and drop off, while boarding, riding and exiting buses, and when social distancing is not possible.
Students may only remove their face coverings when directed to by a teacher or administrator while in the classroom or during special activities outside the classroom, according to the policy posted on its website.
Education spokesman Ryan Brown said the agency did not intend to modify its masking policy in response to the governor’s comments and said all districts in the state currently follow mask guidelines.
“We would advise districts to continue to follow these guidelines and if the Governor feels that they are no longer needed, he has the power to issue an executive order directing districts to abandon them,” Brown said in a statement.
Last week, after months of the governor, the state superintendent and lawmakers urging all schools to return to in-person instruction five days a week, legislation requiring that schools do so passed both chambers and was quickly signed into law.
Brown said South Carolina is one of only a handful of states nationwide in which every school is fully open to in-person learning.