South Carolina schools chief Molly Spearman on Wednesday rescinded her agency’s guidance requiring that students and staff wear facial coverings in school, effective immediately, while her spokesman called out the governor for “inciting hysteria” and “sowing division.”

The state superintendent’s decision comes less than 24 hours after Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order preventing school districts and local governments from requiring students or residents to wear facial coverings.

In an email to district superintendents Wednesday, Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown said that while the agency’s attorneys believe there are no legal grounds for McMaster’s order, Spearman had nonetheless decided to lift the agency’s masking policy because it was no longer enforceable.

“Rather than wage a debate over constitutionality that would pit elected officials, students, and families against one another, Superintendent Spearman has, effective immediately, rescinded the state face covering policy with the exception of the school bus requirement that is now required by the federal government,” Brown wrote.

He said he believed the governor surely understood that his order lacked legal teeth, but had issued it anyway to create a stir.

“The Governor thoroughly understands the rule of law and surely recognizes this but has been successful in his mission of circumventing public health guidance by inciting hysteria and sowing division in the waning days of the school year,” Brown wrote to superintendents.

He said Spearman and the department continue to urge schools and districts to follow the state health department’s public guidance, which has not changed, and recommended school boards and administrators confer with their legal counsel about what liability protections, if any, an opt out form generated by the Department of Health and Environmental Control grants them.

The state Department of Education, citing U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, previously had required students and staff in South Carolina public schools to wear a face covering upon entering a school building, while moving through hallways, during pickup and drop-off and when social distancing is not possible.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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Zak Koeske is a state government and politics reporter for The State. Before joining The State in 2020, Zak covered education, government and policing issues in the Chicago area. He’s also written for publications in his native Pittsburgh and the New York/New Jersey area.

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