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Two R1 parents file lawsuit against district, Columbia and Richland Co. over masks

Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 11:27 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 17, 2021 at 6:17 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Mask mandates in Richland County are now facing a legal challenge.

Richland School District One parents Lizabeth Curlin and Kelli Powell filed a lawsuit on Sept. 15 challenging the City of Columbia’s mask mandate for schools, Richland County’s mask mandate for schools, and Richland School District One.

They allege their children have not been allowed to attend school in-person because “they refuse to enter the building wearing a mask.”

Curlin and Powell are asking a Richland County Court to find the entities have prevented their children from receiving a “minimally adequate education” and require them to permit their students in the classroom without masks.

Additionally, they ask the defendants be found in contempt of court for passing a mask ordinance.

The City of Columbia passed its existing mask ordinance for schools earlier in September, after its original mask ordinance was struck down by the State Supreme Court for violating state budget law.

A one-year rule in the existing state budget does not allow school districts to use state funds to enforce a mask mandate.

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Columbia’s new ordinance is designed to work around the State Supreme Court’s ruling.

It requires “that facial coverings shall be required by all faculty, staff, and children over the age of five (5), and visitors, in all buildings at public and private schools or daycares.”

It outlines city fire marshals are solely responsible for the enforcement of the ordinance, and prohibits school staff from enforcing the measure.

Additionally, it prohibits school districts from creating or enforcing their own ordinance.

Richland County’s ordinance mirrors Columbia’s language and adds no school resource officer employed by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department will enforce the measure either.

Curlin said she attempted to bring her 9-year-old son to school the day after the State Supreme Court ruling without a mask, but he was not let in.

“We showed up without masks. They told us we could not enter the building. That our children could not enter the building. We told them that was against the law, and we’re not going to do that,” she said.

Curlin said she believes parents should have a choice in the issue.

“If you believe that the mask is ok and keeps you safe, then wear it. But we are Americans, we have a choice and that’s what I stand for, and I hope other people can see that as well,” she said.

Leaders with DHEC, Richland One, Columbia, and Richland County have all pointed to masks as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

DHEC published data on mask effectiveness here.

As a result of the ordinances, Richland School District One, Richland School District Two, and Richland County schools within Lexington-Richland School District Five are under mask mandates. However, the districts are prohibited from enforcing them.

A spokesperson for Richland One declined to comment on pending litigation but said the district’s policy on masks remains.

WIS reached out to the City of Columbia for comment. A spokesperson for Richland County declined to comment on pending litigation.

WIS has also reached out to the attorney which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Curlin and Powell.

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