After federal mask ruling, Newberry Co. Schools faced with opportunity to resume mask debate

Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 7:21 PM EDT
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NEWBERRY, S.C. (WIS) - A federal judge’s ruling on South Carolina’s temporary ban on school mask requirements on Tuesday gave school districts the flexibility to implement mask mandates of their own.

RELATED | Federal judge temporarily blocks ban on mask mandates in SC schools

For Newberry County Schools, it clears the way to resume a tense and emotional local debate.

In August, the school board passed a 30-day mask mandate before quickly reconsidering it over meeting protocols.

RELATED | Newberry Co. School District votes to implement 30-day mask mandate
RELATED | Newberry Co. School District 30 day mask mandate to be reconsidered

Afterward, it scheduled a special meeting for public input later in the month.

On Aug. 30, the meeting turned into a marathon with 3-hours of emotional testimony.

In the end, the board voted to table the decision until the State Supreme Court ruled on a challenge to the law from Richland 2.

That ruling hasn’t yet come, but the federal ruling has.

RELATED | Newberry County School Board punts on mask mandate decision

Board member Quin Cureton said it’s a “game-changer” and it’s time to act.

“You know what? Everything works out, right? Sometimes you have to sit back and wait and let things come out and play out and so that’s happened. So now we’re back to the drawing board we have to have another conversation about wearing a mask in the classroom, wearing a mask at our sporting events, and all these different things,” he said.

“All we’re trying to do is protect our students, protect our faculty, and staff and administrators.”

The board voted 5-1 to implement the mandate and appeared to have a similar leaning during the public input meeting.

Cureton and Vice-Chair Jessie Reeder both told WIS they expect the majority of the board still supports implementing a mandate.

WIS reached out to Chair Lucy Meetze, Superintendent Alvin Pressley, and the other members of the board for comment on this story.

All either declined or did not respond to a request for comment.

In the aftermath of the board’s decision to table the issue, the number of kids out of school spiked but has since dropped off dramatically.

At its peak on Sept. 9, the district reported 762 children out of the classroom as a result of a diagnosis of exposure.

As of Sept. 27, the number had fallen to 315 kids.

Cureton said he does not want the falling numbers to be used as a reason to avoid masking, citing the sudden spike over the summer.

“We still need to wear a mask because we need to prevent the spread,” he said.

The board’s next scheduled meeting is on Oct. 25.

DHEC has repeatedly encouraged masking in schools for safety and to reduce the need for quarantines.

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