U.S. District Court Judge Mary Lewis issued a temporary injunction against the law, concurring with the plaintiffs that the law discriminated against students with disabilities.
“This is not a close call. The General Assembly’s COVID measures disallowing school districts from mandating masks … discriminate against children with disabilities,” Lewis wrote in an opinion (pdf).
“It is true that the fundamental right of a parent to decide what is best for their child cannot be ignored. It is also generally true that parents are the ones who know their children best, what is best for their health, and their ability to learn. But, those same truths apply equally to all parents, including the parents of children with disabilities, such as the minor plaintiffs here.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Henry McMaster told The Epoch Times in a statement that the governor’s office “strongly disagrees with the court’s decision and will defend a parent’s right to decide what’s best for their children up to the United States Supreme Court, if necessary.”
South Carolina’s school mask mandate ban was written into the state’s budget last year. The plaintiffs filed their lawsuit (pdf) on Aug. 2, arguing that schools have an obligation to ensure that students with disabilities can attend school knowing that the school “district has followed the recommended protocols to ensure their safety.”
The minor plaintiffs, all of whom either have disabilities or underlying medical conditions, argued that their conditions “increase their risk of contracting COVID-19 and/or increase their risk of serious complications or death from a COVID-19 infection.”
The progressive American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represented the plaintiffs, lauded the judge’s decision.
“Federal disability rights laws are clear: If students with disabilities need schools to require masks in order for them to have equal access to their education, the state cannot stop schools from requiring those masks,” Susan Mizner, director of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program, said in a statement. “The court’s decision today makes clear that state legislators and Gov. McMaster can’t sacrifice the health and safety of students with disabilities for the convenience of others.”
The national argument over school mask mandates is split sharply along political lines, with Democrats favoring mandates and Republicans pushing back against them. Judges in several states, including Florida and Texas, have already blocked bans on school mask mandates.