South Carolina – DHEC and school districts have been under constant pressure in the recent weeks regarding the school mandate in schools, something that was banned by the Gov. McMaster.
Despite the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the state especially in students who are not eligible to get the shot, state officials still don’t allow the school districts to implement a mask mandate in an effort to battle the virus.
The DHEC director, Dr. Edward Simmer, said that the agency has the authority to issue a mask mandate in schools, but they don’t have the authority to enforce it.
Since the school districts also don’t have the authority to enforce a potential mask mandate for students, that kind decision remains unpractical for everyone involved in the process.
“That’s where we stand. Yes, we have the authority, but from a practical standpoint, if we can’t enforce the order, then it’s not a good idea to issue one,” said Dr. Edward Simmer.
Simmer’s announcement was more like an answer to the rising number of questions directed to the DHEC coming from multiple lawmakers, public and parents in regards to the DHEC’s authority over masks mandates.
“DHEC’s position on this issue came after careful legal analysis of the governing statutes and extensive internal consideration by agency leadership and the DHEC board,” state health officials said. “The emergency authority previously referenced allows DHEC to respond quickly to local situations or outbreaks where rapid action is necessary, and steps can be taken to prevent immediate, imminent danger to the local population.”
Simmer said DHEC has the authority to issue the mandate but said there were challenges to using it including the situation at every school district is different, and trying to write a mandate that would fit every district would be next to impossible.
“I’ve talked with our team, and we don’t think there’s a good way to do a statewide order that really fits every school district,” he said.
The major problem in issuing a mask mandate according to Simmers is the law that bans school districts to enforce mask mandates in schools.
“I think the proviso is pretty clear,” Simmer said. “Proviso 1.108 is very clear that we cannot use school district personnel or anyone funded with state funds to enforce a requirement to wear masks. Which then prompts the question, ‘Well, then, who would?,’ because obviously who’s mostly watching the children are the teachers, the principals and other people in the school, all of whom are funded with state funds.”
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate to write an order you can’t enforce,” he said.
DHEC might consider issuing a mask mandate in some schools in case of an outbreak, but in that case the mask mandate will only be issued for certain schools. The temporary action based on an evidence might be considered in case of high risk of infection, multiple active cases or even deaths, but again, that can’t be enforced in such situation.
“I think it’s possible (to do a localized order),” Simmer said. “We’ve not had a request for that at this point. But that’s something we’d have to visit at that time, whether a more localized order for a specific school district or even a specific school would have merit. But I think we’d still come down to the enforcement issue, and I still don’t know how we would enforce even a more localized order. “That’s where we stand. Yes, we have the authority, but from a practical standpoint, if we can’t enforce the order, then it’s not a good idea to issue one.”
“DHEC continues to advocate for the legislature to consider revising the proviso to allow individual school districts, superintendents, and principals to make decisions about requiring masks in consultation with local and state health professionals,” DHEC officials said. “The agency believes this approach, along with the vaccination of every eligible South Carolinian, will best protect children and others from COVID-19 and help keep children in school while maximizing parental choice.”