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2nd largest South Carolina school district to enforce masks

September 14, 2021 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina’s second-largest school district plans to begin enforcing its requirement that everyone in the building wear masks.

The Charleston County School Board voted Monday to use federal money to enforce its mask requirement for its 48,000 students.

The board had passed a mask rule in August, but told schools to hold off on enforcing it with students until they could figure out a way around a provision in the South Carolina budget that said state money could not be used to carry out any school mask mandates.

District officials didn’t share how the rule would now be enforced, saying they were still working on the details and hope to finalize them by the end of the week.

The mask rule runs through Oct. 15 as South Carolina deals with a COVD-19 surge as large as any seen during the pandemic.

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Intensive care units in both adult and children hospitals are full. More than 750 deaths have been reported in the first 14 days of September. The average new cases reported each day has dipped from last week’s peak, but is still around 4,500 cases — a level only surpassed during the winter peak before vaccines were widely available.

Also on Tuesday, two more lawmakers — one Democrat and one Republican — said they want a special session to repeal the budget rule preventing many districts from passing mask requirements.

Sen. Katrina Shealy, a Republican from Lexington, and Rep. Jermaine Johnson, a Democrat from Columbia, issued a joint statement saying conditions have gotten much worse since the proviso was passed in early June.

“We need to repeal this proviso now and allow local governments to make these decisions on their own, based on the rate of spread and the pandemic’s impact on their communities,” their statement read.

A few other Republicans have also called for a special session, including Sen. Luke Rankin from Myrtle Beach, who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But Senate President Harvey Peeler has said he doesn’t have the two-thirds of senators needed to assure the mask ban is repealed. House leadership, after saying they planned a special session in September to deal with spending COVID-19 federal aid, have not scheduled the session yet amid indications they may not meet this fall at all.

Gov. Henry McMaster, during an appearance Tuesday at the groundbreaking of a new reptile and amphibian house at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, again said parents alone should decide if children wear masks in schools.

He also again called for people to get COVID-19 vaccines. The state is about 14,000 people away from having 50% of its residents age 12 or above fully vaccinated.

“All we can do about that is to get the information to the people, tell them what works, what doesn’t work, and let them make the best decision for their own families, their own lives,” McMaster said.

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Michelle Liu contributed to this report.

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.