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As the South Carolina Supreme Court mulls the legality of a state rule that effectively bans masks in most schools, health care workers and educators are renewing calls for state lawmakers to repeal the provision altogether.

Pediatricians and school nurses joined state education groups at a news conference Tuesday to warn that lawmakers’ inaction will only continue to impede in-person learning as more than 88,000 students and staff have been forced to quarantine and dozens of schools have reverted to online lessons since the start of the school year.

The Republican-controlled Legislature put the one-year provision, which prevents school districts from using state money to enforce a rule requiring masks, into the state budget earlier this year. The state was averaging 150 COVID-19 cases a day at the time.


But in the following months, a new surge driven by the highly contagious delta variant triggered thousands of new cases. Schools have recorded more than 21,000 student cases this fall so far, almost 7,000 more than they counted for all of the previous academic year.

“We want to be sure that the policymakers are no longer using yesterday’s information to make today’s decisions,” said Dr. Robert Saul, the South Carolina chapter president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The state’s Republican education superintendent, bipartisan groups of lawmakers, doctors and nurses, the state parent-teacher association, and multiple teachers groups have all opposed the state mask provision, saying it prevents locally elected school boards from deploying a critical tool in limiting the spread of the virus.

In addition to the state Supreme Court case, disability rights groups and parents of children with disabilities have also mounted a challenge to the law in federal court.

But every day the courts take to consider the cases is another day of disrupted learning for students and extra work for school staff, said Sherry East, president of the South Carolina Education Association.

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