Greenville County Schools, South Carolina’s largest district and one of the last to open schools full-time to all students, will allow parents to opt their children out of the district’s face mask mandate beginning Thursday.
They also will allow students to finish the school year from home with parental consent “because we can no longer maintain recommended protocols,” the district said in a news release.
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order Tuesday saying school districts could no longer require students to wear face masks in schools. In response, on Wednesday, the state education department rescinded its guidance that students and staff wear facial coverings in school.
Students still must wear masks on school buses because this is a federal rule, Greenville County Schools spokesman Tim Waller said.
Greenville County school district leadership has been adamant in keeping its mask requirement despite continued pressure from at least two school board trustees.
Superintendent Burke Royster has said masks are one piece of safety measures that keep students from contracting COVID-19.
On Tuesday, trustee Angie Mosley asked a panel of mental health experts when personal responsibility will supersede what she considers unnecessary measures. She has said for months she felt it was time to return to “normal” in the schools.
The panel was brought before the school board at Mosley’s request to talk about the mental health of students during the pandemic.
Mosley has said she believes students are suffering due to masking and having to stay apart from their peers.
The panel included a pediatric psychiatrist, mental health counselors and the district’s employees who work with counselors in the schools. Chris Haines, a mental health counselor at West Greenville School and school mental health coordinator for Greenville Mental Health, said some children feel safer with masks and their needs should be considered.
After the S.C. General Assembly passed legislation requiring school districts to open their schools full-time to all students, Greenville County reluctantly did so April 26..
Before then, high school students were in school 75% of the time because the school buildings were not big enough to accommodate everyone and provide the separation between desks required by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Parents who want their children to work from home now must send a request to their child’s principal by Monday.
As of now, the district is still requiring employees to wear masks.
“GCS is continuing to determine the impact of this executive order on employees,” a news release from the district said.
In Greenville County, there are 12 days of school left in the year plus two half-days.