DORCHESTER COUNTY, SC (WCSC) – There will be no mask warrant in Dorchester District Two school district.
The board opted to take no action on a mask mandate at Monday night’s meeting. Board members cited a decreasing number of COVID cases, legal challenges and the additional pressure it would place on teachers as reasons to pass on masks.
“We all want masks, but as we continued to look at this we realized that there were too many components that weren’t going to work for us to mandate,” said Tanya Robinson, board member of administration. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens for now.”
It comes after parents overwhelmingly showed their support for a mandate in a survey sent to households last week. In that survey, 72% of the households polled said they would like a mask warrant, while the rest preferred the parents’ choice. However, the survey had a response rate of only 64 percent.
On the staff side, 75 percent supported the idea of ââa mask warrant while 25 percent did not. Only 68 percent of staff responded.
Last week, council asked the superintendent and his team to delve into the pros and cons of a mask warrant. Superintendent Joseph Pye presented their findings without making a specific recommendation.
The obvious pro is the potential of masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the number of students in quarantine. However, Pye’s team said there would be a number of downsides to a warrant. Pye asked how they would implement the mandate and whether or not that would lead to teachers resigning at a time when teachers are already in high demand. His team also noted the potential need for additional security resources after seeing parents demonstrate outside schools in the neighboring district where mask warrants are enforced.
The main sticking point is the state government’s budget provision prohibiting the district from using state funds to enforce a mask policy. District leaders say it would also mean they would have to hire an outside lawyer to defend them in all court cases.
The numbers themselves are perhaps the strongest evidence for not moving forward with the mask’s mandate. On August 25, DHEC recorded the highest number of pandemic cases in Dorchester County with 239 confirmed cases. On September 25, that number dropped to just 55.
âWe are not seeing an exponential increase,â said Justin Farnsworth, board member. “I told you a few weeks ago, I really believed that by the end of this week we would have over 2,000 children in quarantine and we don’t.”
The decision not to go ahead with a mask warrant was not the decision parents like Emily Havener wanted to see.
âI would like masks to be mandatory,â Havener said ahead of the meeting. “I think one way to make everyone feel heard is to open up virtual learning to a larger percentage of the district.”
The mask debate has been brewing for over a month now, with the district ending up kicking the box at every meeting. Parent Jason Brockert says Monday’s meeting was no different.
âMy general reaction is that the board received a lot of information and made a conscious decision to just postpone to a later date,â said Brockert. âThey are literally waiting for the next crisis.
Although the board did not decide on the masks, they did decide to encourage members of the public to show better decorum during the meeting. Board chair Gail Hughes said meetings have gotten out of hand lately with public outbursts disrupting business.
“We will not tolerate any kind of explosion, whether it be yelling at speakers when the speakers are talking or standing up and clapping or shouting or vulgar language,” said Hughes. “All of these things that we’ve had in the last couple of months and we’re not going to put up with any of that.”
To this end, they changed the speaking rules to allow only one person to speak for an agenda item and one person against that same item. This leaves the possibility for other people to comment on other questions. Hughes says they’ve heard the same people talking about the same issues for weeks.
They have also beefed up security and now require attendees to be swept with a metal detector and any explosions will not be promptly removed from the meeting. Those kicked out can expect to receive a trespassing notice and effectively excluded from future board meetings.
Three parents were kicked out at Monday’s meeting after applauding for the first speaker. However, they did not receive any trespassing notices.
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