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'We have to do what's right': State education superintendent urges mask wearing at schools

Superintendent Molly Spearman joined health leaders Tuesday to speak on COVID-19 in schools and said she disagrees with the Governor's stance on masks.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Health leaders and South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman urged families to get vaccinated and wear masks in schools at a Tuesday press conference. Meanwhile, Governor Henry McMaster is standing by the state law that bans mask mandates.

"We have to do what's right," Spearman said when talking about masking in schools.

South Carolina's lead epidemiologist, Dr. Linda Bell, followed by saying "high vaccination coverage is the only way out of this pandemic.”

Spearman addressed parents directly in her speech: “Get vaccinated, send your child to school with a mask on, not just for their protection but for the community of children that they’re in the classroom with.”

RELATED: SC Supreme Court says USC can have a mask mandate

South Carolina law bans schools from mandating masks. However, Richland School District One and Charleston County Schools have decided to move forward with the requirements. 

Richland County and the City of Columbia are also mandating masks in elementary and middle schools.

Spearman thinks that mandating masks is a "decision [that] should be made at the local level by school boards.”

RELATED: 16-year-old South Carolina teen dies of COVID, coroner says

However, Governor Henry McMaster disagrees.

“I do not believe the government should mandate masks,” he told reporters Tuesday.

McMaster added that he stands by the state law that prevents schools from requiring masks.

“Parents are the best experts on their own children," said McMaster. "If they want them to wear a mask, they should insist they wear a mask. If they don’t want their child to wear a mask, then they’re the expert and they should not be forced by the government to wear a mask.”

Dr. Bell said the consequence of not wearing masks in schools is more COVID-19 cases.

"In less than two weeks of in-school learning in South Carolina, 141 students and 34 staff were reported with COVID-19. Some are having severe complications," said Dr. Bell.

RELATED: 'Now is the time to get the vaccine,' says SC Gov. McMaster

One thing the Governor, health leaders and Spearman can agree on is getting the shot. "Vaccines are the answer to this,” McMaster said when urging South Carolinians to get vaccinated.

Vaccination is the number one way health officials say people can fight the pandemic. According to DHEC, nearly 46% of South Carolinians are fully vaccinated.

As for whether schools can mandate masks or not, some, including Spearman, are hoping the General Assembly will return to discuss this. 

Others think it may need to be decided in court.

RELATED: SC Democrats call for special session of Legislature to clarify wording on masks in schools

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