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The ACLU Sues Over South Carolina's Ban On School Mask Mandates

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging South Carolina's ban on requiring masks in schools.

The ACLU represents a number of disability rights groups and parents who say that the state's ban not only hinders schools from adhering to federal disability rights law but also "illegally forces parents of children with underlying conditions to choose between their child's education and their child's health and safety."

Parents who filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in South Carolina have children with a number of conditions, including asthma and weakened immune systems. In a statement, the ACLU said that "the ban on mask mandates effectively excludes these students from public schools, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act."

Those laws not only prohibit schools from denying students with disabilities equal access to education but also require that schools provide students with accommodations so they can learn.

Lawmakers included South Carolina's ban in a budget proviso earlier this year. The state's Republican governor, Henry McMaster, a defendant in the case, has stood by the measure as coronavirus cases have risen during the back-to-school season.

"While we don't comment on specific litigation, the only truly inclusive option is to allow every parent to decide whether their child will wear a mask in school. That's exactly what the General Assembly's budget proviso does in South Carolina," said Brian Symmes, a spokesperson for McMaster.

State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, another defendant in the case, has repeatedly asked lawmakers to reconsider the ban. "Superintendent Spearman has been clear in her support for empowering South Carolina's locally elected school leaders, with the input from parents and their communities, to make decisions impacting the health and well-being of the students they serve," Ryan Brown, a spokesperson, wrote in an email. "We look forward to the Court bringing finality to this issue."

Last week, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona announced that the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights was ready to investigate allegations of discrimination that emerged. "The Department has the authority to investigate any state educational agency whose policies or actions may infringe on the rights of every student to access public education equally," Cardona wrote in a blog post.

The Biden administration has thrown its support behind school superintendents who are in mask battles with state leaders.

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