Face coverings now optional in all Aiken County schools, mask wearing encouraged; no ‘opt out’ forms to be collected

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AIKEN COUNTY, Sc (WJBF) – Aiken County Superintendent King Laurence announced Wednesday, May 12th, that effective immediately the wearing of face coverings by students and staff is optional in all District schools. 

However, while the school district will comply fully with Governor McMaster’s Executive Order making the wearing of face coverings optional, Superintendent Laurence says all ACPSD students and staff are still encouraged to wear masks in schools for the remainder of the school year.

“We still believe the wearing of face coverings in our schools to be in the best interest of public health to ensure we are able to complete the current school year and provide our students and staff with the best opportunity to finish the year strong,” commented Superintendent Laurence.

Superintendent Laurence’s Wednesday announcement followed the Tuesday, May 11th, signing of an Executive Order by South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster allowing parents to opt their children out of wearing face coverings in public schools, and the Wednesday rescission of the state’s face covering mandate in public schools by State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman.

“After considering Governor McMaster’s Executive Order to lift the mask mandate in South Carolina’s public schools and State Superintendent Spearman’s rescission of her mask policy, we have determined that effective immediately masks will be optional for faculty, staff, and students in our school buildings,” stated Superintendent Laurence.

A federal government mask mandate for bus drivers and students will remain in effect.

“Federal orders continue to require that masks be worn by students and drivers on school buses,” Superintendent Laurence added. “Our goal is to continue normal operations without further disruption to our instructional program. As such, we will not collect opt out forms from parents.”

Governor McMaster’s Executive Order references an opt out form for parents that has since been developed by DHEC and the S.C. State Department of Education. However, Superintendent Laurence says the District will not place additional recordkeeping requirements on schools, and thus the opt out forms will not be collected or maintained in any way.

Governor McMaster’s Executive Order, while providing parents an opt out option regarding face coverings for students in schools, also includes specific wording supporting the continued wearing of face coverings by encouraging “all individuals within the State of South Carolina who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to wear a face covering.”

In a Wednesday statement DHEC clarified its stance on the wearing of face coverings with the following announcement:

“We respect that the Governor has to take multiple issues into account when making a decision. That said, from a public health standpoint, DHEC’s recommendations regarding COVID-19 precautions, including wearing face masks, have not changed.”

Similarly, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman and the SCDE “continue to urge schools and districts to follow DHEC’s public health guidance as they have throughout the pandemic.”

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