Aug 24, 2021 - Politics & Policy

ACLU sues South Carolina governor over mask mandate ban

Picture of South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. Photo: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster over his ban on school mask mandates.

State of play: The ACLU is representing several disability rights groups and parents who argue the Republican governor's ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and "illegally forces parents of children with underlying conditions to choose between their child’s education and their child’s health and safety."

  • The parents who filed the suit have children with conditions such as asthma and weakened immune systems, NPR reports.

What they're saying: "This is a disability rights issue," the ACLU said.

  • "Under federal disability rights laws, public schools cannot exclude, deny access or segregate students with disabilities from a public school education," the organization added. "Banning mask mandates during a global pandemic does just that."
  • "Schools are obligated to give [all] students an equal opportunity to benefit from public education."
  • "Refusing to follow public health guidelines disproportionately endangers students with health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID."

The other side: "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," Brian Symmes, a spokesperson for McMaster, told NPR.

  • McMaster called the lawsuit "totally inaccurate," per AP.

Between the lines: President Biden last week directed the Education Department to use its civil rights office to discourage states from banning mask mandates in schools.

  • The Education Department could potentially start investigations if state policies are suspected to be violating students' civil rights by prohibiting masks, per the New York Times.
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