By Al Dozier
Students in Lexington-Richland District 5 will no longer be required to wear face masks in school.
In response to increasing pressure from parents throughout the district, the board voted to drop the mask requirement beginning May 10. Students will still have the option to wear masks if they want.
The board made the decision at a special called board meeting Monday. Just outside the district’s office on Dutch Fork Road where the board was meeting, several parents demonstrated support for the change, holding signs promoting doing away with the masks
Students and faculty have been required to wear masks in schools to defend against the COVID-19 pandemic ever since students returned to in-person instruction earlier this year.
But the district 5 community is divided on the issue.
The board heard from several parents who complained that mask requirements are unsanitary and pose health risks for students. The removal of the requirement could prompt some teachers to leave their jobs out of fear of infection.
But opponents of the requirement said the health concerns are exaggerated.
“In a true pandemic people are dead in the streets,” said one parent. “There are no dead bodies on the street.”
Board member Rebecca Hines made the motion to drop the requirement, which she said is an “overreach of control.”
Hines said she has a 7-year-old who is “scared to take off her mask”.
Board member Matt Hogan, who seconded the motion, said the mask requirement “is a mandate” that is unnecessary.
The board was also reminded that Gov. Henry McMaster recently called the mask mandate in schools “the height of ridiculosity.”
As some tempers flared during the meeting, Board Chair Jan Hammond called for unity.
“No one on this board is for child abuse,” she said. “Everybody on this board cares about our students.”
Superintendent Christina Melton said she has received emails from concerned parents asking to move their children to the district’s online learning program if mask rules are discontinued. She said that change could create problems.
Board member Ken Loveless suggested the board could consider some flexibility in its policy to deal with the various issues affecting the school operations.
Board members Nikki Gardner, Jan Hammond, Matt Hogan and Rebecca Hines voted for the change. Catherine Huddle and Ken Loveless voted against it. Board member Ed White was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting, but in a message sent to the board said he did not favor doing away with the mask mandate before the end of the school year.
While the S.C. Department of Education is recommending masks in the classrooms, local districts are allowed to determine their own policy so long as they comply with established health and safety requirements.
The board was advised that masks will be required on school buses to comply with state transportation policies.