Our Schools

The Real Deal

Q: Is it true that Richland Two changed rules for school board meetings?

A: The social distancing measures for the October 26, 2021 board meeting are not new. They are part of the district’s Health and Safety Protocols developed for the 2021–2022 school year. Slide Two of this document states the following:

We will practice physical distancing to the extent possible.
    Student to Student - 3 ft.
    Adult to Adult - 6 ft.
    Adult to Student - 6 ft.

Social distancing was also in place during the 2020–2021 school year. Starting in November 2020 when board meetings switched back to in-person from virtual, the meetings were held in the three largest rooms in the Conference Center at R2i2. The rooms were set to provide for physical-distancing of at least six feet between adults. Based on the room configuration, the capacity for the public was set at 30 and this was communicated in the announcements for all the board meetings through the July 14, 2021 board meeting. Since we did set a limit on how many people could attend in person, we continued to livestream the board meetings, which we still do. In-person attendance was low from November through July and well below the capacity of 30.

As we began preparing for the new school year, in-person board meetings returned to the board room on the first floor of R2i2 starting with the August 24, 2021 meeting. A capacity was not included in the public notices for the August and September meetings, because district staff were making adjustments to the room configuration from meeting to meeting in order to maximize physical distancing and capacity. There were approximately 25 seats for the public at those meetings. In-person attendance remained low at these meetings as well and did not exceed the number of seats available for the public.

At the October 12 meeting, there was standing room only which presented multiple safety concerns that needed to be addressed. In addition, our district strives to be consistent in our practices and model at the district office what we ask our schools to put in place. The October 12 meeting was not consistent with our practice of physical distancing to the extent possible. Therefore, a capacity for public seating was once again included in the notice for the board meeting. The set up for the room with 20 seats allows for some physical distancing and unobstructed safety lanes and sight lines for our security team and law enforcement partners. To maximize the number of seats available to the public, nine district staff members who sat in the audience during the meetings in August and September are now watching the meetings via livestream in another location in the building in case they are needed to answer questions from board members.

These measures are not designed to prevent parents from being engaged at the board meetings and with the district. All board meetings are streamed live and video is posted on the district’s YouTube channel. Public participation at board meetings is just one of many ways our students, employees, parents and community members may bring matters to the attention of the board and district leadership. 
 

Richland Two Responds to Supreme Court Opinion

Today, September 30, 2021, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued an opinion regarding the petition filed on behalf of Richland School District Two asking for Original Jurisdiction, Expedited Disposition, and Emergency Declaration, and Motion for a Temporary Injunction regarding Appropriations Budget Proviso 1.108 (SDE: Mask Mandate Prohibition).

“After consulting with legal counsel regarding today’s S.C. Supreme Court ruling and the ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis, Richland School District Two administration will continue to follow the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the S.C. Department of Education (SDE) by requiring face coverings as outlined in Richland Two Administrative Rule ADD,” said Richland School District Two Superintendent Dr. Baron R. Davis.

The S.C. Supreme Court ruled that Proviso 1.108 is constitutional with regard to using 2021–2022 state appropriated funds to enforce a mask mandate. However, it did not refute that other funds (e.g., federal funding or non-2021–2022 state appropriated funding) could be used.

On Tuesday, September 28, 2021, the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina issued a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of Proviso 1.108 that limits a school district's ability to require face masks. In a memorandum to superintendents following that ruling, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman stated, “The immediate effect of the Court’s order is that both the state and local school districts are prohibited from enforcing Proviso 1.108 and school districts now have the discretionary authority to require masks.” The State Department of Education confirmed that this guidance remains valid in an email to school districts sent after the S.C. Supreme Court issued their opinion. The email stated that the United States District Court’s Order is not affected or controlled by the South Carolina Supreme Court’s opinion in a different case based upon a different cause of action. It also stated that the Federal District Court found that Proviso 1.108 violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Dr. Davis said, “Each day I wake up to the reality that there are more than 28,000 students in this school district who rely on us to do what is right to keep them safe and healthy while they are in our care. The face covering requirement is consistent with the district’s practice of following the latest guidance from the CDC, DHEC and SDE regarding mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in schools when not prevented from doing so by state or federal law.”

In a meeting held on Tuesday of this week, the Richland Two Board of Trustees voted to adopt a resolution urging the S.C. General Assembly to repeal the Budget Proviso 1.108.

Today, Richland Two Board Chair Dr. Teresa Holmes said, “Providing a safe and healthy learning environment for all students is the number one priority for this school district. That is why school board members and district leaders feel so strongly about following the guidance from the CDC that calls for universal indoor masking by all students, staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools. The proviso presents barriers for school district leaders when considering every recommended mitigation measure available for the protection of the health and safety of students and staff.”

On August 20, 2021, Carl L. Solomon, Esq., with the Solomon Law Group, and Skyler B. Hutto, Esq., with Williams & Williams, Attorneys at Law, filed a Petition for Original Jurisdiction, Expedited Disposition, and Emergency Declaration, and Motion for a Temporary Injunction with the South Carolina Supreme Court regarding Appropriations Budget Proviso 1.108 (SDE: Mask Mandate Prohibition) on behalf of Richland School District Two. The state Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Tuesday, August 31, 2021 and ruled on the case today. The Solomon Law Group and Williams and Williams have assisted Richland Two with this legal action pro-bono.
 

Richland Two to require face masks

Beginning Thursday, September 30, 2021, Richland School District Two will again require students and employees to wear face coverings in schools. District administrators are putting this requirement in place after a federal court ruling was announced on Tuesday, September 28, 2021. The United States District Court for the District of South Carolina issued a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction prohibiting the enforcement of Proviso 1.108that limits a school district's ability to require face masks.

In memorandum to superintendents, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman stated, “The immediate effect of the Court’s order is that both the state and local school districts are prohibited from enforcing Proviso 1.108 and school districts now have the discretionary authority to require masks.”

The face covering requirement is consistent with the district’s practice of following the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) regarding mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in schools when not prevented by state or federal law.

Per district administrative rule ADD-R, employees and students will wear a face covering while in indoor common areas (e.g., main office, lobby, hallway, workroom, cafeteria, etc.); while in classrooms; while on district transportation; while attending a school/district related event/activity (e.g., athletic event, performance, field trip, etc.); and while conducting business on behalf of the district (e.g. conducting a home visit, supervising athletic events, etc.). The requirement also applies to visitors while at school/district facilities in indoor common areas (e.g., main office, lobby, hallway, workroom, cafeteria, etc.); while in classrooms; while on district transportation; and while attending a school/district related activity/event (e.g., athletic event, performance, field trip, etc.).

Requiring masks, in addition to the existing Health and Safety Protocols already in place, strengthens Richland Two’s ability to fulfill our most important obligation to our families — and that is — providing a safe and healthy learning environment for all students.

The Richland Two Board of Trustees and school district leaders are extremely grateful for the temporary restraining order issued by U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis. The order blocks the enforcement of South Carolina’s budget proviso (1.108.), which prevents school districts from enforcing mask mandates for students and staff. In August, Richland Two petitioned the S.C. Supreme Court for declaratory and injunctive relief from South Carolina’s budget provision (1.108.). The S.C. Supreme Court has not ruled on that matter.