South Carolina editorial roundup: Friday, Aug. 6, 2021


(Columbia) The State

Aug. 3

S.C. native Raven Saunders' Olympic protest is a case of no harm, no foul

What would you do when the world is watching?

Shot-putter and Charleston native Raven Saunders decided to make a statement.

Standing on the Olympic podium in Tokyo with a silver medal hanging from her neck, Saunders raised her arms, crossing them to form an X. She told NBC news that the gesture represented "the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet."

Her actions caused no disruption or chaos, but Saunders is under scrutiny for violating the Olympics' rule against demonstrations.

Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter reads, "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas."

Now, political protests at Olympic and other sporting events are nothing new. Athletes are, after all, people with values and beliefs and inevitably some find the opportunity to express their beliefs in front of a large audience hard to resist.

Standing on that podium puts Olympic athletes in a unique position. In that moment, with the world's press watching, they have a platform many would envy.

While the International Olympic Committee is looking into Saunders' actions, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee said in a statement that Saunders' gesture did not breach its rules.

"As with all delegations, Team USA is governed by the Olympic Charter and rules set forth by the IOC for Tokyo 2020," the USOPC said in a statement sent to Reuters. "Per the USOPC's delegation terms, the USOPC conducted its own review and determined that Raven Saunders' peaceful expression in support of racial and social justice that happened at the conclusion of the ceremony was respectful of her competitors and did not violate our rules related to demonstration."

Athletes who participate in the Olympics agree to do so under the IOC rules, and the IOC will make the final determination of what repercussions Saunders might face.

In this particular instance, we would ask the IOC to consider that Saunders made no vulgar gestures. She didn't spout hatred or anger. She did not incite and promote violence.

Anticipating what may come, Saunders tweeted, "Let them try and take this medal. I'm running across the border even though I can't swim." The tweet ended with the "face with tears of joy" emoji.

When athletes opt to use that place on the podium as a platform for a cause, each case must be considered individually.

Here we have a case of no harm, no foul.

The (Charleston) Post and Courier

Aug. 2

S.C. schools must make best use of few tools they have to keep kids safe

Fortunately, the Legislature didn't prohibit S.C. schools from requiring COVID-19 tests or from requiring students to quarantine after they've been exposed to the virus or from requiring social distancing - although lawmakers made the latter a lot more difficult by limiting the number of students each district can teach remotely.

Fortunately, lawmakers didn't prohibit masks in school - just mask requirements.

For that matter, perhaps we should consider it fortunate that lawmakers didn't take Gov. Henry McMaster's insistence that parents know best to its logical conclusion and allow parents to decide that their children can go to school even when they have COVID-19 or the flu or a stomach virus or chickenpox or whatever other communicable disease they might have.

Of course, there would be less need for quarantines and tests if the Legislature hadn't prohibited schools from requiring masks in school this fall. Since it did, schools will have to work harder than they should have to in order to keep the under-12 crowd safe until the FDA allows them to be vaccinated.

So far, only a tiny number of children have died from COVID-19, and very few have gotten terribly sick. We certainly hope this remains the case, although we don't know what the long-term effect of COVID-19 infections will be. We never know what the next variant will do. We also don't know how much of COVID-19's light touch on children was the result of children being largely kept at home or masked for the first 15 months of the pandemic.

That means, as DHEC explained in guidelines released Thursday for the fall semester, schools will need to go as far as they can in creating "layered prevention strategies" to keep our schools from becoming the hot spots they never were last year precisely because of the mask mandates.

In fact, the one good thing to come out of the pandemic is the way the Department of Health and Environmental Control has found its public health voice, as a determined advocate for science over politics since the start of the pandemic and especially since Dr. Edward Simmer was named director in February. The new guidelines acknowledge the legal realities in South Carolina but don't give an inch on stressing the importance of the masks that some lawmakers think are a threat to parental rights. It should be clear to schools that they have an ally in DHEC - for which we should all be grateful.

Congress has showered our public schools with federal funds, and they need to spend much of the money on proven education strategies (starting with after school, summer school and one-on-one instruction) that can catch up kids from COVID-19 learning loss and start making up for pre-COVID-19 inadequacies. But they also need to spend it on disease prevention. And at the top of that list (before the hysterical surface disinfecting that might be useful but is not nearly as important as we thought a year ago) should be testing and contact tracing - because those are the best tools the Legislature hasn't taken away from them.

Right behind that should be muscular campaigns to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated and to make the vaccine available on campus for staff, students (with parental authorization, of course) and parents.

Schools also should continue to encourage parents to require their children to wear masks. And as DHEC notes, they should enforce the federal requirement that masks be worn on public transportation, which includes school buses.

DHEC advises against segregating vaccinated from unvaccinated children, and that makes sense, because the danger to vaccinated children who are exposed to unvaccinated children is low, and parents who want to lower their children's risk of infection have the option of getting them vaccinated.

But depending on how things develop, we're not convinced it would be a bad idea for schools to segregate unmasked children under age 12 from masked children - since those children's parents don't have any way to reduce their risk of exposure as long as they're in our schools.

We'd also urge schools to reserve as many of their limited number of remote learning spots as possible to children younger than 12 whose parents don't want to send them to school with unmasked children. We have grave concerns about the shortcomings of remote learning, but the idea that the state of South Carolina would force parents to choose between exposing their children to infection from unmasked children and paying to send them to private school is appalling. Talk about a lack of respect for parental rights.

Of course, the Legislature could make all of this simpler by allowing mask requirements in classes where children are younger than 12, and we continue to urge lawmakers to do that. But as long as they don't, school officials must use every tool they have as effectively as they possibly can to limit the transmission of COVID-19 in our schools.