Sumter School District releases guidance on mask mandate


Beginning Monday, Sumter School District will require students, employees and visitors to wear face masks in all public school buildings, and the superintendent released information Friday on rules and exemptions.

The Board of Trustees enacted the requirement via a 7-2 vote Thursday during a special called meeting. The decision followed a federal ruling on Tuesday that blocked the enforcement of Proviso 1.108, which the General Assembly passed this summer to prohibit districts from implementing mask mandates lest they risk losing state funding. Following the federal ruling, which trumps a state ruling that upheld the mandate ban, the state Department of Education told district superintendents on Wednesday that they now have the discretionary authority to require face masks.

Face masks have been required on school buses.

Now, students who were within 3 feet to 6 feet of an infected student no longer have to quarantine if both the infected student and the exposed student wore masks during the exposure time. A letter from Superintendent Penelope Martin-Knox to district families Friday explained that is in accordance with federal and state health guidelines.

"The risk of exposure to COVID-19 is contingent upon the implementation of school and community mitigation factors," the letter said. "By working together, we can help decrease the transmission of COVID-19 in our schools by observing the following strategies:

- Wear a face mask inside of school facilities and on school buses.

- Ensure physical distancing to the greatest extent possible.

- Practice hand washing and respiratory etiquette.

- Clean and maintain healthy facilities.

- Conduct contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine.

- Obtain a vaccination for those who are 12 years of age and older.

- Stay at home when exhibiting symptoms and/or testing positive."

According to the state guidance the district is following, masks should cover the nose and mouth; cloth masks should be made with two or more layers of a breathable fabric that is tightly woven; gaiters should have two layers of fabric or be folded to make two layers; and masks should not have exhalation valves, punctures or slits.

Masks can be manufactured or homemade; reusable or disposable; have inner filter pockets; have a clear plastic panel to be used to communicate with people who are hard of hearing or others who need to see a speaker's mouth to understand speech; and be medical masks and N-95 masks.

Masks that do not meet requirements include those that don't cover both the nose and mouth; face shields or goggles unless they are supplementing a face mask that meets requirements; scarves, ski masks, balaclavas or bandannas; shirts or sweater collars that are pulled up over the nose and mouth; masks made from loosely woven fabric or that are knitted, meaning they let light through; masks made from materials that are hard to breathe through, such as vinyl, plastic or leather; masks containing slits, exhalation valves or punctures; or masks that are too big or too tight.

There is a "narrow subset" of people with disabilities who are exempt from the CDC's requirement to wear a mask, including a person whose disability prevents him or her from being physically unable to remove a mask without assistance. This might include someone with impaired motor skills, quadriplegia or limb restrictions. Also exempt are people with an intellectual, developmental, cognitive or psychiatric disability that affects their ability to understand the need to remove a mask if breathing becomes obstructed.

Others who might be exempt, according to the letter, include people with a disability who cannot wear a mask because doing so would make them unable to breathe or have respiratory distress.

"A person with a condition that causes intermittent respiratory distress, such as asthma, likely does not qualify for this exemption because people with asthma, or other similar conditions, can generally wear a mask safely," the letter said.

A person with a disability requiring the use of an assistive device, such as for mobility or communication, that prevents the person from wearing a mask and wearing or using the assistive device at the same time may be exempt. If use of the device is intermittent and the person can remove the mask independently to use the device, then a mask must be worn during periods when the person is not using the device.

A person with a severe sensory disability or a severe mental health disability who would pose an imminent threat of harm to themselves or others if required to wear a mask might be exempt.

"Persons who experience discomfort or anxiety while wearing a mask without imminent threat of harm would not qualify for this exemption," the letter said.

For additional information regarding COVID-19 protocols, visit