CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) – Three amendments to the House’s version of the South Carolina budget could strip state funding from public schools if they enforce mask mandates or require COVID-19 testing or COVID vaccines after July 1.
“This is a big concern to many parents. It’s caused a lot of confusion, a lot of frustration,” Representative Stewart Jones said. “It’s gotten to a level that’s just unbelievable.”
The provisos were approved Wednesday by the House of Representatives as a part of their version of the state’s budget.
“They withhold funding from those schools in the event they try to force someone to wear a mask or to get a vaccine in order to attend,” Jones explained. “We live in the greatest country in the world. I believe we are free people, and everybody should have the ability to decide if they want to do these things or not.”
With the State of Emergency lifted, Jones said one amendment would make mask-wearing voluntary for students and employees within K-12 public schools in South Carolina.
A second amendment makes masks and COVID-19 vaccines voluntary in state funded colleges in order to attend.
“A public institution of higher learning, including a technical college, may not use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students have received the COVID-19 vaccination in order to be present at the institution’s facilities without being required to wear a facemask,” the proviso stated.
The third amendment makes COVID-19 testing voluntary in state funded colleges.
“Such public institutions may not use any funds to require or administer mandatory COVID-19 testing of its students,” the proviso stated. “Further, no agency or entity may use any funds appropriated or authorized in this act to assist a public institution of higher learning with such mandatory COVID-19 testing.”
“This became a really important step right now because the Governor has lifted the state of emergency,” Jones said. “After July 1, going into the next school year, it would allow people to have the flexibility to know that they have the freedom to do these things or not. And it doesn’t stop anyone from doing them. If someone wants to take the vaccine or wear a mask or take as many COVID tests as they want, then they have the freedom to do that. But what it does do is, it would stop state funding from going to K-12 schools or higher ed or colleges that try to force someone to wear a mask or take a vaccine.”
The amendments would cut off all state appropriations to an institution that violates the terms, however, there’s still some work to be done.
“We do need long-term solutions. This is just temporary,” Jones said. “This is kind of the next step in the process I think.”
Next week, some assigned lawmakers will review the House and Senate versions of the state budget. Then the entire general assembly will reconvene the following week to vote on the final version, which will need to be passed by June 30.
“As a parent of two young children who are in our public schools, I have seen and experienced first-hand a lot of the concerns over the whole pandemic. So, I stand with all these parents 100 percent and I understand their frustration,” Jones said. “This has been building. As we were going back to school, we started encountering a lot of these problems, and it was amazing how quickly a lot of it escalated. I think a lot of has to do with the fear…I think this will be a problem for a long time. Some people have this fear of COVID that has just paralyzed them, but we’ve got to come out of this…I believe people have a natural God-given right to freedom, to be free, to make their own decisions.”
In a statement, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control says they are waiting on guidance from the CDC before developing the state’s guidance for the 2022 academic year.
“DHEC recently made several updates to current guidance for schools and childcare for the remainder of the 2021 academic year,” DHEC said. “We anticipate CDC will publish updated school operations guidance for the 2022 academic year within the next few weeks. DHEC will review CDC’s updated school operations guidance once it is released in order to develop guidance for South Carolina schools. We plan to provide this as quickly as possible to allow districts and schools the time they need to plan for the upcoming year.”
Originally appeared on Live 5 News