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The Orangeburg County School District will require masks on school buses and in health care areas this year. Masks will also be required of visitors.

Masks will be strongly encouraged but not required for students and staff during the work and school day while on school grounds.

“With the new Delta variant, we recognize the growing concerns of parents and guardians within our own community as we approach the start of the new school year,” OCSD Superintendent Dr. Shawn Foster said in a prepared statement.

“While the S.C. legislature has limited our ability to require public health recommendation prevention measures such as mask wearing, as well as the ability to serve the needs of our students and families within our community through hybrid schedules and online learning, our plan is to honor our commitment to health and safety to the fullest extent practical for teaching and learning as allowable under the law,” he said.

Foster said the district’s decisions on masking follow a careful review of state law and were made in consultation with the South Carolina Department of Education.

A state budget proviso that went into effect July 1 prohibits South Carolina educational institutions from using appropriated funds to mandate masks, according to the Associated Press.

Foster said the law only applies to school facilities and does extend to school buses.

He also said the law only concerns students and staff and is silent on those who visit the school district, giving the district the ability to put a mandate on visitors in place.

He also said the state allows districts to mandate masks when individuals are in health care areas. They will also be required when transitioning to health care areas.

The district’s back to school plan will be available online for public review.

State law also limits the district’s ability to provide remote instruction, Foster said. The state could penalize the district financially if it provides virtual instruction to more than 5% of the student body.

As a result, the application window for Orangeburg Online closed May 7 and families were notified of students’ acceptance status via email.

Individuals wanting to join the virtual learning option are not able to do so at the current time.

“I empathize with their concerns but our hands in this situation are tied,” Foster said. “It is a difficult decision to make.”

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