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Charleston Family Celebrates Federal Ruling Blocking Ban on School Mask Mandates

The Boevers family of Charleston is one of nine who sued to block South Carolina's ban on mask mandates in schools. They say the ban discriminates against children with disabilities like 4-year-old Porter (far left) who has autism and is at a greater risk of getting sick.
Tania Ottaviano
The Boevers family of Charleston poses for a Christmas family photo in 2020. The family sued the state in August 2021 to stop a ban on mask mandates in public schools arguing it discriminates against children with disabilities like 4-year-old Porter (far left) who has autism and is at a greater risk of getting sick.

Samantha Boevers was giving her kids a bath when she got the news. A federal judge had just ordered the state to stop enforcing a ban on mask mandates in public schools.

“I was crying tears of relief because I can keep him safe,” says Boevers.

She says her son Porter immediately started clapping, even though the 4-year-old has no idea what the ruling means. He has autism and is at a greater risk of getting sick because he has difficulty communicating.

“Every day we get past this, since the pandemic, feels like a life-time of oh my gosh I kept my kids alive one more day.”

With help from the American Civil Liberties Union, Samantha Boevers and eight other families of kids with disabilities sued the state in August. They argued the budget-tied ban essentially keeps kids with special needs from attending public schools in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

U.S. District Judge Mary Geiger Lewis agreed Tuesday night, saying her decision was, “not a close call”. She issued a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction.

“No one can reasonably argue that it is an undue burden to wear a mask to accommodate a child with disabilities,” Judge Lewis wrote.

The judge compared wearing masks to building ramps; both allow children with disabilities to safely go to school.

But Governor Henry McMaster is adamant; parents, not schools, should have the final say if kids wear masks.

“I disagree 100 percent with the opinion of the district judge,” says Gov. McMaster. “We will take it to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.”

Samantha Boevers says children like her son Porter need to be around other kids to learn speech, behavior and social skills and have a right to do so safely in public schools. She’s grateful school districts can now require all students and staff to wear a mask.

“It was pretty clear,” says Boevers of the judge’s decision.

“You can not give kids with disabilities a second-rate education by saying you have to be unsafe by going to school.”

The mother of two says she dreams of the day her kids and others under the age of 12 can get a vaccine. Until then, she says, she must rely on masks to protect them from COVID-19.

Victoria Hansen is our Lowcountry connection covering the Charleston community, a city she knows well. She grew up in newspaper newsrooms and has worked as a broadcast journalist for more than 20 years. Her first reporting job brought her to Charleston where she covered local and national stories like the Susan Smith murder trial and the arrival of the Citadel’s first female cadet.