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Councilman Whetstone takes issue with alleged exclusionary treatment of students at area school

Lexington, SC (05/13/2021 Paul Kirby) – Lexington County Councilman Scott Whetstone (Dist. One) took to social media on his personal Facebook page Wednesday night to call out a member of the staff of a local middle school who allegedly treated students differently because they were not wearing face mask in class. According to Whetstone’s post, “this teacher needs to be removed.”

Whetstone was addressing the social media post of a concerned and angry parent who alleged that her daughter, who attends White Knoll Middle School, was singled out along with another student because she was allowed by her parent to attend school without a protective mask. According to the student’s mother, she, and another mask less teen was made to segregate from the rest of the students in class and forced to sit at a “special table” during a course. The teacher also allegedly asked the child, “Do your classmates feel comfortable with you not wearing a mask?”

The mother also alleged that her daughter and another student were singled out in a dance class at school for not wearing a mask. The mother said the students were told they could not dance with their classmates because of the absence of a mask. The mother continued by saying that a Home Economics course teacher excluded her child from a cooking exercise because she had no mask on. According to the mother, one of the teachers told the student she couldn’t “force” her to wear the mask, but the mother alluded to the fact that some teachers did believe they could exclude students from portions of a course if they didn’t wear the protective face covering.

All this controversy stems from an Executive Order made Tuesday afternoon by SC State Governor Henry McMaster. In that order, the governor provide an option for school students to opt out of wearing mask on school grounds with their parent or legal guardian’s permission. The order mandated that DHEC develop a form that would be required to be signed and dated by a student’s parent or guardian for a student to officially opt out of wearing masks in class.

After the order was issued and before the DHEC form was developed and distributed, Lexington One’s Superintendent Dr. Greg Little emailed a message to all student’s guardian of record. In that email, Dr. Little wrote that parents or guardians could send a note to school with their student if they wished to allow that child to immediately opt out of wearing the mask. The note would need to be signed and dated and would suffice until the official forms were received from the state. The governor’s executive order did not remove the mandate for students riding on a school bus so children would still be required to wear one to use the district’s transportation system. School staff members and guest would still be required to wear a mask while on campus.

Dr. Little made it clear in his message that the leadership of Lexington One didn’t necessarily agree with Governor McMaster however, the District would follow the order. Little said the District still believes that one of the reasons they’ve had so few cases of in-school spread is because of their deliberate and careful approach centered around a variety of safety measures. According to Little, masks have played an essential role in the District’s successful return to school. He then encouraged all students to continue wearing a mask in the email's closing.

To add depth to this mask saga, later in the week, SC State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman withdrew that agency’s mask mandate after making it clear she disagreed with Governor McMaster’s Tuesday afternoon order. She said schools across the state were in “chaos” and that McMaster hadn’t consulted with her and the department before making the move. Later, a spokesman for Spearman said, “Because Spearman took away the mandate (mask), the opt-out form is now moot.” In other words, no mandate means no need for an official form.

Many parents and educators took to social media to make their feelings known regarding the use of mask at schools. Many are for still wearing the face covering while an equal number of parents express their beliefs that he mask are not needed or are simply ridiculous. Some called the governor's order pure politics and wondered why he had done this so close to the end of the school year.

Regarding Councilman Whetstone, it should be noted that he has a son that attends Lexington One schools. He also represents a rural portion of the county where the population is heavily “blue collar” working class people who often make a living with their hands, outdoors, or with the sweat of their brow. If you spend any time at all in Whetstone’s Council District, you’ll note the attitude of the citizens regarding the use and effectiveness of face coverings is very different than in some other parts of the county. In County Council District One, the ratio of people who wear a mask versus those who don’t is decidedly skewed in the “no mask” direction.

In areas closer into Lexington, the demographics of the people change. There, more people are more apt to have post high school educations and work in fields that keep them indoors and tied to a desk, at computers, or meeting and interacting with groups of people and coworkers throughout their workday. Simply walk in a grocery store in various parts of the county and watch the customers. In the more academic areas of the county, people tend to buy into the mask as protection theory and often use the term, “follow the science,” to justify the stance.

Clearly, like America, Lexington County is very divided when it comes to following the advice of the federal leaders who are just beginning to relax their stance regarding wearing the mask and our state’s heavily conservative leaders who seem to support moving past the pandemic and returning to a more normal life. In Washington, President Biden is still wearing a mask everyday even when surrounded by people who are fully vaccinated. National news sources also noted with some amusement the fact that Biden recently wore a mask the entire time he participated in a worldwide climate summit with other nations' leaders via a Zoom teleconference.

No matter your opinion, Councilman Whetstone pulled no punches in making his thoughts about masks known. In his post he wrote referring to the students being treated differently, “This happened at White Knoll Middle School. Yes, I just said that and I’m calling District 1 out. I’m not afraid to argue or fight for the people in this county. I’m sure as heck not afraid of the school district.” He continued by writing, “So board members and Mr. Superintendent, you know how to reach me. I would expect this child and this family, and any other child subjected to this to be formally apologized to.”

We have reached out to District One’s chief communications officer for comment and are awaiting a response.


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