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SC schools are not allowed to mandate mask-wearing, so Rock Hill Schools are 'strongly' encouraging them

In Rock Hill, students will continue to social distance. Kids will be in cohorts as much as possible and will eat lunch in the classrooms that have enough space.

ROCK HILL, S.C. — The first day of school is under 10 days away in South Carolina, and under the law, school districts are not allowed to mandate mask-wearing.

This is why the South Carolina Department of Education and the state’s top health organization are teaming up to make a big push for schools to take as many safety precautions as they can.

The superintendent says it’s a challenge. They plan to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) guidelines the best they can, but they can’t mandate masks. So instead, they’re going to be strongly encouraging them when kids and staff return.

RELATED: SC Dept. of Education encourages masks as COVID cases rise, but state law restricts school mandate

SCDHEC and the department of education are now making a push for teachers, parents staff and students to get vaccinated, as leaders say it's the best shot at keeping schools open this year. SCDHEC is stressing that children and adults should continue masking indoors, even if vaccinated -- including in schools.

In Rock Hill, students will continue to social distance. The kids will be in cohorts as much as possible, district leaders say, and will eat lunch in the classrooms that have enough space. 

District leaders hope families will take the delta variant seriously.

"We’re going to strongly encourage all of our students, all of our visitors, all of our staff to wear their masks, especially when they’re indoors and can’t social distance," Rock Hill Schools Superintendent Bill Cook said. "Those conversations are necessary right now. We’re all in this together, we’re all trying to figure this out."

Cook said he is expecting more classroom closures or quarantines, and says without a mask requirement, contact tracing is going to be extremely difficult this school year. 

Contact Tanya Mendis at tmendis@wcnc.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.