Gov: S.C. law ‘very clear’ in banning school mask mandates
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said Friday that he sees a city-enforced school mask mandate - intended to cover children not eligible for the coronavirus vaccine - as a violation of state law.
As educators across the state mull how to handle a resurgent coronavirus ahead of the upcoming school year, South Carolina’s capital city ratified an ordinance Thursday mandating the use of masks in Columbia elementary and middle schools for at least the beginning of the school year. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, the Democrat who proposed the move, said that it will help protect children who are too young to be vaccinated against.
But a state budget proviso that went into effect July 1 prohibits South Carolina educational institutions from using appropriated funds to mandate masks. It’s that provision that McMaster — who served two terms as South Carolina’s attorney general and was U.S. attorney during the Reagan administration — said preempts the city’s action.
“I don’t see how those two can coexist,” McMaster told The Associated Press during an interview on Friday.
Benjamin, who is also an attorney, told the AP that he believes the mandate doesn’t violate state law because he plans to use city, and not state, funds to provide masks to the city’s schools. But McMaster said Friday that it’s nearly impossible to entirely separate activity within public schools from state-appropriated funds.
“The state law, as part of the budget, says that funds cannot be used ... to facilitate required masking, and state funds permeate just about everything that the school does,” McMaster said. “I think the state law is very clear.”
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