S.C. attorney general warns Columbia to drop school mask mandate

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 4:31 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - In a letter to Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, the South Carolina attorney general says the mayor’s recent ordinance requiring day cares and elementary and middle schools to require masks goes against state law.

According to a temporary law in the state budget, also known as a proviso, schools cannot use any state funds to require that students or staff wear a mask in school. The law also prohibits the use of state funds to announce or enforce a mask requirement.

Last week, Benjamin issued a state of emergency for the city of Columbia that includes a requirement for everyone to wear a face covering in Columbia day cares and schools that serve children up to age 14.

Benjamin said it was in response to the recent rapid spread of the COVID-19 delta variant, especially among children under the age of 12 who aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson believes what Benjamin did is illegal.

“While the proviso does not mention municipalities, it is clear from both a plain reading of its language and from the intent expressed by legislative leaders that the General Assembly does not believe that school students or employees should be subject to facemasks mandates,” Wilson wrote. “While we appreciate the efforts of city leaders around the state to protect their populace from the spread of the COV1D-19 virus and variants of it, these efforts must conform to state law.”

Benjamin said because he is providing the masks using city funds and city fire marshals will enforce the mask ordinance, it does not go against the state law Wilson is citing.

Wilson’ letter gives Benjamin a deadline of Friday to “bring the city’s facemask ordinances for schools into compliance with state law.”


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