S.C. Supreme Court hears arguments in school mask battle

Published: Aug. 31, 2021 at 10:16 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2021 at 8:32 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Tuesday morning, the South Carolina Supreme Court got its first opportunity to weigh two cases surrounding mask mandates in school.

Both cases involve a one-year budget rule which prohibits school districts from using state budget funds to enforce a mask mandate.

The first case involves a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Alan Wilson against the City of Columbia over its mask mandate.

The city requires pre-k, elementary, and middle school students to wear masks at school.

The attorney for Wilson’s office, Emory Smith, argued the use of state funds to pay the salaries of teachers, administrators or other enforcers of a mask mandate would trigger the budget rule.

His argument did appear to gain traction with some justices, but Chief Justice Donald repeatedly pressed him on if the budget rule banned mask mandates.

Smith conceded it did not, but the consequences of the rule effectively did.

Attorney for Columbia Chris Kenney argued the payment of teacher salaries does not equate to using state funds to enforce the mandate.

Justice John Kittredge challenged Kenney on Smith’s argument and the idea of a conflict between the ordinance and the budget rule.

Kenney argued the teacher’s presence in the classroom is paid for regardless of the mask enforcement, so no state funds would be spent on the enforcement.

Additionally, he said the instruction of teachers would be too nominal to warrant a calculation of payment.

The second case involves Richland School District 2 requesting an injunction on the budget rule, allowing for the district to implement a mandatory mask policy while legal arguments play out.

Attorney for Richland 2 Carl Solomon said the district has $80 million in funds in a bank account separate from funds that would fall under the budget rule.

He argued the district would be able to compensate teachers and administrators independently from that fund through accounting if need be.

Susan McWilliams, Attorney for Speak Jay Lucas, echoed Smith’s argument. She said the funding of teacher and administrator salaries could not be fully compartmentalized from state funds.

The court adjourned just after noon on Tuesday.

The timing of a ruling by the court is unclear.

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