South Carolina AG says Columbia school mask mandate violates state law, mayor says it doesn’t

State - Regional

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — The City of Columbia’s school mask mandate violates state law, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said Tuesday.

Wilson said he delivered a letter to city council informing them that his office says the mandate violates state law and the city will face legal action if they don’t revise it.

“It is the opinion of my office that these ordinances are in conflict with state law and should either be rescinded or amended,” Wilson said.

He added, “while we appreciate the efforts of city leaders around the state to protect their populace from the spread of the COVID-19 virus and variants of it, these efforts must conform to state law.”

A budget proviso approved by state lawmakers essentially banned districts from implementing their own mask mandates and using state funds to enforce them this school year. If they do not follow this, they could lose state funding.

Wilson said requiring masks in city buildings does not violate the proviso.

Council has until the end of the business day Friday to inform Wilson’s office what steps they will take to bring the requirement into compliance with state law.

The Columbia City Council called an emergency meeting Thursday to vote on the ordinance. Members voted 5-1 to approve the Mayor’s order. It would require masks in elementary and middle schools within city limits. Day cares are included as well. Officials said this would impact about 43 schools.

After Wilson’s letter, City of Columbia Mayor Benjamin released the following statement:

“We appreciate the Attorney General’s letter explaining the state’s position, however we fundamentally disagree with his opinion that our emergency mandates stand in violation with state law,” Benjamin said. “Our city government has a constitutional authority and responsibility to preserve the lives, safety, health, and welfare of our city and our citizens. This at times requires we must act swiftly and decisively on an emergency basis, and we are assured we are not in violation of state law, and are prepared to defend our position.”

“We are in the midst of a steep rise in infections in the greatest pandemic in over 100 years and ask our state leaders to step back from viewing this matter as one of conflict between the City and state, and rather stand with us to help find the solutions that will best protect our children and teachers, and keep them safe and healthy when school resumes next week,” he added.

This comes as a Hartsville charter school had to close after having more COVID-19 cases in the first 10 days of school than all of last year.

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