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South Carolina Supreme Court upholds ban on mask mandates in schools in Columbia ruling

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 2:57 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) – The South Carolina Supreme Court issued its ruling on Thursday in the legal fight between Attorney General Alan Wilson and the city of Columbia over mask mandates.

The city had issued a state of emergency at the beginning of August, requiring masks in schools for faculty, staff, visitors and students between the ages of 2 and 14 years old.

But Wilson notified the city that its ordinances conflicted with state law and had to either be rescinded or amended.

RELATED COVERAGE | SC attorney general says Columbia’s school mask mandate violates state law

The legislature passed Proviso 1.108 in the state budget that says school districts are prohibited from using state funds to implement mask mandates.

Columbia and Richland County School District 2 argued mandates can co-exist with the rule. An attorney for Richland District 2 argued the district has $80 million at its disposal to independently fund the mask ordinance. But attorneys for the state countered, saying teachers are the enforcers of the mandates and they are paid with state funds. As a result, state funds would be used and the mandates would therefore be invalid.

The South Carolina Supreme Court sided with the state saying, “the notion that city employees would infiltrate the schools and, without any assistance from school personnel and without a penny of state funds, would be able to mandate masks is demonstrably false.”

It also stated that the city can’t enact ordinances that are in direct conflict with state law.

“We fully recognize that strong and passionate opinions exist on both sides of this debate. Yet, we must remind ourselves, the parties, and the public that, as part of the judicial branch of government, we are not permitted to weigh in on the merits of the facemask debate,” the state Supreme Court’s opinion stated.

The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office issued this statement after the ruling:

We appreciate the Supreme Court’s quick ruling and its confirmation of our legal arguments. The Court emphasized what we’ve been saying all along, that we are not arguing mask policy, we are arguing the rule of law. The Court has confirmed that a city ordinance cannot conflict with state law.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also released a statement in support of the ruling:

The South Carolina Supreme Court has come to a sound conclusion based on the rule of law - a parent’s right to decide what’s best for their child is now definitively protected by state law. I would again encourage anyone eligible to receive the vaccine to get vaccinated.

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