The “very clear” SC law prohibiting school mask mandates

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CHARLESTON, SC (AP) – As educators in South Carolina reflect on how to deal with a resurgent coronavirus when the next school year kicks off,

Gov. Henry McMaster said on Friday he viewed a city-imposed school mask warrant to cover children ineligible for the coronavirus vaccine as a violation of state law.

As South Carolina educators reflect on how to deal with a resurgent coronavirus before next school year, the South Carolina capital has ratified an ordinance Thursday mandating the use of masks in elementary and secondary schools in Columbia for at least the start of the school year. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, the Democrat who proposed the move, said it would help protect children too young to be vaccinated.

But a state budget provision that took effect on July 1 prohibits educational institutions in South Carolina from using the appropriate funds to mandate the masks. It’s this provision that McMaster – who served two terms as South Carolina’s attorney general and served as a U.S. attorney during the Reagan administration – is preventing city action.

“I don’t see how these two can coexist,” McMaster told The Associated Press in an interview Friday.

Benjamin, who is also a lawyer, told the AP he believed the warrant did not violate state law because it planned to use city funds, not state funds, to provide masks at schools in the city. But McMaster said on Friday that it was nearly impossible to fully separate activity in public schools from state-allocated funds.

“State law, as part of the budget, says that funds cannot be used (…) to facilitate the required masking, and state funds permeate pretty much everything that does the job. ‘school,’ McMaster said. “I think the state law is very clear.”

McMaster, a Republican seeking re-election to his second full term next year, has long avoided full term mask terms, refusing to issue one at the height of the pandemic last year, but for a while , he ordered that face coverings be worn in restaurants and state buildings.

This spring, he called the “height of ridicule” for a school district to demand a mask on any parent’s wish that their child deprive them of it. But, with the delta variant pushing the number of cases up again, McMaster has continued to emphasize personal responsibility, acknowledging the current danger but saying government-mandated action is not the answer. .

The condition in question has already been tested. Prompted by Attorney General Alan Wilson’s statement that, although “inartistically worded”, The condition made an indoor mask warrant on campus illegal, the University of South Carolina this week canceled its plan for the fall semester.

This week, a lawyer for the law firm of Democratic State Senator Dick Harpootlian argued that Wilson’s interpretation should be rejected because he saw the provision as a ban on mask requirements.

“If an attorney general can literally give an entirely new meaning to otherwise simple words, and then use his own interpretation to compel other government departments to conform to that view, then the power of that office is much greater. than that of the legislature acting as a whole, ”wrote Christopher Kenney.

Wilson’s office told the AP on Friday that his lawyers are still reviewing the legality of the Columbia council’s decision. McMaster said he had not spoken to Wilson, who has a “solid legal issue” to consider.

After falling below 100 cases per day in June, COVID-19 has returned to South Carolina. The state is currently recording an average of more than 2,000 cases per day – a rate similar to the second peak of the pandemic last summer.

Since the end of June, the number of people in South Carolina hospitals with COVID-19 has increased by more than 400%, to more than 700 people. About 200 people are in intensive care with the virus, and nearly 100 are on ventilators – both five times the number reported in early summer by state health officials.

About 45% of eligible people in South Carolina are fully vaccinated, while more than half have received at least one injection.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

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Jeffrey Collins of Columbia contributed to this report.

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