In a letter (pdf) addressed to Columbia Mayor Stephen Benjamin and Columbia City Council, Wilson said, if the mandate isn’t rescinded, “the city will be subject to appropriate legal actions to enjoin their enforcement.”
Wilson gave the mayor and council a deadline of Friday, Aug. 13 to comply.
Benjamin had declared a state of emergency in the state capital on Wednesday, triggered by Prisma Health Children’s Hospital in Columbia reporting that it had reached a “strained capacity” of children being diagnosed with COVID-19.
The Columbia City Council subsequently ratified the state of emergency during an emergency meeting the next day, mandating masks for all faculty, staff, visitors, and children in public and private schools, and daycares that instruct children from ages 2 to 14.
Benjamin had said in the council meeting that the state constitution and city code gave him and council the authority to mandate masks in schools.
The city ordinance blames the surge of the Delta variant being a threat to unvaccinated children as the impetus for the emergency declaration, with vaccination rates in South Carolina near the lowest in the country.
Legislation Prohibits Mask Mandates
In an Aug. 6 letter to Wilson, South Carolina Senate President Harvey Peeler and South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas informed Wilson of the legislature’s intent to ban school mask mandates.
The letter can be found here:
According to Wilson, the legislature had passed a budget proviso stating, “No school district, or any of its schools, may use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students and/or employees wear a facemask at any of its education facilities.”
Wilson added that it’s acceptable to encourage wearing facemasks, but that it should be optional.
“No school district, or any of its schools, may use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students and/or employees wear a facemask at any of its education facilities,” Wilson said in the letter. “This prohibition extends to the announcement or enforcement of any such policy. 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.”
Personal Responsibility, Not Mandates
At a press conference from the state house on Monday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said personal responsibility and common sense—not mask mandates—are the answer.
“Shutting our state down, closing schools, and masking children who have no choice, to protect adults who do have a choice, is the wrong thing to do, and we are not going to do it,” McMaster said.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden said his administration is “checking” on whether universal mask mandates in public schools can be implemented, though he doesn’t believe the administration has the power, “thus far.”