University of South Carolina (USC) has canceled its plan to enforce face coverings on campus for the upcoming fall semester, after the state’s attorney general warned that it would go against the intent of state legislation.
The USC, whose campus in Columbia serves more than 35,000 students, on July 30 announced that everyone must wear masks at all times inside all campus buildings, regardless of their vaccination status, except in private offices, residence hall rooms, or while eating in campus dining halls.
In a statement released Tuesday, USC Interim President Harris Pastides walked back from the previous plan, saying that masks will only be required in the university’s health care buildings and on campus buses.
“I deeply respect all persons’ rights to make their own choices, and I respect our federal and state governments’ roles in guiding our university,” Pastides wrote, adding that the school continues to strongly encourage wearing masks indoors.
The reversal of policy comes after South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson sent a letter to the USC administrators, in which he pointed to a recently passed budget amendment and said that the university could risk losing state funding for imposing a mask mandate.
“A public institution of higher learning, including a technical college, may not use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students have received the COVID-19 vaccination in order to be present at the institution’s facilities without being required to wear a facemask,” the amendment reads.
Wilson said although the proviso is not well-worded, it was clear the legislators’ intent was to stop the required wearing of masks.
“It is our understanding that the [amendment], while inartfully worded, was intended to prohibit the mandatory wearing of masks, as reflected in its use of the language ‘without being required to wear a face mask,'” Wilson wrote in the letter. “It is important that the university, not only abide by the [amendment], but that it protect the constitutional liberty of students, faculty and staff.”
South Carolina legislators are expected to fix the wording when they meet next month. They have also passed a budget amendment that prohibits any public school district from imposing a mask requirement in any school building.
In an interview with Fox News on Monday, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said kids “can’t learn” while wearing face masks in the classroom.
“We’re going to let the parents decide, but there is no confusion among the parents,” the Republican governor said. “We have seen what happens when these children are subjected to requiring masks so they can’t perform, they can’t learn.”