City of Columbia’s passing of school mask mandate sparks debate

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — Governor Henry McMaster’s office has been very clear that any mask mandate in schools goes against state law.

Mayor Steve Benjamin says his mandate of masks in elementary and middle schools does not violate state law since the city plans to provide the masks. 

Yet some parents are not happy with the decision.

“I believe the second wave has been blown out of proportion on many levels,” said concerned parent Pamela Godwin.

The governor has called recent reports of a surge in cases “hyperbole”. He says parents should decide whether kids go back to school in the fall with masks, rather than the school districts.

“Governor McMaster came out three weeks ago to DHEC. He wrote a letter and his verbiage stated that South Carolinians are free,” Godwin said. “We do not need to be forced or mandated to take any vaccine or wear a mask. It is our choice as South Carolinians what we do with our families.”

Mayor Benjamin hopes to eliminate the choice and require masks in elementary and middle schools in the city, what he says is a move to protect the unvaccinated.

“I believe I was very intentional in not naming politicians or talking in partisan jargon because this is not a political issue. This is a public health issue,” Benjamin said.

While the issue over whether this mask mandate in schools violates state law still continues to be discussed, Benjamin says if challenged, the courts will side with his decision.

“I believe we stand on very firm, solid constitutional legal grounds,” the mayor said.

Some parents still question whether masks are the answer at all.

“The scientists have stated that masks worked. Then they said they didn’t work. Then they said they worked,” Godwin said. “Then they said ‘Get a vaccine, don’t wear a mask.’ Then they said, ‘Ok, you’re vaccinated, you’re still going to wear a mask.’ We’re protesting this. We say no.”

Mayor Benjamin saying the city plans to provide the masks, instead of using state funds.

Schools that do not follow the mandate will face a $100 fine.

“Because I’m sick and tired of people dying. I’m sick and tired of people dying because of misinformation and disinformation,” Benjamin said.

The emergency ordinance lasts for 61 days and is what the mayor calls a necessary action.

“If we can’t rally around that central idea that we should protect our babies, I’m not sure what that says about us as a society,” the mayor said.

Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office released a statement acknowledging the city’s mandate. It plans to analyze it before announcing more next week.

Mayor Benjamin has said he is ready to take the issue to the Supreme Court if necessary but said he hopes “cooler heads prevail.”

Categories: Local News, Richland