MASK MANDATE OR NOT? Politicians disagree on state law ahead of next week’s first day of school

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — The governor has maintained that last week’s announcement of a mask mandate for elementary and middle schools by Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin goes against state law, specifically the budget proviso.

Today, South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson said on camera that he agreed with the governor that it does go against state law.

“Right now, you’ve got a state law, a budget proviso, that says ‘take the money, no mask mandates.’ They’re taking the money and putting in mask mandates,” Wilson said.

Mayor Steve Benjamin released a statement saying that he disagrees with  the attorney general’s opinion and plans to defend his position in court.

“In a couple of months, you are going to go back to the general assembly after you basically told them to go jump off a cliff and ignored their wishes and ask for more money,” the attorney general said. “Good luck with that.”

In the meantime, Richland One School District is preparing for both options.

“The question is: are we strongly encouraging or are we requiring?” asks Richland One superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon.

Even without masks, he is preparing for precautions like masks on buses and for visitors as well as temperature checks and one way hallways to name a few.

“We are concerned,” Witherspoon said. “We have had over the summer 3,500 students enrolled in our summer program. We have had a number of covid cases with students and staff. If this was a year ago, we’d be back to virtual.”

The Richland One School District has more than 22,000 students. Only 5 percent of students in a school district are allowed to learn virtually according to state law. Most parents are preparing to send their children back to the classroom.

“Sometimes I feel a little afraid about the pandemic,” said Amanda Martin, mom of an elementary school student. “I trust the Lord that my daughter will be protected. I prayed about her every day last year and she was fine.”

Parents of older children feel the same.

“We’re anxious. I really hoped and prayed they would start the school year with a normal school year,” said Ashley Jordan, mom of a middle school student and high schooler.

Both moms plan to send their kids to schools with masks, at least for week one.

“For the beginning of the year, I’m going to make sure she wears her mask,” Martin said about her daughter.

“With their age, I don’t know if the 14 and a half year old will keep his mask on,” Jordan said. “We’re going to encourage it because they are going back to full capacity in the classroom.”

In Columbia’s Richland One School District, Superintendent Witherspoon says they will continue to monitor the number of cases in the state and develop contingency plans if quarantining results in a potential shortage of teachers.

He also plans to work with local health officials to again offer COVID screenings and vaccine opportunities for students over age 12.

Categories: Local News, Richland