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UofSC’s interim president reinstates mask mandate after court ruling

UofSC Interim President Harris Pastides released a statement Tuesday reimplementing the...
UofSC Interim President Harris Pastides released a statement Tuesday reimplementing the university's mask mandate after the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a ruling stating that a temporary law passed with the state budget did not prevent institutions of higher learning from implementing a universal mask mandate.(Live 5/File)
Published: Aug. 18, 2021 at 10:36 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - A mask mandate that had been withdrawn after a legal challenge is back on, effective immediately, at the University of South Carolina.

UofSC Interim President Harris Pastides released a statement Tuesday reimplementing the university’s mask mandate.

The announcement came after the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a ruling stating that a temporary law passed with the state budget did not prevent institutions of higher learning from implementing a universal mask mandate.

“On July 23, we were the first institution in the state to mandate face coverings,” Pastides said Tuesday. “I will require the use of face coverings in our buildings, effective immediately, as an effective strategy in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of all members of our Gamecock community to help protect ourselves and others by adopting sound public health practices as we continue our efforts to safeguard our campus against this still-evolving health concern.”

Shortly after the university issued its mask mandate, questions arose about provisos passed with the state budget designed to prevent mask mandates.

Proviso 1.108, which garnered the most attention over the past week, prohibits school districts and schools from imposing mask mandates for their students. But in issuing the ruling in the UofSC case, the state Supreme Court looked at a second law, Proviso 117.190.

That law states: “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. This prohibition extends to the announcement or enforcement of any such policy.”

The court ruled that nothing in that second proviso made clear an intent by the General Assembly to prohibit all mask mandates at state colleges and universities.

“Instead, the proviso clearly prevents state-supported institutions of higher education from using funds from the 2021-2022 appropriations to fund efforts requiring only unvaccinated individuals to wear face masks,” the ruling states.

Attorney General Alan Wilson released the following statement on the court’s ruling:

“We said all along the proviso was inartfully drafted. While we disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling, we certainly understand its rationale and anticipated this was a reading the Court could give. In fact, the Court quoted our letter to President Pastides that stated the proviso could be read another way. While the proviso was not clear, we think the legislature’s intent was, so now it’s up to the University of South Carolina to address this matter in light of the General Assembly’s position.”

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