Students at the University of South Carolina will be required to wear masks “in all classrooms and indoor spaces” during the upcoming fall semester in the hopes of slowing the spread of Covid-19, according to the latest guidance from the school. Oh, and it doesn’t matter whether students have been vaccinated or not …
“This mandate must be followed regardless of vaccination status,” an email from one school official noted, adding that “further information will be forthcoming from the university in the coming weeks.”
Can school officials do that?
Not according to state law … or at least not according to a proviso contained in the fiscal year 2021-2022 state budget (which has the force of law). According to that proviso, (1.108), no school in the Palmetto State may “require that its students and/ or employees wear a facemask at any of its education facilities.”
A separate proviso related specifically to institutions of higher learning holds that these schools “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 face mask.”
University officials told me late Friday their mandate conforms to the state’s requirements because it “makes no distinction as to vaccinated or unvaccinated students.”
As to the proviso banning mask mandates, one school source told me “that proviso applied solely to K-12 schools, not institutions of higher learning.”
The source also seemed to suggest that if state lawmakers had really intended to impose an unambiguous, enforceable mask mandate, they would have done so via the adoption of new legislation.
“We can hardly be blamed for the fact (lawmakers) chose the proviso route – and chose to draft said provisos inartfully,” the source deadpanned.
News of the university’s decision comes one day after the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) issued updated guidance strongly encouraging mask usage in government-run K-12 schools. SCDHEC stopped short of issuing a mandate, though, acknowledging that “mask use cannot be mandated per the S.C. General Assembly.”
That guidance was issued after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued updated guidance recommending “universal indoor masking” in all government-run schools this fall as a precaution against the Covid-19 pandemic (particularly against the highly contagious delta variant of the virus).
South Carolina’s mask mandate comes less than a week after this news outlet reported on the university’s controversial guidelines governing vaccination. According to those guidelines – issued by interim president Harris Pastides – students must either provide the university with proof of vaccination, proof of a positive Covid-19 infection (within the past ninety days) or “a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test conducted no more than 10 days prior to arrival to campus.”
Faculty are scheduled to report to South Carolina on Monday, August 16, 2021. The first day of classes for students is that Thursday (August 19, 2021).
Earlier this month, my news outlet reported on efforts by the College of Charleston (CofC) to impose Covid-19 vaccination requirements on its incoming students for the 2021-2022 academic year. Specifically, this Lowcountry institution of higher learning intended to require its unvaccinated students to subject themselves to monthly coronavirus testing – or risk facing unspecified sanctions.
Parents protested – and took their complaints to the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson. Wilson, in turn, wrote a letter to CofC president Andrew Hsu advising him that the school’s policies “could be read to imply that an unvaccinated student (who) refuses to participate in a survey and monthly testing protocols may be subject to a reprimand, the harshness of which is unclear.”
Wilson urged Hsu to “review and revise its proposed Covid-19 policy to ensure that it complies with state law.”
The school did just that – striking down the testing mandate and affirming that “students are not required to be vaccinated in order to enroll or attend the College of Charleston or participate in any campus activities.”
Earlier this week, Wilson was asked by state representative Stewart Jones of Laurens, S.C. to review the University of South Carolina’s polices. That review was reportedly underway at the time the school decided to impose its mask mandate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that University of South Carolina Gamecocks’ baseball lid pictured above).
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