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Richland One says it's keeping its school mask mandate for now, despite ruling

The district says it's waiting for a separate ruling from the state supreme court.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Richland School District One said it is keeping its districtwide school mask mandate, despite a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling striking down a similar rule put in place by Columbia leaders.

Richland One Superintendent Dr. Craig Witherspoon issued a statement on his district's plan just hours after the highest court in the state that said the City of Columbia had no ability to issue a mask order that went against state law. 

"We hoped that the Court would have rendered a ruling that is more protective of our youngest and most vulnerable students who are not vaccine-protected at this time," Witherspoon wrote. 

RELATED: SC Supreme Court strikes down Columbia school mask mandate

The Columbia City Council passed an ordinance in August that required masks for students at all preschools, elementary schools, and middle schools in city limits. That affected dozens of schools in Richland One. 

Later, Richland One's school board decided to issue a mask mandate of its own that went a step further than the city, requiring the coverings at high schools as well. 

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson sued the city saying it violated state law. 

RELATED: US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights opens investigation in SC, four other states over masks in schools

In their ruling, the justices of the high court agreed, saying Columbia's face mask rules conflicted with a state measure that banned mask mandates at schools. The proviso--or spending condition--was part of the budget passed in June, and said districts could not enforce such a rule, and if they did, they could lose their funding. The opinion of the court said the wording of that proviso was very clear and that state law supersedes local laws.

But there remains a second case challenging the proviso that the high court has not ruled on. It was brought by Richland School District Two and challenged the legality of the proviso itself. 

"While today’s ruling spoke to the city’s ordinance, there is still another case before the Court," Witherspoon said. "Pending that ruling, Richland One’s Board Policy ADD (Face Covering) will remain in effect. Our priority continues to be protecting the health and safety of our students and staff."

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