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South Carolina’s highest court on Thursday tossed out a school mask mandate in the state’s capital city, saying it contradicts a state budget measure aimed at preventing face covering requirements.

State Attorney General Alan Wilson had sued the city of Columbia after its City Council passed the ordinance requiring masks at elementary and middle schools. City leaders said the mask requirement, which carries a $100 violation fine, was meant to protect children too young to be approved for the coronavirus vaccine.

But Wilson argued the city’s mask rule conflicts with the budget requirement that went into effect July 1 and bans school districts from using appropriated funds to require face coverings.

On Thursday, the state Supreme Court sided unanimously with the attorney general. The Columbia ordinance is written so that the burden of enforcing the mask rule falls on school employees, “all of whom have an obvious connection to state-appropriated funds,” wrote Justice John Kittredge.

That means school employees have to choose between violating state or city laws, the opinion reads.

“The City has made clear that every school employee is in the crosshairs,” Kittredge wrote. “Simply put, whether intentionally or inadvertently, the City threatens all school personnel with far-reaching and unknown legal liability unless all school personnel ensure obedience to the ordinances.”

Attorneys for Columbia had argued days prior that city and school authorities could draw from separate pots of money, such as local funds, to enforce mask-wearing. They also claimed the legislature overstepped constitutional boundaries by putting the mask rule — a policy unrelated to state finances — in the budget, which aims to raise and spend money.

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