Third judge blocks Gov. Lee's mask opt out in schools

NASHVILLE (TN) A third federal judge has stopped Tennessee Governor. Bill Lee's order that allowed families to opt out from school mask mandates was blocked by a third federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw handed down the decision late Friday. It is the latest in the legal battle over Lee’s order, initiated by parents and advocates concerned about the rise in coronavirus cases at Tennessee schools.

After a few Republican legislators demanded that the governor call a special session, Lee issued the order in August. This was to allow the GOP-dominated General Assembly to halt the mandate for masks in schools and other COVID-19 safety precautions. Since then, many students have been able to attend classes without masks since record-breaking pediatric hospitalizations.

Crenshaw's order applies only to Williamson County. This is a wealthy region located just south of Nashville. An earlier judge had rescinded Lee's Knox County executive order. After families claimed that the executive order of the governor endangered their children, a second judge banned Lee's order indefinitely.

The lawsuits allege that Lees' order violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. This Act prohibits students with disabilities being excluded from public education programs and activities. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children with certain disabilities are more at risk of serious illness and death if they receive COVID-19.

Crenshaw, writing in his 18-page decision, stated that plaintiffs were denied safe and in-person education access due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in Williamson County.

Gov. Lee did not provide any affidavits or declarations to back his assertion that universal mask mandates would need significant resources. The judge concluded.

Lee said Friday to reporters that he could not speak about specific litigation, but pointed out that multiple lawsuits had been filed against mask mandates.

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Both sides have strong opinions. Lee stated that the strategy Lee chose, which allowed districts to have a requirement, but gave parents the option of opting out, was a positive step forward. We believe this is the right direction.

Crenshaw's ruling will be in effect until Oct. 5, which is the expiration date of Lee's order. The governor hasn't yet indicated if he will extend it.

Public health agencies say indoor mask-wearing is a key coronavirus-prevention tool. The CDC states that masks are safe for children as young as toddlers and recommends them to schools, since vaccines for children under 12 years old are still not approved.

The number of COVID-19-related cases among children has risen dramatically in the wake of the new school year. This made it more difficult for many Tennessee school districts to offer in-person education. Some schools have shut down their classrooms while others have switched to virtual learning temporarily as students are forced or isolated.