Federal Judge Blocks Tennessee Gov. From Allowing Parents to Opt Out of Mask Mandates

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A federal judge has blocked Tennessee’s governor from requiring that schools in Shelby County allow parents to chose whether or not their children will wear masks when they attend public school classes.

U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman issued a temporary injunction against Republican Governor Bill Lee on Friday in response to lawsuits from the parents of disabled children, arguing that his order prevented the students from having equal access to public facilities.

“It is that unmasked presence that creates the danger to these Plaintiffs,” the judge wrote, according to The Associated Press.

“Plaintiffs offered sufficient evidence at this stage to demonstrate that the Executive Order interferes with Plaintiffs’ ability to safely access their schools,” she also wrote.

Classes in Shelby County began on August 9 and schools required masks under the county health department’s universal mask requirement.

Lee had previously left the issue of school mask requirements up to individual localities but signed an executive order on August 16 which required that school districts allow parents to opt-out of the requirement, saying at the time that while local decision making was important, “individual decision-making by a parent on issues regarding the health and well-being of their child is the most important.”

The Associated Press notes that “many students have been attending classes without masks ever since.”

The lawsuit says that Lee’s order violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by not allowing students with disabilities that may put them at an increased risk if exposed to COVID-19 equal access to schools.

“The Governor has put the parents of medically vulnerable students in the position of having to decide whether to keep their children at home where they will likely suffer continued learning loss or risk placing them in an environment that presents a serious risk to their health and safety,” the suit alleges.

The Tennessee state attorney’s office has argued that both parents of disabled children and schools could individualized solutions to challenges posed by more lenient mask requirements for public schools.

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