Gov. Lee’s mask opt-out order does not protect children with disabilities, violates federal law, judge rules

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Governor Bill Lee’s mask opt-out order continues to be blocked after a federal judge ruled the executive order violates federal law.

It was a challenge brought by two families of children with disabilities out of Williamson County.

The governor’s order allowed parents to decide whether they wanted their kids to attend school without a mask.

In batting down the order, the U.S. District Judge overseeing the lawsuit said Lee’s mask ‘opt-out’ order could cause irreparable harm.

It doesn’t matter where you go in Williamson County, a suburb less than 30 minutes from Nashville, people are talking.

“I can understand why it’s present and I can understand, from an individual perspective, why people don’t feel it’s necessary, but until this pandemic has calmed down a bit and there aren’t as many deaths I think it is respectful for the people that are at risk,” said Tracy Baldridge, a Williamson County resident.

COVID-19 mandates and a recent federal ruling blocking Lee’s order have renewed the mask conversation.

“I believe masks are a personal decision, I believe that there been tremendous overreach in the response to this pandemic,” said Simon Mcilroy.

However, Judge Waverly Crenshaw wrote “disabled students are at a significantly higher risk for severe infection and are exposed at a higher rate” following Lee’s executive order.

Additionally writing, “the court establishes that temporary universal mask mandates adopted by the Williamson County and Franklin School Systems have been, and likely would continue to be, effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19.”

“What Governor Lee did is really anti what he’s supposed to stand for and that’s for local control and here we have local school boards and districts who are trying to put policies into place to keep their kids and their teachers safe and he’s working against them,” said Dr. Jason Martin, an ICU doctor, and candidate for governor.

The ruling comes as the General Assembly prepares to limit or stop COVID restrictions in the state in an upcoming special session.

“The great thing is the courts have made decisions and so we now have a better lay of the land than where we probably did a few months ago, and hopefully we’re better able to maneuver and get something that we think will strengthen our cases in court or uphold a challenge in court,” said Speaker Cameron Sexton.

The governor’s office responded after the ruling:

“The governor’s position hasn’t changed – parents should be making health decisions for their children and we will continue to defend that in court.“

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