Governor extends mask opt-out rule despite Tennessee leading the U.S. in COVID school closures

Tennessee News

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Governor Bill Lee is extending his controversial mask opt-out order in 92 of Tennessee’s 95 counties, while fighting against federally ordered mask requirements in three of the remaining counties.

The extension comes as new data points to grimmer details of Tennessee’s return to in-person learning.

Gov. Lee said he was disappointed in three federal rulings that state his mask opt-out order is or potentially unlawful.

“I have been in full support with the Attorney General as we defend the law in this state,” Lee said.

Judges in Middle, West and East Tennessee ruled the executive order by the Governor does not provide protection for children covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But despite the rulings, he is adding 30 days to the order.

“We’ll be extending and making a provision for that law,” he said.

Zack Buck, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee said, “By extending the rule, it likely ensures now that we’ll have ongoing and continual litigation about the issue.”

The most likely place the lawsuit will continue is in the 6th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, to answer whether the Governor’s order is protected or not.

“Is it such that because of the Governor’s rule the kids, the children with disabilities do not have a reasonable accommodation because of the risk of developing severe disease due to COVID-19,” Buck said.

Dr. Jason Martin, an ICU doctor treating COVID-19 patients and a Democrat for Governor of Tennessee, said this continues a pattern by Gov. Lee.

“This is just pure politics by Governor Lee, and it’s hanging teachers out to dry. It’s hanging students out to dry,” Dr. Martin said.

The move by the 50th Governor comes with new data published by the CDC detailing school closures because of COVID-19 was the highest in the south with Tennessee leading the way.

Chart released by the CDC

“Members of the health care community and the scientific community have been saying for months that there’s some simple measures that we can take to keep teachers and students safe,” Dr. Martin continued, “First of all, we need to encourage folks to get vaccinated when they are eligible and secondly we need to encourage mask wearing – especially to protect those groups of kids who are not eligible for vaccinations yet.”

Tennessee’s Attorney General is appealing the rulings out of Shelby and Knox counties.

Tracking COVID in Tennessee
📊 COVID-19 cases among TN school-age children
📊 Tennessee’s Current COVID-19 hospitalizations
📊 New COVID-19 cases and deaths reported by month

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