Tennessee under federal investigation for Gov. Lee’s mask ‘opt out’ order

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The US Department of Education is now investigating nearly two weeks after the Biden Administration sent a letter to Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn warning the governor’s “opt-out” order may infringe upon districts’ federal requirement to provide a safe learning environment for students.

“I’m grateful that the federal government has stepped in seeing that Tennessee is in violation of civil rights,” said Eric Moore, a Knox County parent of a COVID positive child.

In a letter sent this week by acting Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights wrote they will examine whether “the Tennessee Department of Education may be preventing school districts in the state from considering or meeting the individual educational needs of students with disabilities or otherwise enabling discrimination”

“Schools, in fact, have a real obligation to keep children safe,” said Ellen Wright Clayton, a Vanderbilt professor of pediatrics, law and health policy.

Clayton added the federal government has a case against Governor Lee’s executive order.

“The governor said that parents don’t have to have their kids wear masks if they don’t want to and that puts children at risk and particularly children with a variety of disabilities at risk and that’s illegal,” Clayton said.

At the heart of the argument is whether federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act and, or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act are being violated in Tennessee.

“They’re designed to try to ensure that people with disabilities have the best possible access to the tools they need to get the best education they can so this is not new,” Clayton said.

Governor Bill Lee is responding to the new letter saying, “I think it’s very important that we respect and protect the rights of everyone including the parents and their decision-making process with regard to their children.”

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