Wednesday, November 24 2021

A third federal judge blocked Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s order allowing families to step down from school mask warrants.

The ruling, released Friday night by U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw, is the latest development in the ongoing legal battle against Lee’s order launched by parents and advocates alarmed by the surge in coronavirus cases in schools across the country. Tennessee.

Lee issued the order in August after a handful of Republican lawmakers called on the governor to call a special session so the GOP-majority General Assembly can suspend school mask mandates and other security measures COVID-19. Many students have been attending classes without masks since pediatric hospitalizations reached record levels.

Crenshaw’s order only applies to Williamson County, an affluent area just south of Nashville. Earlier today, a separate judge suspended Lee’s Order in Council in Knox County. A week earlier, another judge had banned Lee’s order indefinitely after families argued the governor’s decree endangered their children.

All three lawsuits claimed Lee’s order violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits the exclusion of students with disabilities from public educational programs and activities. Children with certain disabilities are more vulnerable to serious illness or death if they contract COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

“Based on the court record, due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in Williamson County, including the plaintiffs’ schools, as well as a significant number of students who have withdrawn, Complainants were also denied access to a safe, in-person educational experience, ”Crenshaw wrote in his 18-page decision.

“Gov. Lee offered no affidavit, statement or any other factual predicate to support his claim that universal mask warrants would require significant resources, ”the judge added.

Lee told reporters on Friday he could not speak to the specific litigation, but pointed out that there had been several lawsuits against the mask warrants.

“There are very strong opinions on both sides about this. I think that’s why the strategy we adopted, which allowed districts to provide a requirement but gave parents an opt-out option, was a good way forward, ”said Lee. “And we still think that’s the right direction.”

Crenshaw’s ruling is in effect until October 5, the same day Lee’s order expires. The governor did not say if he was going to extend it.

Public health agencies say wearing a mask indoors is a key tool in preventing coronaviruses. The CDC says the masks pose no health risks to children older than toddlers and recommends them for schools because vaccines are still not allowed for children under 12.

Childhood COVID-19 cases have increased dramatically during the outbreak that coincided with the start of the current school year, making it difficult for some Tennessee school districts to provide in-person education. Some schools have closed classrooms, while others have temporarily switched to virtual learning as students are forced into self-quarantine or self-isolation.


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