By TOSIN FAKILE, JOSEPH WENZEL
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) — A new executive order signed by Governor Bill Lee will allow parents to opt-out of local school mask mandates.
On Monday Gov. Lee signed executive order 84, which will give parents and guardians the ability to “opt their child out of a local mask mandate enacted by a school or health board.”
“No one cares more about the health and well-being of a child than a parent,” Lee said during a press conference Monday.
Lee said there will be no special session after the signing the executive order, referring to House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s request for a special session after more local districts implemented mask mandates.
“Gov. Lee’s executive order issued today is good news in affirming a parent’s right to make healthcare decisions for their children. I am hopeful this order can be extended further by curtailing the power of the six independent health departments that can still impose unlimited mandates upon our business community. I feel confident the immediate need for a special session has been averted in the interim by using executive orders. However, the House still stands ready to act if the call comes,” House Speaker Cameron Sexton.
News4 reached out to Metro Nashville Public Schools on Monday afternoon. The district says they are reviewing the new executive order and say in the meantime, students will continue wearing masks at Metro Schools.
Metro Schools Director Dr. Adrienne Battle released this statement:
“The Metro Nashville Board of Education and I are charged with educating our students and with keeping them safe. Universal masking policies, during the pandemic, are a key mitigation strategy to do just that. To allow anyone to opt out of these policies for any reason, other than legitimate medical need, would make them ineffective and would require more students to be quarantined and kept out of the classroom.
“The Governor’s executive order was released without prior notice to school districts for review or comment. As such, Metro Schools will continue to require face masks, pursuant to the rules adopted by the Board, as we further review this order and explore all options available to the district to best protect the health of our students, teachers, and staff.”
Other lawmakers and organizations have reacted to the governor’s executive order. Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro said the order “plays politics.”
“School systems across Tennessee are already reporting huge Covid-related absences, and the National Guard is activating to help understaffed hospitals dealing with the latest spike. This is no time for the governor to play politics and undermine local school efforts to keep kids safe,” Sen. Jeff Yarbro.
“Governor Lee’s executive order is a wise and prudent solution to the proliferation of school mask mandates. While I strongly urge all Tennesseans to get vaccinated or wear masks if they cannot, I respect any Tennessean with a sincere religious or medical exception. This executive order acknowledges the authority of local school and health boards to make these decisions while ensuring parents have the ability to opt-out. This is an appropriate compromise that strikes a proper balance between freedom and public health,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally
“This Executive Order goes to show the attitude of Governor Lee and the Republican Party when it comes to our babies’ lives. He’s willing to play Russian Roulette with our children, basically sending our babies into the lion’s den with no armor. Today, the Governor offered no solutions or recommendations on how to protect our kids. When making the announcement, he admits that masks are good in warding off COVID-19 while at the same time saying but we don’t want our kids to wear them. It’s conflicting statements. So no wonder that the average Joe is so confused on what to do. It all boils down to a serious lack of leadership by Governor Lee and the Republicans that puts all of Tennessee at risk.” House Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie
Dr. Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee’s former top vaccination official, told News4 the order completely defeats the purpose of a mask mandate.
“I think the governor’s executive order is deplorable,” she said. “You know a mask mandate that has an opt out is not a mask mandate.”
During Monday’s press conference, Governor Lee stressed the importance of keeping schools open and urged parents to keep their children at home if they may be feeling sick.
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