Judge rules against Tennessee's 'opt out' option for school mask mandates

A Tennessee federal judge ruled against Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s (R) executive order allowing parents to “opt out” of school mask mandates

U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman issued a preliminary injunction on Friday blocking the order in Shelby County.

Lipman wrote that the plaintiffs have established evidence demonstrating that the order “interferes with Plaintiffs’ ability to safely access their schools.”

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Lee signed Executive Order 84 in August, which grants a student’s parents or guardian “the right to opt out of any order or requirement” to wear face coverings in schools. 

Two students sued the state later that month, arguing that they are most vulnerable to the coronavirus due to medical conditions. The plaintiffs alleged that Lee’s order denies children the rights to access reasonable protection from the risk of exposure to COVID-19, violating the American Disabilities Act (ADA).

The plaintiffs further argued that before the order, Shelby County’s universal indoor mask mandate for teachers, staff, students and visitors allowed the plaintiffs to safely attend schools.

Lipman previously issued a temporary restraining order blocking Shelby County from enforcing the mask mandate, which was set to expire on Friday.

In her Friday ruling, Lipman ruled that the order endangered the children and hurt their ability to attend classes.

The judge further acknowledged that simply blocking the order just in Shelby County is “no small matter,” but said that Lee “took an action that adversely affected the right of disabled children to access public education.”

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Friday’s preliminary injunction will stay in place until final order is entered in the case, unless the case gets dissolved sooner.

“The Court concludes that the harm from enjoining enforcement of the Executive Order is not negligible, but the harm to the public if the Executive Order were to remain in effect is much more drastic. Public interest is served by an injunction,” Lipman wrote.

A spokesperson for Lee said his office could not comment on pending litigation. 

Friday’s order is not the only legal challenge against the order. Two families in Williamson County also sued in federal court challenging the order, according to The Associated Press.

Updated: 9:30 p.m.