- A federal judge struck down Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing students to opt-out of mask mandates in schools.
- Two students with medical conditions sued over the order, claiming they were unfairly excluded from activities because of the risk of COVID-19.
- The judge ruled their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act were violated.
A federal judge in Tennessee on Friday struck down Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing students to opt-out of mask mandates imposed at their schools.
The judge ruled in favor of two students who brought the case against Lee’s executive order. The students argued they were more vulnerable to COVID-19 due to medical conditions and were being excluded from school activities as a result of the order.
“Plaintiffs have identified ways that they have been excluded from participating in school programs and activities, including from physical education classes, and socializing with their peers when within the school buildings and at lunch,” US District Judge Sheryl H. Lipman wrote in the ruling, per The Hill.
The judge ruled that the students’ had their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act violated as a result of Lee’s order, The Hill reported.
Lee on August 16 signed an executive order that allowed parents to opt their children out of mask mandates imposed by schools to stem the spread of the disease, according to The Tennessean.
“Districts will make the decision they believe are best for their schools, but parents will have the ultimate decision-making for their individual child’s health and well-being,” Lee said at the time of the signing.
On Thursday, despite a surge in COVID-19 cases in the state and an increase in cases among children, Lee defended the order.
“I still believe that a parent is the best decider of what is appropriate for their child,” Lee, a Republican, said during a press conference Thursday, The Tennessean reported.
“We believe that masks work, and that if you want to protect your kid against (COVID-19), one tool that you would have is to send your kid to school with a mask,” he added, per the outlet.
Infections between children aged 5 and 18 are at the highest level since the pandemic began, The Tennessean noted. Over 154,000 children have tested positive for the disease since the pandemic began. The Tennessee Department of Health this week said 40% of all new cases of COVID-19 were in children, Local24 reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in late July recommended that students and faculty at schools wear face masks regardless of their vaccination status amid spread of the more transmissible Delta variant of the disease. But face masks in school have become a political debate, with GOP governors in several states attempting to ban mask mandates in schools.
According to The Tennessean, at least 19 school districts in the state have closed due to COVID-19 related staffing shortages.