Tennessee AG to appeal school mask opt-out rulings

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s Attorney General Herbert Slatery on Monday said his office would appeal the recent federal court decisions that blocked Gov. Bill Lee’s order allowing families to opt out of school mask mandates.

“These orders have impeded the governor’s executive authority during an emergency to direct the state’s public health response, which is why this office will be appealing those decisions,” Slatery, a Republican, said in a statement.

Slatery said he would only appeal two out of the three lawsuits filed by families and advocates across the state opposed to the Republican governor’s latest executive order. To date, federal judges have blocked the order from being implemented in Knox, Shelby and Williamson counties.

All three lawsuits argued that Lee’s order violates 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 get COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said.

Slatery said he was pursuing appeals in Shelby and Knox counties. While his office did not disclose why he only chose those counties, the judge overseeing the Williamson County case has only temporarily blocked Lee’s order from being enforced.

The governor’s order remains in effect until Oct. 5. He has not said if he’ll extend it.

Lee issued the order in August after a handful of Republican lawmakers demanded the governor call a special session so the GOP-dominant General Assembly could halt mask mandates in schools and other COVID-19 safety measures. Many students have been attending classes without masks ever since as pediatric hospitalizations reached record highs.

Masks are a key virus-prevention tool that are most effective when worn by a large number of people, public health experts say. The CDC has again recommended them for schools, saying they don’t pose health risks for children older than toddler age.

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