Tenn. governor signs executive order giving parents ability to opt-out of school mask mandates

Nation and World

FILE – In this Jan. 19, 2021, file photo, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee answers questions after he spoke to a joint session of the legislature at the start of a special session on education in Nashville, Tenn. Despite having some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the country, Tennessee isn’t planning to offer any incentives for people to get the shot. But it’s a different story when it comes to cattle, where the state has reimbursed farmers nearly half a million dollars over the past two years to vaccinate their herds against respiratory and other diseases. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed Executive Order 84 on Monday, giving parents the ability to opt their children out of mask mandates enacted by local school or health boards.

In a speech given Monday, Governor Lee acknowledged that while “local decision-making is important, individual decision-making by a parent on issues regarding the health and well-being of their child is the most important.”

“No one cares about the health and well-being of a child more than a parent,” said Gov. Lee in his prepared speech, “I am signing an executive order today that allows parents to opt their children out of a school mask mandate if either a school board or health board enacts one over a district.”

Gov. Lee stated he will not call for a special legislative session regarding mask mandates, despite calls from Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

“Our hospitals are struggling under the weight of COVID, but those hospital beds are filled with adults. Requiring parents to make their children wear masks to solve an adult problem is in my view the wrong approach,” said Gov. Lee.

The Tennessee governor is calling for a commonsense approach, keep children at home if they aren’t feeling well, and asking parents to stay in touch with their child’s doctor. He said it is also important that schools stay open and in-person all school year and will not consider virtual learning as an option citing poor academic performance in 2020.

Gov. Lee addressed ‘the fear’ that many in the state are experiencing over COVID-19, as well as the fear of government intervention and frustration over face masks and changing information.

“It’s frustrating that we’re headed into another school year with these challenges – it’s disheartening that the COVID challenge continues – but I’m proud of Tennesseans who, in spite of suffering, have persevered, and because of their character, there’s great hope,” said Gov. Lee.

Gov. Lee’s stance on face masks has changed over the course of a year. Lee initially called for taking politics out of the equation and that the use of face masks “were not conservative or liberal.” He called the use of masks “a simple personal decision that just might save an elderly person’s life in the state.”

Gov. Lee has strongly encouraged every Tennessean who has not yet done so and is eligible to do so to get the COVID-19 vaccine but has said his administration will not mandate or require anyone to do so.

“I encourage you to consider it for yourself. It’s widely available, it’s effective and it’s free. More and more Tennesseans are choosing to be vaccinated, almost 100,000 per week and this is good news for the health of our state,” said Gov. Lee.

Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally responded to Gov. Lee’s executive order on Monday, calling it 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. Governor Randy McNally

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