Governor Lee to extend order allowing parents to remove masks for students

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Gov. Bill Lee said Thursday he would extend his executive order allowing parents to exclude their children from following local school mask warrants that protect them from the coronavirus.

He also said he would convene a special legislative session this fall to approve funding for the Ford Motor Co. electric vehicle manufacturing complex project in western Tennessee, announced this week. However, the governor and his staff have promised that education and COVID-related issues, including masks in schools, will not be on the agenda.

“We have a lot to decide and a lot to confirm about this deal, so we need to stay focused,” said Lee, calling Ford’s arrival “a transformative economic moment in our state’s history.”

Speaking to reporters in Dickson, west of Nashville, the governor said he was disappointed with three Federal Court rulings against his Aug. 16 executive order, which is due to expire Oct. 5. Justices in Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville sided with some parents who said the governor’s order violates federal law by creating unsafe learning environments for students with disabilities who are at greater risk for illness serious due to COVID.

Lee said he supported appeals filed earlier this week by the state attorney in two of the cases affecting families in Shelby and Knox counties.

“Parents know best what is best for their children and should have the final say in matters of children’s health and well-being,” he said.

A study released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that Tennessee leads the country in COVID-related school closings so far this school year. The report showed that more than 500 schools across the state closed for at least a day due to the virus. Tennessee was one of the first states to launch the school year, with most schools opening in early August and increasing opportunities for exposure to the more contagious delta variant.

When asked if universal masking in classrooms can help schools stay open, Lee stressed the importance of getting vaccinated which protects people from the virus.

“The best defense we have against this pandemic… is vaccination,” he said. “We will continue to say it.”

Children aged 11 and under are not yet eligible for vaccines, but federal approval for school-aged children aged 5 to 11 is expected next month.

This developing story will be updated.


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