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Gov. Bill Lee signs executive order allowing parents to opt out of school mask mandates

Gov. Lee’s executive order comes as state and federal health experts recommend students and teachers mask up in the classroom.
Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 4:39 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 16, 2021 at 6:17 PM EDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed Executive Order 84 Monday allowing parents to opt their children out of local mask mandates enacted by schools or health boards.

“Right now, some of the greatest frustration is occurring in our K-12 schools, especially around the issue of mask mandates. 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,” Gov. Lee said.

He also spoke on the state of hospitals in Tennessee, saying that most of the patients in hospitals are adults. Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey spoke on pediatric hospitals recently as well, but she said capacity concerns are growing.

“The extra burden of children being hospitalized with Covid is likely just enough to tip the scales in some instances,” Dr. Piercey said.

Gov. Lee emphasized the importance of vaccines during his announcement, encouraging Tennesseans to get vaccinated if they are eligible.

“The most important tool we have to fight the pandemic is a vaccine. I encourage Tennesseans who have not been vaccinated to talk to their doctor to consider getting vaccinated and to make an informed decision. I worked with my doctor and received the vaccine and it has been a dependable tool to keep me healthy,” Gov. Lee said.

Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton released a statement on Gov. Lee’s decision.

“Gov. Lee’s executive order issued today is good news in affirming a parent’s right to make healthcare decisions for their children. I am hopeful this order can be extended further by curtailing the power of the six independent health departments that can still impose unlimited mandates upon our business community. I feel confident the immediate need for a special session has been averted in the interim by using executive orders. However, the House still stands ready to act if the call comes,” he said.

Tennessee Senate minority leader Jeff Yarbro also commented on the decision, saying school systems are already struggling with COVID-19 cases.

“School systems across Tennessee are already reporting huge Covid-related absences, and the National Guard is activating to help understaffed hospitals dealing with the latest spike,” Yarbro said. “This is no time for the governor to play politics and undermine local school efforts to keep kids safe.”

Officials with the Knox County Health Department recently recommended that students, teachers, staff and visitors follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and wear masks while in schools.

The Knox County Board of Education decided Wednesday to deny Superintendent Bob Thomas the power to mandate masks in Knox County schools.

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