University of Tennessee receives COVID-19 law exemptions

The university was granted exemptions to comply with a federal mandate,
Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 6:44 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2021 at 3:57 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The University of Tennessee system received an exemption to Gov. Lee’s sweeping COVID-19 order Tuesday.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a sweeping COVID-19 bill into law Friday during a special session. The new legislation outlaws vaccine and mask mandates for government entities and schools and places restrictions on what businesses can do to ensure patrons are vaccinated. The new law also places restrictions on masking mandates statewide.

UT President Randy Boyd originally placed a hold on the university’s mask mandate in a press release.

“On Friday evening, Governor Bill Lee signed SB9014/HB9077, which precludes state entities from having mask or vaccine mandates unless exempted from the law by the State Comptroller when federal funding is at risk,” Boyd announced in the press release. “Accordingly, we are lifting mask requirements across the UT System effective immediately.”

Boyd also announced that the school system had applied for an exemption to allow for flexibility to keep federal funding.

“The University of Tennessee System has applied for an exemption to allow each campus and institute the flexibility necessary to implement the requirements of the federal executive order as required by certain federal contracts with UT campuses and institutes,” the release said. “If we receive the exemption, you will hear directly from your leadership as to how the federal executive order may apply to your campus or institute.”

The request was granted Tuesday, according to the state comptroller’s website. This exemption means that the university system is still allowed to enact any mandates required by the federal government to keep funding, including mask mandates. University officials announced that masks will be required again on Monday, Nov. 22.

Despite Boyd’s announcement, some professors at the university are still requiring masks to be worn while in class to protect vulnerable students between now and when the mandate is reinstated, according to emails obtained by WVLT News.

East Tennessee State University, the University of Memphis, and Vanderbilt University were also granted exemptions.

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