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Parents, politicians divided over masks in Mid-South classrooms

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 10:38 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A demonstration took place outside the Shelby County Board of Education Thursday night.

Shelby County Schools (SCS) parents and students held up signs protesting in favor of universal mask mandates. This as the Biden administration and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee feuded over the topic.

While SCS parents fight for their children to be protected in school, the number of moms and dads in municipal districts choosing to opt their children out of mask mandates is growing.

At SCS headquarters in Midtown Memphis, chanting “Mask up Memphis, Tennessee! Mask up, Shelby County Schools,” parents and students spoke out in support of wearing masks in the classroom.

“Some of our children are not able to be vaccinated, but the mask supports those that are not,” said SCS parent ambassador Joyce Lindsey

“We want our children in school and safe and we want our governor to hear us when we say we want our children safe,” said parent ambassador Marjorie Echols. We want our teachers safe. We want all our staff safe.”

Lee issued an executive order Monday, August 16, allowing Tennessee parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates, tweeting, “No one cares more about the health and well-being of a child than the parent.”

Two days later, President Joe Biden joined the conversation during a televised address.

“Unfortunately, as you’ve seen throughout this pandemic, some politicians are trying to turn public safety measures, that is, children wearing masks in schools, into political disputes for their own political gain,” Biden said.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona then sent Lee a letter, questioning the legality of his order.

“Tennessee’s actions may infringe upon a school district’s authority as they develop safe return plans required by Federal law,” Cardona wrote.

Lee doubled down in his response, tweeting Thursday: “Parents know better than the government what’s best for their children.”

Here’s how many parents have chosen to opt their children out of mask-wearing in the municipal school districts in Shelby County:

  • Collierville Schools - 11 percent
  • Lakeland schools - 12 percent
  • Bartlett City Schools - 1.8 percent
  • Germantown Schools - Nearly 17 percent

SCS is standing firm, enforcing its mask mandate for all, despite the governor’s order.

“We are 901, Shelby County Schools,” said Lindsey. “So, we are going to mask up and take care of our children!”

Cardona warned Lee that his office will be watching very closely to make sure Tennessee meets all of its federal fiscal requirements.

Friday at 7 a.m., a countywide mandate to mask up indoors goes into effect in Shelby County, by order of the Shelby County Health Department.

Action News 5 is waiting to hear from the county attorney to see how the health department’s order impacts schools and Lee’s order.

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