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Tennessee governor signs sweeping COVID-19 bill ending mask mandates in public schools

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 4:43 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 12, 2021 at 4:57 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a sweeping COVID-19 bill into law Friday.

The bill outlaws virtually all mask mandates in public schools.

Shelby County asked a judge to make clear if that law will take effect in the county. That’s because there is currently a preliminary injunction placed against Lee’s previous executive order that allows parents to opt their children out of wearing masks.

A federal judge says for now, children in Shelby County still have to mask up.

“If the federal court order applies to a rule from the Tennessee legislature just as much as it would apply to Governor Lee’s previous executive order, then Shelby County needs to know that the universal mask mandate would remain in effect,” said University of Memphis law professor Steve Mulroy.

Shelby County filed an emergency motion for clarification Thursday.

Friday the judge held a virtual meeting on the motion. Judge Sheryl Lipman says the preliminary injunction would apply to the educational aspects of the new COVID-19 laws as the original order was to ensure the ADA was being followed and children with disabilities had access to education.

Mulroy says if the judge thinks there’s a case the ADA may be violated by the law signed Friday, as the plaintiffs claim, the federal law would trump the new state law.

The Shelby County judge’s decision is in a case filed against Lee by Shelby County families this summer over his executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates. Those parents say the opt-out option goes against the Americans with Disabilities Act, putting their children with disabilities in harm.

A judge previously put a preliminary injunction on the governor’s executive order as it pertains to Shelby County. The injunction remains in effect until the judge makes a final ruling on the case.

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