Federal judge temporarily blocks Tennessee law banning school mask mandates

Published: Nov. 14, 2021 at 3:01 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A federal judge has issued an order temporarily blocking Tennessee’s new law banning school mask mandates.

It’s the latest in a growing mountain of confusing and conflicting laws, policies and court orders.

The law, signed by Governor Bill Lee on Friday, says schools aren’t allowed to issue mask mandates unless COVID-19 cases spike dramatically.

One day after the governor signed the law suburban school districts across Shelby County began announcing policy changes, signaling to parents that masks would be optional for students come Monday.

But in a rare Sunday order, U.S. District Judge Waverly Crenshaw of the Middle District of Tennessee said, “Given the alleged conflict and the possible confusion this creates for schools in Tennessee...the parties shall maintain the STATUS QUO” as of November 11, the day before Lee signed the mask mandate ban.

The judge also scheduled a conference over the matter for Monday afternoon.

The lawsuit was filed by attorneys representing eight families who have children with disabilities, including two from Shelby County.

They argue the state law banning mask mandates violates the U.S. Constitution and federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It’s one of several lawsuits filed in federal court over school mask mandates.

On Friday, a federal judge in Memphis told Shelby County despite the new state law, it still had an obligation to enforce its health directive, which includes a mask mandate for schools.

University of Memphis law professor Steve Mulroy says if a federal judge believes the new state law violates federal law, then federal law will trump state law.

“If the federal court was convinced by the medical evidence that medically vulnerable, disabled children were going to be endangered unless you allowed a universal mask mandate, it’s hard to see how that would change if we were talking about an executive order versus a state law,” said Mulroy.

It’s unclear what will happen at Monday’s conference.

It’s also unclear if Shelby County school districts will once again change their mask policies in light of the judge’s ruling.

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