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Governor Lee signs order allowing parents to opt kids out of mask mandates; will not call special session

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Posted at 3:11 PM, Aug 16, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Gov. Bill Lee has signed an executive order allowing parents to opt kids out of any school mask mandates. As a result, he will not call a special session.

"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," Lee said."Districts will make the decision they believe are best for their schools, but parents will have the ultimate decision-making for their individual child’s health and well-being."

"Our hospitals are struggling under the weight of COVID but those hospital beds are filled with adults," Lee continued. "Requiring parents to make their children wear masks to solve an adult problem is in my view the wrong approach."

Watch Lee's full press conference announcing the executive order below:

Last week, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) asked the governor to call a special session in an attempt to block school districts from implementing mask mandates. Sexton said he believes the decision should be made by the parents.

However, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all students, teachers, and staff wear a mask, regardless of their vaccination status.

In response to the executive order, Sexton said he feels there is no longer an immediate need for a special session.

"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," Sexton said in a statement.

House Democrats say Lee is playing Russian Roulette with Tennessee children by issuing this executive order.

"As we enter a new school year after nearly 18 months of dealing with the COVID-19 virus in our state, it is vital that we do all we can to stifle this new wave and variant of the virus. Our children cannot be vaccinated yet, so masks are our best way to keep our children in school and keep them healthy," said House Democratic Leader Karen Camper. "I do not understand how Gov. Lee can undo the decisions of local boards and his own public health professionals and think that this is the right way to handle this new surge. The Commissioner of Health said this very morning that the Tennessee National Guard is being activated to help with our overrun hospitals and asked Tennesseans not to go to their local emergency rooms because they are full. This is not the time to let our guard down and I encourage Tennesseans to get the vaccine, mask up and to take care of one another. We have many miles to go before we have this virus beat and we cannot let up but putting our kids, our teachers and our families at risk but not attacking COVID-19 with all of our resources and efforts."

On Monday, Metro Nashville Public Schools reported that more than 1,000 of its staff and students are either quarantined or isolated due to COVID-19 after school started last week. The district's school board voted to require masks in schools for all staff and students just before the school year began.