NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton remain split on whether school districts should be able to implement mask mandates amid the continued spread of the Delta variant.
One day after Sexton asked Gov. Bill Lee to call a special session to try to limit local officials’ ability to enforce COVID protocols, including mask mandates, McNally reiterated that he feels the decision should be left up to school boards.
McNally released a statement Thursday, saying in part: “Amid all the controversy regarding masks, vaccine passports and the like, we appear to have lost sight of the one thing that truly matters: keeping children in the classroom so they can learn.”
The lieutenant governor went on to say that he’s “convinced” that local school districts know best how to manage operations to keep children both healthy and in the classroom. McNally said if the special session is called, he will “work with Governor Lee, Speaker Sexton and all my colleagues to keep this our mission focus. Children learn best in a classroom.”
READ MCNALLY’S FULL STATEMENT BELOW:
“Amid all the controversy regarding masks, vaccine passports and the like, we appear to have lost sight of the one thing that truly matters: keeping children in the classroom so they can learn. Education is of paramount importance. Nothing else. Test scores have proven that this pandemic has eroded our progress and threatens the very future of our children and grandchildren. I remain convinced that locally elected school boards and private school organizations know how best to manage operations during this pandemic so that students can remain healthy, learning and, most importantly, in the classroom. If a special session is called, I will work with Governor Lee, Speaker Sexton and all my colleagues to keep this our mission focus. Children learn best in a classroom. And they can only do that if they remain healthy, vibrant and safe.”
Last week, Sexton threatened that he would ask the governor to call a special session if school districts opt to require masks or close. So far, school districts in six counties have announced plans to implement masks: Davidson, Williamson, Shelby, Knox, Hamilton and Henry counties.
In his letter to the governor, Sexton called for the session to "address misdirected and mandated responses to COVID-19 by local entities and officials."
The governor's office said on Wednesday the request is under review.
COVID IN TENNESSEE
In recent weeks, Tennessee has seen a sharp uptick of new COVID-19 cases — the vast majority of which are among the unvaccinated.
Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey said during her update last week that more than 93% of all active cases, 95% of new deaths and 90% of current hospitalizations are unvaccinated individuals.
Piercey also said that pediatric cases were "quickly on the rise," nearly doubling from the week of July 18 to July 25. She said for the week of July 18, the state reported 1,800 cases in children. The next week, that jumped to 3,200 cases.