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Federal judge delivers blow to Governor's order allowing students to opt out of masks

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Posted at 7:39 PM, Sep 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-03 21:00:28-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A federal judge in Memphis has dealt the first blow against Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's executive order that allows parents to opt their children out of school mask requirements designed to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19.

Late Friday, U.S. District Judge Sheryl H. Lipman issued a temporary restraining order that blocks Lee's order in Shelby County, but it could set the stage for other legal challenges across Tennessee.

The order stems from a lawsuit filed on behalf of two Shelby County students who have medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus. Their attorneys argued that, because Lee's order allows students to enter schools unmasked and potentially infect other children, the plaintiffs were denied their rights to a public education.

"Defendant Governor Lee is ENJOINED from enforcing Executive Order No. 84 in Shelby County or allowing parents to opt out of Defendant Shelby County’s mask mandate," Judge Lipman wrote.

"Defendant Shelby County is ORDERED to enforce its Health Orders without exception for Governor Lee’s Executive Order No. 84."

In her opinion, the federal judge said Lee's order likely violates the students' rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Plaintiffs have identified ways that they have been excluded from participating in school programs and activities, including from physical education classes, and socializing with their peers when within the school buildings and at lunch," Lipman wrote.

Lee's order makes the students' schools not "readily accessible," as required by law.

One of them is even "quarantined at home after contracting the virus from an unmasked child who had contracted COVID-19."

The judge scheduled another hearing on the case for September 9th.

Read order below: