Tennessee Disability Coalition opposes new state mask law

Tennessee State Capitol Dome.jpeg
Posted at 9:35 PM, Nov 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-23 22:35:01-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Tennessee Disability Coalition opposes the new Omnibus law passed by the state legislature.

A spokesperson for TDC said it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Despite promises that change may come, some Tennessee families fear this could have an impact on children with disabilities.

Without Tristan Hart's high school photography program, his new hobby probably would have never developed. Tristan has Down syndrome.

He and his mom, Kim Hart, live in Franklin. They've been there for about three years, but Hart wonders if they are welcome in this state.

"We're afraid of segregation in the educational setting for our child and for other children like him," said Hart.

Gov. Bill Lee recently signed the omnibus bill into law. The robust new set of rules have a big impact on how the state deals with public health crises.

There are sections in the law that have raised concern among the disability community.

"It bans the use of mask mandates in schools unless you reach just an absurdly high threshold of infection in a given county," said Jeff Strand, coordinator of government & external affairs at TN Disability Coalition.

"Students who need an accommodation like a mask would either have to be in a setting where all students are masked unless they are six feet away from 15 minutes at a time, or they'd have to be in their own separate area," said Strand. "That's segregation. The Supreme Court ruled on this long ago. You can't just take kids with disabilities and stick them off in a corner."

There's a challenge to the law in the courts in Knoxville.

Strand said there are rules here that are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

When asked Monday about concerns with the law, Gov. Lee said there could be changes in the next legislative session.

However, Strand said the governor's office knew about the concerns a month before the bill passed. TDC said they contacted the governor to tell them what could happen if the law was passed.

For Hart, though, she just wants her child to be safe.

"Having people with him and working with him in the community, working with him in the schools, no masking requirements puts him at risk even when he's wearing a mask," Hart said.