US education secretary: Lee’s mask opt-out order may 'infringe' on federal law

bill lee
Posted at 9:40 AM, Aug 19, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The U.S. Secretary of Education is questioning the legality of Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order that allows parents to opt out of mask mandates imposed by local school districts.

Education Secretary Miguel A. Cardona sent a letter to Gov. Lee and Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, saying the order may “infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by Federal law.”


Cardona said the American Rescue Plan requires that local educational agencies (LEAs) that receive Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds adopt a plan for the safe return to in-person learning.

He said by blocking school districts from "voluntarily adopting science-based strategies," like mask wearing, Lee’s order could limit each local educational agencies’ ability to adopt a plan for a safe return to the classroom.

“The Department stands with the dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction,” Cardona wrote in the letter.

Cardona also said that it’s up to the local agencies to use those funds to implement indoor masking policies or other policies aligned with CDC guidance.

He concluded the letter by saying, “In addition, the Department will continue to closely review and monitor whether Tennessee is meeting all of its Federal fiscal requirements. It’s critical that we do everything in our power to provide a safe environment for our students and staff to thrive.”

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden ordered Cardona to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students.

Read more: States banning mask mandates could face civil rights probes