FRANKLIN, Tenn. (WTVF) — Beginning Tuesday, Franklin Special School District will be the latest to no longer honor Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order No. 84 on masks in schools.
This comes after a federal judge ruled for the plaintiffs of a lawsuit where they argued that the order unfairly limits the ability of vulnerable students to attend school with their classmates. The order gives parents the flexibility to opt their children out of the mask mandates of their school district.
Families of special-needs children say their students can no longer be in class because thousands of their classmates have opted out of wearing masks. The judge agreed this would be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects from discrimination based on disability.
Williamson County Schools was also included in the lawsuit and chose to apply their re-worked mask mandate effective immediately last Friday. Now both districts have decided to enforce their mask mandates without the governor’s exemption. That means every teacher, volunteer, student, and staff member must wear a mask unless they have a medical or religious exemption. This mirrors similar policies in Knox and Shelby counties where a judge ruled against the governor’s exemption policy.
WMC sent parents the following email after the ruling:
"On Friday afternoon, September 24, in regard to a lawsuit filed against the State of Tennessee, Williamson County Schools and Franklin Special School District, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee issued a Temporary Restraining Order enjoining Governor Bill Lee from enforcing Executive Order 84, which allowed parents to opt out of the Williamson County Board of Education’s mask mandate on a purely voluntary basis. The Court also ordered the district to enforce its mask mandate without allowing voluntary parental opt-outs such as those allowed under Executive Order 84. The Court found that to do otherwise would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, stating that a universal mask mandate is a reasonable accommodation required to allow disabled students access to Williamson County Schools.
If your child has previously been granted a religious or medical exemption, those exemptions will continue to be honored. The same applies to staff. Please consult with your school nurse if you have any questions related to your child’s health.
If your child has been excused from wearing a mask due to the voluntary parental opt-outs that have been granted under Executive Order 84, your child will be required to wear a face covering to school effective immediately. The same pertains to staff and volunteers."
FSSD sent the following message to parents:
"Hello FSSD Families:
As a result of a ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on Friday, September 24, students will no longer be able to opt out of the FSSD mask requirement using Governor Bill Lee’s Executive Order 84. We will begin enforcing the judge’s ruling in our schools, buses and district offices on Tuesday, September 28, 2021. If your child has previously been granted a religious or medical exemption, those exemptions will continue to be honored. The same applies to staff. If your child has been excused from wearing a mask due to the voluntary parental opt-outs, that excuse will no longer be valid beginning Tuesday, September 28. If you do not have a face covering for your child, one can be provided at the school. The same pertains to staff and volunteers.
Friday’s ruling is in regard to a lawsuit filed against the State of Tennessee, Williamson County Schools and Franklin Special School District. The court issued a Temporary Restraining Order that blocks Gov. Lee's executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of the district's mask mandates. The Court also ordered the FSSD and Williamson County Schools to enforce their mask mandates without the provisions of Executive Order 84, saying to do otherwise would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The judge ruled that a universal mask mandate is a reasonable accommodation required for access to educational services for individuals with disabilities."
It was last week when WCS board members voted to extend their mask mandate through January 19. That was after voting to continue honoring the governor’s exemption. Some board members argued that religious exemptions should be eliminated, but others said it didn’t matter since the governor’s exemption covered all excuses.
Laura Blomberg, a Williamson County parent, says while she wants all kids to feel safe, she’s concerned that masks will only make it tougher to learn.
“We need the least restrictive environment possible for our kid’s learning and to me, it’s not reasonable to ask a child to wear a mask all day, every day, because it does impact their learning. No question it impacts their learning,” Blomberg said.
Blomberg says especially in early development, kids learn better when they can read lips and facial expressions. She says her family is still working through the changes, but she’s noticed some struggle with anxiety in the process. Blomberg says parents should be the ones taking on the responsibility of limiting the spread of COVID and not children.
Bryn Sierra has a daughter in Williamson County Schools and says it’s the parents who’ve made it more difficult for children. At last count, 13,712 students in Williamson County Schools opted out of wearing masks. That’s about 33% of the district. That number also includes medical and religious exemptions. In Franklin Special School District, about 200 students, or 10% of the student body, have similarly opted out.
“Masks are an imperfect solution to this unprecedented event we’ve been going through, but they are a proven effective solution,” Sierra said.
Sierra says before this ruling, her daughter was consistently one of four students in a class who wore a mask. With health issues of her own, Sierra says she can’t afford to have her daughter bring the virus home.
“I just got out of the hospital last month from a staph infection and septic shock and I have all the more reason to want my family to be as safe as possible. My family and everyone else’s right? All children should be safe in school,” Sierra said.
The injunction is in effect until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, October 5 when Lee's executive order is set to expire.