Lawsuit against Gov. Bill Lee says mask opt-out order forces parents to choose between education or health

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WREG is learning more about the class action lawsuit filed against Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee over the executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of the school mask mandates.

Two Shelby County families believe that his executive order that gives students and parents the right to opt out mask mandate is in violation of the American With Disabilities Act. Memphis-based law firm Donati Law filed the lawsuit Friday.

“Governor Lee took that tool away from the schools and took that tool away from the county, and we decided we needed to get it back,” said civil rights attorney Brice Timmons. “These are parents that are already dealing with chemo therapy, autism and other complex issues that affect their children that are stepping forward to represent every family that issues.”

The lawsuit alleges Lee’s order forces parents with vulnerable children to decide between an education or their health and safety. It’s a position that Timmons believes is not right.

“When a parent of a kid that has COVID says ‘My kid doesn’t have to wear a mask,’ they’re not making a decision on their child health. They’re making a decision about other people children’s health and that affects children with disabilities,” Timmons said.

Research from John Hopkins University shows that Tennessee ranks sixth in the country in new cases per capita and that one-third of COVID cases in state are children.

This week, Shelby County also filed a suit against the governor.

“It’s unfortunate that we are having to litigate this issue when ultimately we’re trying to do what’s best for our you people,” Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner said.

As for Timmons, he understands the challenges that lie ahead but says they are up for the task.

“We’re just a small civil rights firm in Memphis, Tennessee and we’re taking on the state government, the governor, that always a challenge,” Timmons said. “But if these parents are willing to step up and do it, then we’re gonna stand with them.”

Timmons says on Monday a hearing will be held to determine if Lee’s executive order will remains in place.  

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