MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Gov. Bill Lee issued a new executive order on Monday giving parents the ability to opt their children out of local health board or health department mandates regarding masks.
“No one cares more about the health & well-being of a child than a parent,” Lee wrote. (The rest of his statement is below.)
However, Shelby County Schools, Tennessee’s largest school district, said Monday evening that the school board is consulting with legal counsel on the governor’s new order.
For now, Superintendent Joris Ray said, masks will still be required for students, teachers and employees as outlined in Shelby County’s health order.
Metro Nashville Public Schools also announced that masks would still be required in that district.
State Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown praised Lee’s decision in a a tweet.
“Every child’s situation is different, and parents know what’s best for their children,” Kelsey wrote.
But Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer said she was “shocked, angry, and sad at the governor’s action. “What’s your bottom, Bill?” she wrote.
State Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis called the decision “irresponsible.”
“Many children in Shelby County and across the state live in multigenerational households. More and more children are requiring hospitalization when contracting Covid and can easily transmit the virus to parents and other family members whom they may come in contact with. These conditions may prove debilitating or fatal for a child or their family members,” Parkinson said.
Monday, parents in Tipton County protested mask mandates in schools there. Parents said they weren’t against masks, but were in support of freedom to make decisions for their children.
Also Monday, the Tennessee Health Department said hospitalizations from COVID-19 in August surpassed any other full month since the beginning of the pandemic. There have been 1,023 new hospitalizations in Tennessee in the first 15 days of August.
Governor Lee’s full statement:
“The most important tool we have to fight the pandemic is a vaccine. I encourage Tennesseans who have not been vaccinated to talk to their doctor to consider getting vaccinated and to make an informed decision. I worked with my doctor and received the vaccine and it has been a dependable tool to keep me healthy.
The government will not mandate or require anyone to get a vaccine but I encourage you to consider it for yourself. It’s widely available, it’s effective and it’s free.
More and more Tennesseans are choosing to be vaccinated, almost 100,000 per week and this is good news for the health of our state.
If you do become sick with COVID, early intervention is important – please call your doctor to ask about treatments. Monoclonal antibodies are widely available at 72 centers across our state and are highly effective if used early. Your doctor can advise you on the best route for you.
I want to acknowledge the frustration and fear that many are feeling – fear of COVID and its effects on your family, fear of government intervention and its effect, and frustration over everything from masks to information that changes by the day.
Right now, some of the greatest frustration is occurring in our K-12 schools, especially around the issue of mask mandates. While local decision-making is important, individual decision-making by a parent on issues regarding the health and well-being of their child is the most important.
No one cares about the health and well-being of a child more than a parent. I am signing an executive order today that allows parents to opt their children out of a school mask mandate if either a school board or health board enacts one over a district.
Districts will make the decision they believe are best for their schools, but parents will have the ultimate decision-making for their individual child’s health and well-being. I will not be calling a special session at this time.
Our hospitals are struggling under the weight of COVID but those hospital beds are filled with adults. Requiring parents to make their children wear masks to solve an adult problem is in my view the wrong approach.
Our hospitals and our health care workers are doing everything they can to take care of Tennesseans. That’s why I signed an executive order last week giving them maximum flexibility to do their jobs. My administration continues to provide funding and staffing support to ensure there are no barriers to hospitals facing strain. I commend them once again for their incredible work and service to Tennesseans.
While we deal with this issue, it remains important that we keep our schools open and in person as we’ve seen the devastating loss of progress our kids have had academically when schools were remote or closed. Parents, if your children aren’t feeling well – keep them at home, stay in touch with your pediatrician. Good common sense will go a long way.
I commend school boards across this state as most of you kept your schools open last year and are committed to doing so again this year.
It’s frustrating that we’re headed into another school year with these challenges – it’s disheartening that the COVID challenge continues – but I’m proud of Tennesseans who, in spite of suffering, have persevered, and because of their character, there’s great hope. Thank you for joining today.“