Tennessee lawmakers respond to possible special session on masks in schools

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — State lawmakers who represent Shelby County are responding to the possibility of a special legislative session in the coming days.

Tennessee House Republicans are asking Governor Bill Lee to call that session and hope to limit or remove a health department’s authority to mandate masks in schools, just like Shelby County did.

Republican State Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown supports the idea and believes the power to require masks should reside solely with school boards. 

 “If Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, if those school boards feel their children need to be wearing masks or don’t need to be wearing masks they should be the ones making those decisions,” Kelsey said.

Democratic State Senator Raumesh Akbari of Memphis disagrees and supports Shelby County’s mandate to mask up in schools. 

“The health department is there for a reason,” Akbari said. “This special session or possibility of special session is just the wrong direction in the midst of this Delta variant surge. Do we want to protect people or not?”

The heated issue is flaring across the state. That includes Williamson County, where the school board voted to require masks in elementary schools. Angry parents threatened supporters in the parking lot after the decision was made.

“We know who you are!” they shouted at one supporter, “You can leave freely but we will find you! You will never be allowed in public again!”

COVID-19 cases are spiking in Shelby County, with thousands of new cases reported in the last several weeks pushing hospitals to capacity.

Dr. Manoj Jain is an infectious disease expert. He says politics have no place in this argument.

“It is sad and it’s really unnecessary. I think we have to make it more of a medical issue,” Jain said, “Seatbelts. We don’t talk about ‘Hey, is it Republican or Democrat to wear a seatbelt?’ Look, it’s safe.”

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