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Tennessee to appeal federal rulings in two mask mandate lawsuits

Courts had ruled against Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt out of school mask mandates.

Updated: September 27, 2021 - 9:16pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Tennessee’s attorney general is appealing the recent decisions of two federal judges related to Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt out of school mask mandates.

Judges in Shelby, Knox and Williamson counties recently granted injunctions in lawsuits filed by parents of students with disabilities in each county. Attorney General Herbert Slatery’s appeals will be in the Shelby County and Knox County cases.

“These orders have impeded the Governor’s executive authority during an emergency to direct the State’s public health response, which is why this Office will be appealing those decisions,” Slatery’s office said Monday in a news release.

The rulings in the Knox and Williamson county cases came Friday, with the Williamson ruling to run through Oct. 5. The Knox and Shelby county injunctions will be in place until each case comes to its completion.

Knox County schools were cancelled Monday to allow staff to prepare to enforce the new mask rules after a rally against the ruling was held over the weekend.

“Really concerning to me that an anti-mask group just met saying they need to bring Knox County Schools to a halt (to applause) and asked folks to block entrances to schools with their cars – including not letting school buses in,” state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, said on social media. “This is not a group that cares about kids.”

The parents who sued claim Lee’s executive order violated their students' rights to protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act because the order does not provide proper protection for their students, who have chronic lung disease, a rare brain disorder and a congenital heart defect, as was argued in the Knox County case.

"An appointed federal judge has come into our county, in which our duly elected body has already made a ruling twice related to any kind of mask mandate that we’re not doing it. We’re giving parents the ability to be parents and make the best decision for their children,” Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, said in a video message he tweeted on the topic. “… This foolishness only stops when we make it stop. Government derives its power from the consent of the governed.”

Zachary then encouraged parents to send kids to Knox County schools without a mask.

“We have to make our stand and this is where we make our stand,” Zachary said.

Zachary said in a video posted Monday that, after reflection, Tuesday would be a tense day in Knox County.

“We have to bring a level of humility and grace,” Zachary said. “But again, also a firmness and a resoluteness knowing what the consequences will be but knowing, for many of us, this is a stand that needs to be taken.”