Shelby County parents make case against Gov. Bill Lee’s mask opt-out order in court

Education

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A federal judge who ordered a temporary restraining order against Gov. Bill Lee’s opt-out executive order is set to decide whether her ruling will be extended.

The parties involved in a class action lawsuit against Lee met in federal court Thursday. The lawsuit claims Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of mask mandates in school goes against the Americans with Disabilities Act, putting immuno-compromised children and others with disorders at risk.

A temporary restraining order has already been issued by a federal judge, meaning students at schools in Shelby County, including municipalities, need to be wearing masks.

Brice Timmons, an attorney representing the families suing Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, says everyone at schools should be wearing masks.

“We’ve always said that this case is about physical disabilities who are unable to attend school because they are at a high risk of death or severe illness from COVID,” Timmons said. “This doesn’t have anything to do with special education needs.”

Attorneys for the governor called the state leader for Special Populations with the Department of Education to testify. She laid out the various learning plans for students in special education.

She acknowledged in her testimony she had no advance notice of the governor’s executive order. She also said no one asked for her input about how it could affect disabled students.

Timmons says his clients fall under various education acts and plans to prevent discrimination. 

“Our clients children have special education needs, yes. But we’re not here because they need remedial math. We’re here because they are at a risk of injury or death if they get COVID-19 because they are immuno-compromised or because they have genetic disorders that render them particularly susceptible,” Timmons said.

The state said schools can make accommodations so unmasked children wouldn’t be near those who could be in danger.

“The state is asking that school districts create segregated environments for disabled and nondisabled students,” Timmons said. “I thought separate but equal was over but apparently we’re going to argue that again as it relates to disabled students.”

A few parents showed up to express their support of the governor’s order.

“My children should be able to go to school unmasked based upon our faith,” said Sabrina Byrd.

 Attorneys say another plaintiff with an immuno-compromised child is going to be added to the lawsuit.

A judge will now issue a written ruling following todays testimony. For now, the temporary restraining order saying all students need to wear masks is in effect until next Friday.

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