NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A federal judge has issued an injunction blocking a Tennessee law that prohibits school systems from issuing a mask mandate. U.S. District Court of Middle Tennessee Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw Jr. signed the order that puts a temporary hold on the Tennessee General Assembly’s Title 14.
According to court documents, Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw issued the ruling Friday, saying the ruling supports the public’s interest in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in Tennessee’s schools.
The law, signed after the third special session by the assembly, largely prohibits school districts from requiring individuals to wear face coverings while on school property and removes authority from local health entities, officials, and schools to quarantine a person who has COVID-19.
Soon after it’s signing, parents and caretakers of eight students whose disabilities put them at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 filed suit alleging Title 14 violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.
Title 14 does allow for masking in a school if they lived in a county with a rolling average 14-day COVID-19 infection rate of at least 1,000 per 100,000 residents, a threshold not met in Tennessee over the past two years. Crenshaw said the accommodation “ignores the reality of COVID-19, its impacts on a community at that level, and the science that has developed since COVID-19 appeared in this country” and the benchmark is “totally ineffective, if not downright dangerous.”
In the absence of a layered approach, including masking when local conditions warrant, children with disabilities cannot safely attend school, let alone be in the integrated setting contemplated by the ADA,” states Crenshaw in the injection.
The judge went on to cite Gov. Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn on why virtual learning is not a suitable workaround for students with disabilities.
“Remote or virtual learning is not a substitute for live, in person schooling, as both the governor and the commissioner of education recognized when schools were set to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year.”
Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton began calling for a special session on COVID-19 in early October. Sexton cited the need to relieve Tennesseans from “burdensome mask mandates.”
“As an elected body, it is our responsibility to let the distinctive voices of our communities be heard on these issues,” he said. “I look forward to working together with Lt. Gov. (Randy) McNally, the House, and Senate to create solutions that preserve the individual choices, freedoms, and liberties of all Tennesseans.”
The General Assembly made mention in Title 14 that the Constitution does not prohibit states from regulating health and medical practices but Crenshaw said that right is “limited by the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which ‘provides a clear rule that federal law ‘shall be the supreme Law of the Land.’”
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