NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The new school year is getting started as Tennessee has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. While doctors have been calling for masks in schools amid the spread of the more contagious Delta variant, Tennessee’s Speaker of the House disagrees.

During a press conference on Monday afternoon, Cameron Sexton threatened school districts with potential legislative force if they choose to issue a mask mandate or close schools due to the pandemic.

“We want parents making the decision on whether to wear masks in schools,” said Sexton. “So, I sure hope school systems do not require a mask mandate for these students and if they do, I’m going to ask the governor for a special session.

Sexton said there needs to be a message sent to schools, “…It’s unacceptable to close schools or systems and our state anymore.”

The Republican lawmaker said the focus should be keeping students in school and boosting test scores.

“Right now, the survival rate for a child is 99.9999%. There is a lot more things that are dangerous for children, right now, on the death rate than this, based on statistical, actual information.”

Monday afternoon, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, tweeted that threats of forbidding school closures and mask mandates would put the lives of children at risk. Dr. Fiscus, the state’s top vaccine doctor, was fired by Tennessee officials last month.

During a media briefing earlier Monday, Dr. Lisa Piercey, the Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Health, said the state has seen a 200% increase in cases since July 1.

Though the numbers are still below what the state was seeing earlier this year, the last few weeks have shown a sharp increase in cases. Over the weekend (July 30 – August 1) Tennessee reported 6,889 new COVID cases, which is more than what the state saw in the entire month of June (6,616 new cases).