Photo: Tennessee Governor Bill Lee
Photo Credit: Gov. Bill Lee / Facebook
Published August 17, 2021
By Jason Vaughn [The Tennessee Conservative] and Jon Styf [The Center Square contributor] –
Yesterday, August 16th, 2021, Governor Bill Lee signed Executive Order 84 to give parents the ability to opt their child out of a local mask mandate enacted by a school or health board.
Following anti-mask protests and a special session requested by House Speaker Cameron Sexton to address school’s COVID response, signed by all 73 House Republicans, Lee has yielded and made it mandatory for all school districts in Tennessee to give parents the option to opt their children out of mask requirements imposed by schools or health boards.
Lee posted on Facebook:
“No one cares more about the health & well-being of a child than a parent.
I have signed an EO that allows parents to opt their children out of a school mask mandate if either a school board or health board enacts one over a district.
Districts will make the decisions they believe are best for their schools, but parents are THE authority & will be the ultimate decision-makers for their individual child’s health & well-being.
I will not be calling a special session at this time.”
“Our hospitals are struggling under the weight of COVID, but those hospital beds are filled with adults. Requiring parents to make their children wear masks to solve an adult problem is, in my view, the wrong approach,” Lee said Monday at a news conference.
“Gov. Lee’s executive order issued today is good news in affirming a parent’s right to make healthcare decisions for their children,” Sexton said. “I am hopeful this order can be extended further by curtailing the power of the six independent health departments that can still impose unlimited mandates upon our business community. I feel confident the immediate need for a special session has been averted in the interim by using executive orders. However, the House still stands ready to act if the call comes.”
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Lee said “we don’t want them to go back to virtual learning” but decisions should remain local but, most importantly, in the hands of parents.
However, Lee’s Executive Order does not address other concerns raised by House Republicans including the “need to curtail the overreach by independent health boards and officials…provide support and direction to schools to ensure educators are properly compensated for COVID-19 leave, and protect all Tennesseans from misdirected mandates designed to limit their ability to make their own decisions.”
In the letter to Lee from House Republicans requesting the special session, they also stated that “any attempts to create alternative learning environments for unvaccinated students, segregate such students, or treat them any differently would be potentially unlawful in the state of Tennessee.”
Lee’s remarks as prepared for delivery are as follows:
Let me start off this portion of the briefing by saying that we’re facing a significant challenge in our hospitals as a result of the increase in COVID cases.
The most important tool we have to fight the pandemic is a vaccine. I encourage Tennesseans who have not been vaccinated to talk to their doctor to consider getting vaccinated and to make an informed decision. I worked with my doctor and received the vaccine and it has been a dependable tool to keep me healthy.
The government will not mandate or require anyone to get a vaccine but I encourage you to consider it for yourself. It’s widely available, it’s effective and it’s free.
More and more Tennesseans are choosing to be vaccinated, almost 100,000 per week and this is good news for the health of our state.
If you do become sick with COVID, early intervention is important – please call your doctor to ask about treatments. Monoclonal antibodies are widely available at 72 centers across our state and are highly effective if used early. Your doctor can advise you on the best route for you.
I want to acknowledge the frustration and fear that many are feeling – fear of COVID and its effects on your family, fear of government intervention and its effect, and frustration over everything from masks to information that changes by the day.
Right now, some of the greatest frustration is occurring in our K-12 schools, especially around the issue of mask mandates. While local decision-making is important, individual decision-making by a parent on issues regarding the health and well-being of their child is the most important.
Our hospitals are struggling under the weight of COVID but those hospital beds are filled with adults. Requiring parents to make their children wear masks to solve an adult problem is in my view the wrong approach.
Our hospitals and our health care workers are doing everything they can to take care of Tennesseans. That’s why I signed an executive order last week giving them maximum flexibility to do their jobs. My administration continues to provide funding and staffing support to ensure there are no barriers to hospitals facing strain. I commend them once again for their incredible work and service to Tennesseans.
While we deal with this issue, it remains important that we keep our schools open and in person as we’ve seen the devastating loss of progress our kids have had academically when schools were remote or closed. Parents, if your children aren’t feeling well – keep them at home, stay in touch with your pediatrician. Good common sense will go a long way.
I commend school boards across this state as most of you kept your schools open last year and are committed to doing so again this year.
It’s frustrating that we’re headed into another school year with these challenges – it’s disheartening that the COVID challenge continues – but I’m proud of Tennesseans who, in spite of suffering, have persevered, and because of their character, there’s great hope.
Democrats in the General Assembly were critical of the governor’s executive order and messaging.
“[Lee is] willing to play Russian Roulette with our children, basically sending our babies into the lion’s den with no armor,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, said in a statement.
“Today, the Governor offered no solutions or recommendations on how to protect our kids,” Dixie said. “When making the announcement, he admits that masks are good in warding off COVID-19 while at the same time saying but we don’t want our kids to wear them. It’s conflicting statements. So no wonder that the average Joe is so confused on what to do. It all boils down to a serious lack of leadership by Governor Lee and the Republicans that puts all of Tennessee at risk. “
Lee said less than 0.5% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state are children. He said he hoped that the federal government did not attempt to overrule Tennessee on the matter of mask mandates in schools, a right Lee believed was protected by the 10th Amendment.
About the Authors:
Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative
Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com
Jon Styf is a freelance writer for Tennessee and South Carolina.
Follow Jon on Twitter @JonStyf.