Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order Monday allowing parents to opt their children out of coronavirus mask mandates in public schools.
“No one cares more about the health & well-being of a child than a parent,” the Republican governor tweeted in announcing the order. “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.”
No one cares more about the health & well-being of a child than a parent.
I am signing an EO today 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. pic.twitter.com/aOxzvP41Hp
— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) August 16, 2021
The order states that a parent or guardian has the right, via a written notice, to opt out of any requirement for a student in kindergarten through 12th grade to wear a face covering at school, on a school bus or at school functions.
In a statement, Lee said that 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.”
The governor also pushed the importance of more Tennesseans to get vaccinated but assured them it would not be mandated.
Tennessee state House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican, had previously asked Lee to call a special session in an attempt to block school districts from mandating masks.
Sexton cheered the governor’s order in a series of tweets Monday evening.
“Gov. Lee’s executive order issued today is good news in affirming a parent’s right to make healthcare decisions for their children,” he wrote. “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.”
State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Democrat, slammed the decision as “irresponsible.”
“Aren’t emergency orders supposed to be used to help mitigate or control but not exasperate an emergency situation? Is this an abuse of power?” he tweeted Tuesday morning.
Shelby County Schools, the state’s largest school district, and Metro Nashville Public Schools have announced in light of Lee’s order that they are keeping their mask mandates in place.