Federal judge rules against Republican governor’s mask freedom policy

An executive order from Tennessee’s Republican governor that gives parents the ability to decide whether or not their children will follow public school mask mandates is illegal, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The decision from U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw means that Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order No. 84 is blocked from going into effect in Williamson County, the home of two families of disabled children who sued over the order.

Lee has said he thinks it’s a good idea for children to wear masks at school. But he also believes it’s up to parents or guardians, not public school systems, to make that call.

The Williamson County families disagreed, arguing that allowing parents to opt out of mask mandates for their children means physically disabled students will be at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.

The executive order, they said, violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other federal laws.

In a 36-page opinion, Crenshaw effectively bought this argument. ‘

“The record before the Court establishes that temporary universal mask mandates adopted by the Williamson County and Franklin school systems have been, and likely would continue to be, effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19,” he wrote, according to the Nashville Tennessean.

In practice, Lee’s executive order, which Crenshaw called “an irreparable harm that justifies continued injunctive relief,” means “disabled students are at a significantly higher risk for severe infection and are exposed at a higher rate,” the judge said.

“Executive Order No. 84 violates federal law and must yield,” he also wrote.

Justin S.Gilbert, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, praised the decision.

“This is a masterpiece decision that leaves no doubt that masking is necessary to protect medically fragile children and the greater school community,” he said.

Crenshaw is not the only judge to rule against Lee’s executive order.

“Crenshaw’s decision follows similar rulings in Memphis and Knoxville. Federal judges there also have temporarily blocked Lee’s order,” the Tennessean reported. “As a result, school districts in Shelby, Williamson and Knox counties can continue to enforce universal mask policies.”

The outlet reported Crenshaw’s decision means Lee’s order can not go into effect in Williamson County pending a final ruling.