On Friday, laws limiting private businesses' and local governments' ability to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 went into effect. (Scene contributor Betsy Philips has more on a law Gov. Bill Lee didn't sign but did allow to pass here.) The bills were a product of a special session focused on COVID-19 that took place last month.
In response, Metro Nashville Public Schools released a statement to families and staff on Sunday, defying the state's actions and noting that MNPS will still require masks despite the new law.
The message, which was sent to parents and staff across the district, reads:
“MNPS Families and Staff,
This message is to inform you that masks will continue to be required for students and staff in Metro Schools.
As you may be aware, Governor Bill Lee signed into law recently passed legislation that prohibits mask requirements in schools.
On Friday, lawyers representing students with disabilities filed a lawsuit seeking to block this new law from taking effect because it would potentially violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Today, the United States District Court of Middle Tennessee issued an order requiring that the status quo be maintained. For MNPS that means masks will continue to be required until further notice from the court.
Our strong desire is to get to a point where masks are no longer necessary, and our classroom environment looks like it did back before the start of the pandemic. Unfortunately, there is still COVID transmission throughout our community, and we are still seeing dozens of cases a week of students testing positive for the virus. Additionally, the CDC still recommends that K-12 schools adopt universal masking rules to reduce transmission in buildings and while students ages 5-11 have begun receiving their COVID-19 vaccine if their parents want them to, it takes five weeks from the first dose for a person to be considered fully vaccinated.
We would ask for your patience and understanding of the school staff tasked with enforcing these mask requirements until these legal issues can be resolved.
Dr. Adrienne Battle
Director of Schools”
The statement follows a similar one in August, when the district pushed back against Lee’s executive order limiting schools’ authority to require masks. That order was blocked by federal judges in Williamson, Knox and Shelby counties and is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. That executive order has been negated by another one as a result of the passage of the COVID omnibus bill. The mask-related legislation remains blocked under an emergency order in Nashville federal court, with the next hearing scheduled for Friday.
From Nov. 8 to 14, MNPS reported that 13 staff members and 60 students tested positive for COVID-19, while another 22 staff members and 558 students were in quarantine. While these numbers have declined since the early weeks of the school year, they show a slight uptick from the previous week’s cases.
Gov. Lee also signed a bill that will enable partisan school board elections. Nashville’s District 8 school board representative Gini Pupo-Walker told the Scene in a previous interview that “it's a terrible idea for lots of different reasons.”