After Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order enabling parents throughout Tennessee to opt of out K-12 school mask mandates, Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Dr. Adrienne Battle released a statement saying that masks will still be required in Nashville schools.
The statement was emailed to parents alongside a robocall that went out Monday night.
“The Metro Nashville Board of Education and I are charged with educating our students and with keeping them safe," the statement reads. "Universal masking policies, during the pandemic, are a key mitigation strategy to do just that. To allow anyone to opt out of these policies for any reason, other than legitimate medical need, would make them ineffective and would require more students to be quarantined and kept out of the classroom.
“The Governor’s executive order was released without prior notice to school districts for review or comment," Battle's statement continues. "As such, Metro Schools will continue to require face masks, pursuant to the rules adopted by the Board, as we further review this order and explore all options available to the district to best protect the health of our students, teachers, and staff.”
Shelby County Schools released a similar statement yesterday, communicating that school leaders were to consult with Shelby’s general counsel “to explore and review the legalities” of the executive order.
State law says that the governor can suspend a mandate if it “would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the emergency.” Some legal experts have taken to Twitter to argue that school board mask mandates do not prevent people from responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This decision by Lee comes after a back-and-forth between state and local leaders as to who has the authority to issue school mask mandates. Though Lee, education commissioner Penny Schwinn and health commissioner Lisa Piercey have all said that school boards have the authority to make local decisions about mask policies, this executive order suggests otherwise.
MNPS made its decision to mandate masks in schools on Aug. 5 after Mayor John Cooper released an executive order requiring masks in metro government buildings. The decision came after much debate, and led to a chaotic school board meeting on Aug. 10 as some parents communicated their contempt for the mandate.
Monday's statement notes that “52 staff members and 207 students had tested positive for COVID-19 in the previous week, with 980 students in isolation or quarantine” as students returned to school.