Unenforceable

That’s the word coming down from a federal court about Gov. Bill Lee’s legislative attempt to ban school districts from implementing/enforcing mask mandates in response to COVID-19.

Mariah Timms in the Tennessean has more:

A court order blocking the implementation of a new Tennessee law preventing schools from issuing mask orders will remain in effect, likely through at least Thanksgiving, as arguments in a lawsuit continue.

Crenshaw ordered the parties, including each of the districts where the students attend, and the Lee administration to maintain the status quo of last week — before the law was signed. 

Effectively, the court ruled the law is currently unenforceable as it stands.

Lee continues to lose in court, and the ruling is being interpreted as having broad application to the entire state, therefore allowing districts with mask mandates to circumvent the recently-passed state legislation.

Pastors from Across Tennessee Celebrate Ruling

“As I have been saying for almost two years now, Governor Lee’s ‘fend for yourself approach’ to COVID has left us fighting each other instead of fighting for each other, which is exactly what the COVID special session has done,” said Rev. Dr. Lillian Lammers, Associate Pastor of First Congregational Church of Memphis. “As residents of Tennessee, we live in community with one another. We are neighbors. It seems as if many in the Christian faith, including Governor Lee, have forgotten the metaphor in the New Testament of the community as a body. We cannot live as isolated individuals; we are connected. And in schools students are even more connected than the rest of us in the community as they spend at least seven hours a day together.”

“Public health crises cannot be managed by individuals or even by small groups of experts. We all have to opt in to loving our neighbors as ourselves and opt in to wearing masks for the sake of our neighbors,” said Rev. Brandon Berg, Pastor of First United Methodist Church in Bristol, TN. “So I am grateful and relieved that Judge Waverly- Crenshaw’s ruling will at least temporarily block this life-threatening new law and allow vulnerable students to be protected at school.”

“I have said it before and will continue to say it again, ‘if Jesus carried a cross, surely the least we can do as Christians is carry a mask,’” said Rev. Aaron Marble, Pastor of Jefferson St. Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville. “Public health and safety policy decisions should not be made based on political talking points, but instead based on the wisdom and guidance of health professionals to protect EVERY child in school, and that is what has happened in this statewide ruling by Judge Waverly-Crenshaw. It is my hope and prayer that parents and families refuse to pivot to dishonest religious or medical exemptions that prioritize their personal discomfort and instead choose now to love their neighbor as themselves and wear a mask.”

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Thwarted

Gov. Bill Lee’s joint effort with the Tennessee General Assembly to score political points around mask mandates in schools has been thwarted once again by the courts. Of course, this will likely allow Lee to rail against “activist” judges, but the point is: The ban on mask mandates Lee supported and the legislature passed remains sound and fury signifying nothing.

Newschannel9 in Chattanooga has more:

Tennessee’s new wide-ranging law against COVID-19 prevention mandates hit a snag Sunday when a federal judge appeared to temporarily halt its implementation of strict limits on mask mandates in schools as they apply in at least three counties.

U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr. ordered that the status quo be maintained for the disabled children who are plaintiffs in Williamson, Shelby and Knox counties as of last Thursday, the day before Gov. Bill Lee signed the legislation. Crenshaw previously blocked Lee’s recently terminated school mask opt-out order from applying in Williamson County. Federal judges in the other two court districts in Tennessee did the same for Shelby and Knox counties.

Like so many of Lee’s initiatives (vouchers, for example), the stated policy goal runs afoul of established law and constitutional principles.

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Unfazed

Gov. Bill Lee responded to three losses in court last week by doubling down on the executive order that landed him in court and allows parents to opt-out of local school district mask mandates.

Of course, as a result of the court orders, the opt-out is essentially meaningless in the districts where the suits originated. Still, Lee is persisting in renewing an executive order he has previously admitted his administration has no intention of enforcing.

Chalkbeat has more on the renewal:

Gov. Bill Lee said Thursday he’ll extend his executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of following local school mask mandates that protect them against the coronavirus.

The 30-day extension will come despite rulings by three federal judges blocking his Aug. 16 executive order, which is due to expire on Oct. 5.

The judges in Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville sided with some parents who said the governor’s order violates federal law by creating unsafe learning environments for students with disabilities who are more at risk of severe illness from COVID.

The move by Lee comes even as a new CDC report indicates that Tennessee has lost the most school days of any state due to closures related to COVID-19.

The Tennessean has more:

Unsurprising to many students and parents, Tennessee has seen the most COVID-related school closures so far this school year according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published. 

From Aug. 2 to Sept. 17, Tennessee saw more than 400 schools close for at least one day, according to the study released last week.

The New York Times reports that Lee’s continued non-response to COVID-19 is the result of a desire to avoid a challenge from the extreme right of his party, citing GOP state Senator and Dr. Richard Briggs from Knoxville:

“The governor [Bill Lee] understands completely the seriousness of the problem, and I think that hard decisions are being tempered by political realities, which is that he has an election next year,” and “Dr. Briggs described the surge of cases in Tennessee as a “completely self-inflicted crisis.”

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Mask Madness in Knox County

After a federal judge on Friday ruled that Knox County Schools must make masks mandatory, a group of parents began organizing a protest – suggesting they would send their kids to school without masks and then refuse to pick them up. Then, the planned protests escalated to using cars to block entrances to schools. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs tweeted in favor of resisting the judge’s order. Now, though, the school system has closed for tomorrow as the district prepares to both enforce the judge’s ruling and deal with the protesting parents. The Knox County School Board had previously refused to issue the type of mandatory mask order that is in effect in a number of school districts across the state.

Here’s more on the story in a series of tweets from various players:

https://twitter.com/KnoxvilleHoller/status/1441864236335091716?s=20

Looks like someone missed the Intro. to U.S. Constitution class:

Rep. Gloria Johnson reports on the protest escalating:

The end result: Schools are closed in Knox County tomorrow. Ostensibly, they will reopen Tuesday. However, it is not yet clear how the schools will go about enforcing the mandate and keeping kids safe in light of the escalating rhetoric around protesting the mandate.

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Lee Strikes Out

Governor Bill Lee has lost in all three federal district courts in Tennessee in his attempt to prevent universal masking mandates in public schools. Yesterday (9/24), Lee lost in the East and Middle districts of Tennessee and he had already lost in the West district.

Meghan Mangrum and Mariah Timms have more in the Tennessean on the court ruling in Middle Tennessee:

Williamson County and Franklin Special schools will be able to enforce mask mandates under a ruling Friday from a federal judge in Nashville. 

U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr. issued the order in the afternoon, blocking Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of the district’s mask mandates. 

The judge’s decision is temporary, lasting until 11:59 p.m. on Oct 5, the same time as Lee’s order is set to expire. On Friday, the governor told reporters he hasn’t yet decided on whether to renew the executive order. 

In spite of the setbacks in court designed to maximize student safety by mitigating COVID spread, Lee has indicated he may renew his order. Of course, that would be a moot point in at least Shelby and Knox County’s, as the rulings there overrule the opt-out approach Lee is promoting.

Nashville state Senator Jeff Yarbro pointed out Lee’s losing streak in a tweet:

It’s unclear why Lee would persist with a model he suggests he has no plans to enforce and which judges have ruled essentially unenforceable.

and now the governor says he isn’t planning to take action against districts that don’t comply with his order on mask opt-outs.

Something about you can’t please all the people all the time comes to mind.

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Mask Mandate Mandatory

A federal judge has ordered Knox County Schools to mandate masks with no opt-out in order to protect student safety. The move follows a recent order by a federal judge that Shelby County Schools may enforce a mask mandate with no opt-out in defiance of Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order requiring an opt-out option.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel has more:

Knox County Schools must require all staff and students to wear masks in schools while a lawsuit by families of disabled children plays out, a federal judge ruled Friday. The ruling takes effect immediately. 

U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer also blocked Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing Knox County Schools parents to opt out of the mask mandate. The judge’s ruling only applies to the school district.

The governor’s executive order was already set to expire Oct. 5. Jessica Salonus, a lawyer representing the four families who are suing the Knox County Board of Education and the governor, said that even if Lee extends his opt-out order, it still won’t apply in Knox County.

A similar lawsuit is now pending in Williamson County.

The rulings in Shelby and Knox counties mean that Lee’s opt-out order is essentially a moot point in two of the state’s four largest school districts.

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Sumner County to Ask for Flexibility in COVID Response

After closing for an entire week due to COVID-19, the Sumner County School Board is poised to vote on a resolution asking Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly to grant additional flexibility to school districts in dealing with the pandemic.

The move in Sumner County even as parents in districts across the state are suing Lee over his executive order allowing students/parents to opt-out of local mask mandates.

Sumner County does not have a mask mandate in effect in the district. However, they are asking for the ability to move to hybrid or remote learning options should COVID outbreaks create a burden on the system in terms of student/faculty/staff absences.

Here’s more on the proposed resolution from the Hendersonville Standard:

After closing the district’s 49 schools last week due to COVID-19, the Sumner County Board of Education will likely vote on Tuesday to ask state legislators to reinstate some of the flexibility they had during the previous school year with hybrid and remote learning.

Director of Schools Dr. Del Phillips presented a resolution to school board members during a study session on Sept. 7.

The resolution urges the Tennessee General Assembly and the state Board of Education to reinstate some flexibility for local school boards to transition districts to hybrid or remote learning for a short, specified period of time in order to combat any future variants or surges of COVID-19.

House Majority Leader William Lamberth, who represents a part of Sumner County in the General Assembly, said he was open to legislative consideration of the resolution. It’s worth noting, though, that Lamberth is also supportive of Lee’s mask opt-out.

House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) says he’s open to considering the school board’s resolution should it pass next week.

However, he says Gov. Lee and state Republicans have made their preference for in-person learning very clear.

“Our preference is that they do everything they can to keep kids in school,” he said.

Given the current status of the lawsuit against Lee’s order in Shelby County and the advice of medical professionals regarding mitigating the spread of COVID-19, it seems that doing “everything possible” in order to ensure children are in school would include a mask mandate.

Such mandates are in effect in Davidson, Wilson, Rutherford, and Williamson counties in middle Tennessee.

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Lawsuits Stacking Up as Lee’s COVID (Non)Response Makes Matters Worse

Lawsuits from parents in Williamson and Knox counties are challenging Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing opting out of a school district’s mask policy. The suits are similar to a suit from Shelby County parents. In the Shelby County suit, a judge today granted an injunction preventing Lee’s opt-out plan from going forward.

Meghan Mangrum has more on the Williamson County suit in the Tennessean:

The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Nashville, names the governor, the Williamson County Board of Education and Franklin Special School District as defendants, alleging that the governor’s order “has failed to allow school districts to afford the reasonable accommodation of implementing a universal masking policy that does not contain a voluntary opt-out.”

In addition, the complaint alleges that the defendants’ actions “have pitted children against children, while placing the health and safety of medically vulnerable children with disabilities in danger” — a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The Shelby County suit also cites the ADA. The injunction granted today only applies to students in Shelby County.

Meanwhile, parents in Knox County have also filed suit along similar grounds.

WBIR has more:

The mothers of four disabled or medically compromised Knox County students and two Knox County teachers say it’s imperative that the county impose a mask mandate for children and that the governor’s order allowing parents to opt out of such a measure be halted.

The mothers are suing Gov. Bill Lee and the Knox County Board of Education in U.S. District Court. The case is being heard in Greeneville by Senior U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Greer.

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Judge: Lee’s Action on Masks Interferes with Safe Access to Schools

A federal judge today blocked Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt-out of mask mandates in schools.

WTVC-NewsChannel9 has more:

U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman issued the preliminary injunction after parents of students with health conditions argued that the Republican governor’s executive order endangered their children and hurt their ability to attend in-person classes by allowing others to opt-out of a mask mandate

In the ruling, Lipman wrote that the ability to safely access schools was a guaranteed right and that the executive order impedes this right.

“Plaintiffs offered sufficient evidence at this stage to demonstrate that the Executive Order interferes with Plaintiffs’ ability to safely access their schools,” the judge wrote.

Chalkbeat has additional reporting:

“It is that unmasked presence that creates the danger to these plaintiffs,” she wrote. “Universal masking is a reasonable accommodation that the governor’s executive order refuses to make available to schools, school systems and, in this case, the Shelby County Health Department.”

Friday’s ruling only affects Shelby County, where the executive order was in effect from Aug. 16 to Sept. 3, when it was blocked by the court’s temporary restraining order. Gov. Bill Lee’s order still stands in other counties.

“The public interest certainly recognizes the rights of parents,” she said, “but a universal masking requirement to protect students’ health does not significantly impact their ability to direct their education any more than would a uniform policy or requiring that students receive certain vaccinations before attending school.”

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Teaching Vacancies Up in Shelby County

The number of teaching position vacancies in Shelby County has increased since the start of the school year, reports Chalkbeat:

The Memphis district started the school year with 217 unfilled teaching jobs on Aug. 9, and that number has grown to 227 as of Monday, the district’s human resources chief, Yolanda Martin, said. That represents a dramatic increase in vacancies from around this time last year, when the district had just 63 unfilled positions as of the first day of school.

The rise in openings follows a wave of teacher resignations. Since May, 367 district educators have resigned from their positions, Martin told school board members during a committee meeting on Monday. The district saw a similar figure last year: 389 teachers resigned during the 2019-20 school year.

Normally, I’d write about teacher pay (which is abysmal in TN) or remind readers that COVID-19 has been especially demanding. I might point out the repeated warnings about a teacher shortage. Or, note that all the “disruption” sought by so called “ed reformers” is really disruptive – to kids, teachers, schools, and families.

But, I’m just going to stop. The story is there. Teachers are leaving. The job is incredibly challenging. And there have been people shouting about this crisis coming for years now.

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