Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order 84 has not only allowed parents to opt out of any county school mask mandate but has forced the state’s colleges to relax their mask mandates.
As a result of the governor’s order, the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) has issued a recommendation to guide the state’s institutions of higher learning.
“Colleges should encourage faculty, students and staff to wear masks in indoor settings where social distancing is not possible,” the board suggested. “Institutions should not have a mask mandate or requirement. If a student, faculty or staff member declines to wear a mask, the institution should not take disciplinary action.”
As part of the guidance, it was pointed out that individual faculty members are not permitted to require that masks be worn during instructional activities or to treat the failure to wear a mask as a basis for removing a student from class.
“The System Office recognizes that many people on both sides of this issue have deeply held feelings and beliefs, and we recognize the polarizing nature of decisions regarding masks,” the board noted. “Institutions should encourage everyone to avoid confrontation and to try to lower the temperature as we all try to navigate the current phase of the COVID pandemic.”
Motlow State Community College, which had earlier directed that all people entering buildings on campus wear masks, is now encouraging faculty, students and staff to wear masks in indoor settings where social distancing is not possible.
“The most important tool we have to fight the pandemic is a vaccine,” said Gov. Lee in issuing the executive order. “I encourage Tennesseans who have not been vaccinated to talk to their doctor to consider getting vaccinated and to make an informed decision. I worked with my doctor and received the vaccine and it has been a dependable tool to keep me healthy. The government will not mandate or require anyone to get a vaccine but I encourage you to consider it for yourself. It’s widely available, it’s effective and it’s free. More and more Tennesseans are choosing to be vaccinated, almost 100,000 per week and this is good news for the health of our state.”
The governor noted that those who become infected need to seek immediate treatment.
“If you do become sick with COVID, early intervention is important - please call your doctor to ask about treatments,” he said. “Monoclonal antibodies are widely available at 72 centers across our state and are highly effective if used early. Your doctor can advise you on the best route for you.”
Gov. Lee noted that he understands the frustration many Tennesseans are feeling with the persistence of the pandemic.
“I want to acknowledge the frustration and fear that many are feeling–fear of COVID and its effects on your family, fear of government intervention and its effect and frustration over everything from masks to information that changes by the day. Right now, some of the greatest frustration is occurring in our K-12 schools, especially around the issue of mask mandates.
“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. No one cares about the health and well-being of a child more than a parent. I am signing an executive order 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.”
The governor said the final decision of a child’s welfare should be made by the child’s parents.
“Districts will make the decision they believe are best for their schools, but parents will have the ultimate decision-making for their individual child’s health and well-being,” he said.
Lee pointed out that while hospitals are filling with COVID patents, those are almost all adults.
“Our hospitals are struggling under the weight of COVID but those hospital beds are filled with adults,” he said.
“Requiring parents to make their children wear masks to solve an adult problem is in my view the wrong approach. Our hospitals and our health care workers are doing everything they can to take care of Tennesseans. That’s why I signed an executive order last week giving them maximum flexibility to do their jobs. My administration continues to provide funding and staffing support to ensure there are no barriers to hospitals facing strain. I commend them once again for their incredible work and service to Tennesseans.”
The governor noted that closing schools to in-person learning is not on the table and that losses are already being felt from earlier in the pandemic.
“While we deal with this issue, it remains important that we keep our schools open and in person as we’ve seen the devastating loss of progress our kids have had academically when schools were remote or closed,” he said. “Parents, if your children aren’t feeling well – keep them at home, stay in touch with your pediatrician. Good common sense will go a long way. I commend school boards across this state as most of you kept your schools open last year and are committed to doing so again this year.
“It’s frustrating that we’re headed into another school year with these challenges–it’s disheartening that the COVID challenge continues—but I’m proud of Tennesseans who, in spite of suffering, have persevered, and because of their character, there’s great hope.”