Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order on Monday that supports parents in making the final decision on whether their child should wear a mask at school.
“No one cares more about the health and well-being of a child than a parent,” the Republican governor said in a statement announcing the order.
The order (pdf) “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,” Lee said, adding, “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.”
The governor also noted that hospitals are “filled with adults” with COVID-19, as opposed to kids, adding, “Requiring parents to make their children wear masks to solve an adult problem is, in my view, the wrong approach.”
The Tennessee Department of Health had advised him on the executive order, Lee said.
He said he will not be calling for a special legislative session over masks mandates, as called for by some Democrats.
The opposition lawmakers have voiced their concerns about the new executive order, with state House Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie accusing Lee of being “willing to play Russian Roulette with our children.”
“Today, the governor offered no solutions or recommendations on how to protect our kids,” he said.
State Lt. Gov. Randy McNally supported the governor’s executive order and called it “a wise and prudent solution to the proliferation of school mask mandates.” In a statement, McNally still urged that Tennesseans wear masks if they cannot get vaccinated.
“This executive order acknowledges the authority of local school and health boards to make these decisions while ensuring parents have the ability to opt-out. This is an appropriate compromise that strikes a proper balance between freedom and public health.”
Lee said that almost 100,000 people a week are getting vaccinated in the state. He urged all Tennesseans to talk to their doctor and consider getting vaccinated.
“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,” he said.
Other states, including Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Montana, South Carolina, and Texas, have also seen measures to prevent local officials and school districts from mandating masks without consideration for parents’ wishes.
Update: The headline and lede of this article has been updated for clarity.