Shelby County sues Gov. Lee over mask opt-out order

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County filed a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Lee, claiming that Executive Order 84, which allows parents to opt-out of the school mask mandate, is unlawful and asking that it be revoked.

The federal suit was filed late Thursday afternoon in U.S. Division for Western District of Tennessee.

The lawsuit asks that Executive Order 84 be revoked because it violates the Due Process under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Education Clause of the Tennessee Constitution, and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

RELATED: “Unfortunate milestone:” Shelby County reaches new high for COVID-19 hospitalizations, officials say

On August 6, the Shelby County Health Department amended their most recent health directive to require all students, staff and visitors to wear masks in all school buildings.

Ten days later, Governor Lee issued the Executive Order which allows parents to opt their children out of mask mandates for any reason.

The lawsuit says children who are not old enough to receive the vaccine have no protection against the virus, and exposure could “potentially cause them to suffer fear, uncertainty and even death.”

The lawsuit claims both Gov. Lee and Commissioner of Health Dr. Lisa Piercey have said the best way to protect students who cannot be vaccinated is to wear masks in school. However, because of the order, the Shelby County Health Department is unable to enforce masks in schools.

The suit cites recent statistics, including that children now make up 36% of Tennessee’s reported COVID-19 cases.

“We had 14,000 pediatric cases in the last seven days, which is a 57% increase over the week prior,” Piercey told reporters Wednesday. “Right now, 36% of all of our cases in the state are among children when it’s historically been in the 10 to 15% range.”

The lawsuit goes on to say approximately 70 percent of pediatric ICU beds in the state are full.

Meanwhile, the president of CEO of the Memphis-based St. Jude Children’s Research hospital said in a letter Thursday that parents should protect their children by insisting that they wear masks in the classroom.

RELATED: St. Jude president asks parents to support masks in the classroom

In his letter, Dr. James Downing mentioned Gov. Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt-out of mask mandates issued by school districts.

“Forgoing mask usage in schools increases the risk that children will catch or spread COVID-19. I implore parents to make the right choice and protect their children by insisting they wear masks in the classroom,” Dr. Downing said.

FOX13 has reached out to Mayor Harris and Gov. Lee for comment.

The Governor’s office said they could not comment on pending litigation.

Check back for updates.

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