Gov. Lee signs bill ending school mask mandates, but you’ll still need one in Shelby County Schools

TENNESSEE — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a bill on Friday to end COVID mask requirements in schools and businesses.

The law takes power away from local health departments and schools, banning them from making their own decisions about mask-wearing.

But it’s not that simple. Steve Mulroy, a law professor at the University of Memphis, said it may still be possible for school districts to require them.

Mulory said a federal court order, which blocks the governor from allowing parents to opt their children out of the current mask mandate in Shelby County, remains in place

“The federal court order stands, and the fact that the state legislature has passed a bill doesn’t change that,” he said.

MORE: Schools face strict hurdles for mask mandates under new bill

Shelby County families filed a lawsuit back in August claiming Governor Lee’s mask opt-out order was a violation of disability law and was putting students at risk. That led to the passing of the federal court order.

Mulroy expects Governor Lee’s new bill to face similar challenges.

“It might be necessary to get a new court order, or even file a new lawsuit but it’s still going to be an ADA issue and that’s federal law which trumps anything the state of Tennessee can do,” he said.

MORE: Tennessee governor extends school mask opt-out order again

Six-year-old Cadence is a student at White Station Elementary School.

Right now, her school, along with all others in Shelby County, requires students and staff to wear masks.

“It’s important because germs are coming, and people are dying from it,” Cadence said.

Even if mask mandates at schools are lifted, Cadence’s grandfather Michael Pope said she’ll continue to wear one.

”Kids just like herself, they have a tendency to touch things,” he said. “They’re not aware of something happening to them. They are kids and we have to protect them.”