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VOL. 45 | NO. 46 | Friday, November 12, 2021

Law banning public school mask mandates appears to hit snag

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NASHVILLE (AP) — 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.

Crenshaw on Sunday pointed to the "alleged conflict and the possible confusion" that law creates for schools. He ordered a hearing for Monday.

The new, tight limitations on mask requirements in public schools left enough uncertainty that officials asked the federal courts for clarity.

Under the new law, schools and other government entities will only be allowed to require masks if they are in a county with a rolling average 14-day COVID-19 infection rate of at least 1,000 per 100,000 residents while the state is under a state of emergency. No Tennessee counties meet that threshold.

Officials in Shelby County, which includes Memphis, already got a judge to weigh in on the new law and the mask opt-out order, which Lee ended Friday when enacting the new law. Judge Sheryl Lipman ruled Friday that Shelby's "obligations under the preliminary injunction have not changed in light of the new legislation."

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