Virus Outbreak Tennessee Bill Lee

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee answers questions March 16, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn., concerning the state's response to the coronavirus.

(The Center Square) – A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction Friday that will allow Shelby County Schools to continue to mandate all students wear masks as a way to mitigate COVID-19.

The order blocks Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order that allowed parents to opt children out of school mask mandates. U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee Judge Sheryl Lipman previously issued a temporary restraining order in the case, which prevented the enforcement of Lee’s executive order through Friday.

The preliminary injunction is set to be in effect until the case is resolved.

“Based on the testimony and evidence offered at the TRO Hearing and at the Preliminary Injunction Hearing and related filings, and pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65, the Court finds that good cause exists to issue a Preliminary Injunction against Governor Lee,” Lipman wrote.

The plaintiffs in the case are 11-, 13- and 14-year-olds in the Shelby County schools with disabilities that put them at higher risk for infection and side effects of infection.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 27, claims Lee’s executive order violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because it does not allow the plaintiffs “to access reasonable protection from the threat of exposure to COVID-19.”

The court again ruled based on four factors, including: likelihood of success based on merits, irreparable harm, no harm to third parties and injunctive relief in the public interest.

Lee’s legal team argued his order “has not prevented schools from protecting the health of disabled students through precautions other than masks” and a universal mask mandate isn’t a reasonable accommodation.

“Like plaintiffs, the Court also disagrees with Governor Lee on this point, and concludes that universal masking is a reasonable accommodation that the Governor’s Executive Order refuses to make available to schools, school systems and, in this case, the Shelby County Health Department.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Tennessee chapter of the AAP joined the families in support of the lawsuit earlier this week.

Staff Reporter

Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies.