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New TN law banning school mask mandates appears to hit legal snag

Gov. Bill Lee signed the omnibus bill Friday. Parents promptly challenged part of it in federal court.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee’s new law against COVID-19 prevention mandates hit a snag Sunday.

A federal judge in Nashville appeared to temporarily halt its implementation of strict limits on mask mandates in schools in at least three counties, including Knox County. Judge Waverly Crenshaw Jr. and two other federal judges in the state have already put down standing orders for school systems in Knox, Williamson and Shelby county schools to impose mask mandates for most schoolchildren.

Crenshaw on Sunday ordered the status quo be maintained as of last Thursday. That was the day before Gov. Bill Lee signed the legislation, enacted by the Legislature during a special session in October.

The judge pointed to the “alleged conflict and the possible confusion” the new state law creates for schools. Crenshaw previously blocked Lee's recently terminated school mask opt-out order from applying in Williamson County.

Judges did the same for Shelby and Knox county schools systems.

East Tennessee area lawmakers Sen. Becky Duncan Massey and Rep. Sam McKenzie addressed the pros and cons of last month's special session Sunday on WBIR's "Inside Tennessee".

Parents in the three counties have pending federal litigation seeking to make school systems impose masks to help protect schoolchildren. The parents' children have various health problems, and they argue longstanding federal law ensures their children can get equal access to a public education through public mask requirements.

Crenshaw has upheld the parents' bid for a mandate in Middle Tennessee.

Judges have upheld similar bids in Shelby County and for Knox County Schools.

Supporters argue federal law trumps any state law when it comes to masks and protections for schoolchildren. Critics argue such mandates represent a judicial overreach.

Lee signed the COVID-19 omnibus bill Friday. Parents then quickly challenged it in federal court in an effort to ensure mask mandates remain in place.

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