MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County's top doctor went on the record Monday, telling parents their children must still mask up indefinitely at all schools, Pre-Ks, and daycares.
The clarification followed uncertainty during the weekend, as several suburban districts said masks were optional Monday since Gov. Bill Lee signed a law Friday banning district mask mandates in most cases.
That came around the same time a federal judge in Memphis reaffirmed that mask mandates in schools must stay in place for now.
"I will tell you that nothing has changed from the stance of the Shelby County Health Department," Shelby County Health Director Dr. Michelle Taylor said.
Dr. Taylor made that comment Monday afternoon, after Shelby County health officer Dr. Bruce Randolph sent a memo Monday morning to all Shelby County school officials. It reminded them anyone not wearing masks indoors at schools would be in violation of both the Shelby County's health order and the federal court order.
"There is a order from a federal judge that says that universal masking is to remain in place in Shelby County for now at our K-12 schools," Dr. Taylor added.
Judge Sheryl Lipman's ruling late Friday reaffirmed mask mandates must stay in place, around the same time Gov. Bill Lee signed legislation which banned district mask mandates in nearly all cases.
"That federal order is in place and the new law does not supersede that federal order," Dr. Taylor said.
Judge Lipman's ruling is part of two ongoing federal lawsuits involving the parents of Shelby County students and in other Tennessee counties, which contend any opt-out of school mask mandates violates federal disability law.
Steve Mulroy - a University of Memphis law professor - offered this message to Shelby County parents.
"They are going to have no choice but continue to have a universal mask mandate in K-12 unless, and until Judge Lipman changes her order or the Sixth Circuit overrules it. So I would say as a practical, de facto matter, I think they should get used to universal mask mandates, at least for the remainder of this semester," Mulroy said.
Germantown sent ABC24 this statement:
Over the weekend, we issued a notice to parents stating that a new state law took effect on Friday which prohibited mandatory mask wearing. Over the same weekend, a lawsuit was filed in Nashville requesting that the Federal Judge stop the state law from taking effect.
Sunday, the Federal Judge in Nashville specifically ordered that the parties “maintain the status quo”, as of Thursday, November 11. At today’s status conference, it is our understanding that the Federal Judge specifically stated that because one of the Plaintiffs in the new lawsuit is a student at Germantown Municipal School District, the Germantown Municipal School District must maintain its mask wearing requirement as of Thursday, November 11. Therefore, since masks were required in our school district as of Thursday, November 11, we will follow the Judge’s order and continue requiring masks in our schools until further notice. We ask for your patience while this case is being decided.
Arlington, Bartlett and Collierville Municipal School Districts all said Tuesday morning that Sunday's mask optional decision remains in place at this time.
We are still awaiting word from two districts in Shelby County - Lakeland and Millington - on their plans for masking.