School bus

Students and staff in Williamson County Schools and the Franklin Special School District are required once again to wear masks after Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order for an opt-out to the mandate was temporarily halted by a federal judge.

The resulting action of the restraining order from U.S. District Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw Jr. on Friday went into effect for WCS Monday and will go into effect Tuesday for the FSSD.

In both districts, students who had previously been granted a religious or medical exemption still have the option to not wear a mask. However, exemptions that came under Gov. Lee’s opt-out executive order are no longer valid. Judge Crenshaw’s injunctive relief is in effect until Oct. 5 at 11:59 p.m.

The Williamson County Board of Education held a special-called meeting Aug. 10 in which members voted to implement a mask mandate that would hold at least through Sept. 20, and then voted that night to extend the mandate until Jan. 19. The FSSD school board did the same a couple of weeks later, and last Monday voted to stretch its mandate to Jan. 11.

In the meantime, Lee issued his Executive Order 84 on Aug. 16, giving parents in districts across the state the opportunity to opt-out of the mask requirements without having to state any reason. One-third (33.13 percent) of families in WCS requested opt-outs, with Page High School (52.4 percent), Hillsboro School (49.45) and Thompson’s Station Middle (46.6) at the highest percentage of requests. Only about 10 percent of FSSD families had requested opt-outs.

Friday’s ruling is in regard to a lawsuit filed by two families against the state of Tennessee, Williamson County Schools and the Franklin Special School District. The court identified the plaintiffs as families of a 13-year-old seventh-grader with Down syndrome and a 7-year-old second grader with type-1 diabetes.

According to the court's opinion, the families seek relief for themselves as well as a "class of similarly situated individuals consisting of all students with disabilities that make them medically vulnerable to severe infection and/or death from COVID-19 and who attend public school in Williamson County, Tennessee."

In addition to the temporary restraining order that blocks Gov. Lee's executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of the district's mask mandates, the court also ordered WCS and the FSSD to enforce their mask mandates without the provisions of Executive Order 84.

It reasoned that to do otherwise would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The judge ruled that a universal mask mandate is a reasonable accommodation required for access to educational services for individuals with disabilities.