Gov. Lee orders school mask opt-out as some Hamilton County parents call for universal mandate

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / From left, Orchard Knob Middle School teachers, Christina Manton, Brooklyn Caulder, Ayanna Esdaile, and Elaine Dunn comfort a incoming sixth grader, who said he was "scared." Orchard Knob Middle School started the 2021-2022 school year under a Hamilton County Schools system wide mask mandate on August 12, 2021, because of the surge in the Delta variant of the Coronavirus.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee issued an executive order Monday giving parents statewide the ability to opt out of local mask mandates for public school students, as a group of parents in Hamilton County reiterated their desire for a universal mask requirement.

Hamilton County Schools already offered parents an opt-out form for its new mask requirement for students, and schools spokesperson Cody Patterson said about 10% of families have signed up for the option.

"No one cares about the health and well-being of a child more than a parent," the governor said in issuing his order. "I am signing an executive order today that allows parents to opt their children out of a school mask mandate if either a school board or health board enacts one over a district. Districts will make the decisions they believe are best for their schools, but parents will have the ultimate decision-making for their individual child's health and well-being."