Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) announced last week that they will continue enforcing their mask mandate indefinitely. The announcement came out Friday – the same day that Metro Nashville health officials ended the mask mandate.
The Tennessee Star reported on a recent court ruling that schools lacked the legal authority to impose a mask mandate contrary to state and their local government policy decisions. The Star inquired with MNPS about the relationship between this ruling and their decision to continue the mask mandate. MNPS spokesperson Sean Braisted told The Star that the case referenced doesn’t prevent a school district from enacting or enforcing mask requirements. The Star asked if this ruling would jeopardize MNPS’s qualified immunity if parents challenged the mask mandate in court. Braisted responded that MNPS wouldn’t comment on hypothetical legal challenges.
Qualified immunity is what governmental entities have when it comes to legal challenges over their discretionary functions. In this instance, a discretionary function would be the continuance of a mask mandate.
The April 30 court ruling referenced above, Citizens for Limited Government and Constitutional Integrity, Inc., et. al, vs. Jason Golden, et. al., determined that Williamson County Schools (WCS) lacked legal authority to continue its mask mandate.
The Court is not convinced, as a matter of law, that WCBOE acted within its statutory authority at the time it promulgated its face-covering requirements. Further, the policy decisions promulgated by Mayor [Rogers] Anderson and Governor [Bill] Lee in February 2021 and April 2021 are inconsistent with WCBOE’s continued enforcement of face-covering requirements. With respect to WCBOE’s authority to issue a face-covering requirement, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment is alternatively DENIED. The Court cannot find, as a matter of law, Defendants have acted within the authority given to them by the legislature when enacting face-covering requirements. (emphasis added)
As The Star reported, WCS’s legal team asserted that this ruling didn’t definitively determine that WCS lacked legal authority to continue its mask mandate. Then, several weeks after the ruling, WCS announced that it would be ending its mask mandate.
As an explanation of MNPS’s decision to continue their mask mandate, Braisted cited the current CDC recommendation that students wear masks for at least the remainder of this school year. The recommendation was published after the CDC released guidance last week that fully vaccinated individuals don’t have to wear masks or observe social distancing.
— Metro Schools (@MetroSchools) May 14, 2021
Braisted also explained that a majority of students likely wouldn’t be vaccinated before schools end, and MNPS had no way of confirming student vaccinations.
“The updated CDC guidance is good news and a strong encouragement factor for individuals to receive the vaccine, however, most of our student population will not be eligible to be fully vaccinated prior to the end of the school year,” said Braisted. “Additionally, masks are meant to protect those around the individual wearing it, and there is not currently a mechanism available to identify those who are or are not fully vaccinated.”
As The Star reported, Metro Nashville’s mask mandate was reversed suddenly and without a detailed explanation late last week. Initially, the Metro Public Health Department (MPHD) announced that they would uphold the mask mandate despite the CDC recommendations, due to the number of unvaccinated people.
Within two hours, MPHD reversed its decision, mistakenly stating that the Metro Board of Health had decided to end the mask mandate. It wasn’t until three hours later that MPHD issued a statement of correction, noting that the board of health hadn’t voted to end the mask mandate. Rather, a select group of Metro health officials convened after a Metro Board of Health meeting to make the decision.
— NashvilleHealth (@NashvilleHealth) May 13, 2021
CLARIFICATION: The Chair of the Board of Health, the Director of Health and members of the MPHD epidemiology team made the decision to end the mask mandate, not the Board of Health. The decision was made after the Board of Health meeting concluded. https://t.co/K81ukLqirB
— NashvilleHealth (@NashvilleHealth) May 14, 2021
The FDA recently expanded the emergency use authorization (EUA) of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 years old. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for an individual to be considered fully vaccinated. Once an individual is fully vaccinated, the CDC says they may stop wearing masks and cease social distancing.
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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Photo “School Children in Masks” by Metro Nashville Schools.