A new Tennessee law prohibits COVID-19 mask mandates in schools, but Governor Bill Lee’s legislative counsel warned in a recent and now heavily publicized email that the law violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Legislative Counsel Liz Alvey sent the email October 30. The AP obtained Alvey’s email through a public records request.
The Tennessee Star on Wednesday asked Lee’s communications director, Laine Arnold, if she or other members of Lee’s team knew how The AP knew to look for this email. We also asked how The AP obtained the email so quickly. Government agencies who receive open records requests are notoriously slow to respond.
Arnold did not respond to our request for comment before Tuesday’s stated deadline.
The Star also contacted Alvey via email. Alvey, in an automated response, said she was not at work and was on Thanksgiving vacation.
Alvey, according to the Nashville-based FOX 17 News, told Senate Republican leaders that the new law runs afoul of the ADA.
“Proposed ADA accommodation in the bill is a violation of the ADA and will put us at risk of losing federal funding,” Alvey wrote.
Attorneys representing children with disabilities reportedly said “the email ‘conflicts with, and impeaches, the official position of the state.’ They’re asking to enter it as evidence in their case.”
That judge, Waverly Crenshaw, presides over the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.
The language of the new state law, available for the public to read on the Tennessee General Assembly’s website, shows state lawmakers did take the ADA into account when they wrote it and later enacted it. The law says a school must provide reasonable ADA accommodations to people who request them in writing.
“If the principal or president denies the request, then the grounds for denial must be provided in the principal’s or president’s written decision,” according to the new Tennessee law.
“If the principal or president approves the request, then the school must place the person in an in-person educational setting in which other persons who may place or otherwise locate themselves within six feet of the person receiving the reasonable accommodation for longer than 15 minutes are wearing a face covering provided by the school that meets the above-described standards.”
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