Mask mandates up for debate as TN House Republicans call for special session

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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tennessee Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton and Republican state representatives requested Gov. Bill Lee to call a special session to “address misdirected and mandated responses to COVID-19.”

Tennessee 3rd District Representative Scotty Campbell was one of the legislators to sign the letter. Campbell said the session will evaluate who can mandate masking and vaccinations, with particular emphasis on how that is handled in schools.

“I believe it’s best that the parents be deeply involved in the decision for their own child. The parent needs to be making a decision not a bureaucrat,” Campbell said.

That came as local school districts report high caseloads early into the school year.

In Washington County Schools, 224 students and staff are quarantined and 54 have tested positive as of Wednesday.

Kingsport City Schools report 84 positive cases among students and 10 among staff. Assistant Superintendent Andy True said the district will continue its current recommendations.

“One of, I think, our emphases as we come back to school is really stressing those recommendations when it comes to mask wearing and social distancing,” True said.

Johnson City Schools report 45 student cases and seven staff cases as of Tuesday. That number will be updated on Friday.

Elizabeth Ortiz has three children in Johnson City Schools. Her two oldest who are vaccinated are taking online classes for her youngest child, who is not old enough to get the vaccine. The youngest child takes online classes through the Tennessee Connections Academy because Johnson City Schools does not offer its online learning platform to students below 5th grade.

Ortiz said she won’t let her students back to in-person school until they are all vaccinated and a mask mandate is in place. She said she has voiced her complaints about the district’s COVID response to the school board, but is not seeing the changes she wants.

“I’ve talked to the school board many times and it seems they just really seem like they are dead stuck on returning to in-person, no masks,” Ortiz said.

She believed the state government’s position on masking is playing a large role in why local districts are not implementing mask mandates.

“The governor’s position on masks is a big, big reason schools won’t do it. I think they are scared of repercussions if they do,” Ortiz said.

Gov. Lee’s office said it is still reviewing the request for a special session.

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