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Is mask opt out legal?

Gov. Bill Lee’s decision to allow K-12 students to opt out of wearing a facemask at school has been cheered by some.

Now the legality of it is being questioned.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona warned Tennessee officials in a letter on Wednesday that Executive Order No. 84 might violate federal law.

The letter from Cardona states, in part, that allowing some students to avoid wearing a facemask during times of high COVID spread “…may infringe upon a school district’s authority to adopt policies to protect students and educators as they develop their safe return to in-person instruction plans required by Federal law.”

Gov. Lee signed Executive Order No. 84 on Monday in response to unrest surrounding the possibility of mask mandates in school districts around Tennessee. A facemask argument from a school board meeting in Williamson County spilled into the parking lot.

“Right now, some of the greatest frustration is occurring in our K-12 schools, especially around the issue of mask mandates,” Gov. Lee said Monday. “While local decision-making is important, individual decision-making by a parent on issues regarding the health and well-being of their child is the most important.”

Warren County had 235 active COVID cases as of Thursday, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

The Tennessee Hospital Association weighed in on the state’s rising number of COVID cases on Thursday when it issued a statement saying, “All ICU beds are currently full in most hospitals in every major metropolitan area of the state.”

The Tennessee Hospital Association also noted COVID hospitalizations statewide have increased by over 800% in the 45-day period from July 1 to Aug. 15. During that span the number of patients rose from fewer than 300 to more than 2,300, the association said.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health, at least 88% of COVID hospitalizations and 94% of COVID deaths are among unvaccinated individuals.