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Parent advocacy group sues WCS over mask requirement

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Nolensville Elementary School First Day of School

Some Williamson County Schools and Franklin Special School District students returned to campus for their first day of school, masked and ready to learn.

Recall Williamson, an advocacy group formed during the COVID-19 pandemic, officially filed a lawsuit on Friday against Williamson County Schools Superintendent Jason Golden, claiming the district’s mask requirement for on-campus school is unconstitutional.

Gary Humble and other Williamson County parents created a Facebook page for Recall Williamson in July with the goal of convincing the Williamson County Board of Education to reconsider its school reopening framework’s policy on required masks. Otherwise, the group planned to petition the Williamson County Election Commission to recall the school board members.

In mid-July, the school board passed its reopening framework, including a requirement for cloth face coverings on campus, and Recall Williamson has now responded with a lawsuit. The group posted a picture of its official complaint on social media with a letter signed by Humble and addressed to Golden and the school board, saying simply, “You have been served.”

“The school board had a (meeting), did not address any of the concerns whatsoever from many parents, and passed a framework, … and here we are today with not just the mask mandate, but the quarantine metrics and students being isolated, IEPs not being cared for in the schools, parents struggling quite a bit with the online option and remote learning,” Humble said. “There are lots of problems with the framework that still, to this day, have not been addressed. The lawsuit in particular — we’re working to address the mask mandate in schools.”

The complaint filed in the Williamson County Chancery Court holds that “the WCS mandate is beyond the authority granted to local school boards by the General Assembly.” Humble said he believes the district should’ve brought its request for required cloth face coverings on campus to the Tennessee General Assembly.

Humble also started another advocacy group called Tennessee Stands, which is collecting signatures for its drafted resolution that claims Gov. Bill Lee’s executive orders are unconstitutionally issued.

“Our constitution provides no avenue by which, No. 1, a governor can make law in our state, but No. 2, no avenue by which a governor can delegate powers by county mayors, which is where all of this has come from and has been trickled down to these mandates coming from the school board,” Humble said.

The complaint against Golden cites the governor’s Executive Order 55, in which schools are “strongly encouraged to implement a policy requiring the use of face coverings by students and staff,” though the order does not mandate such a requirement. Lee has also issued an executive order allowing county mayors to issue a countywide mask mandate, which Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson activated for almost eight weeks.

The complaint asks the court to declare the district’s mask requirement “unenforceable based upon the fact that it relies upon” the governor’s executive power granted in Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) 58-2-107, which Recall Williamson believes is unconstitutional. Additionally, Recall Williamson argues in its complaint that the mask requirement violates the state constitution because it “denies students substantially equal access to educational opportunities as are afforded to other public-school students within the state.”

While Humble is part of efforts to condemn the governor for what he deems unconstitutional action, he said “the school board still has the responsibility to, itself, act constitutionally,” which is why the group filed a lawsuit against the school board.

Humble said he and other parents have safety concerns surrounding the mask requirement as well, saying “we don’t really know the long-term effects of what these masks are doing to children six-plus hours a day” as they wear them in non-sterile environments. He argued masks are “medical devices,” not articles of clothing, and cannot be treated as part of a dress code.

WCS has declined to comment on the lawsuit.

For more information about Recall Williamson, visit RecallWilliamson.org.

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