Rep. Griffey has a message for school districts

Rep. Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) speaks to a supporter at House Republican Caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 14, 2020 (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Bruce Griffey has taken it upon himself to tell elected local school boards, special school districts, and education leaders around the state what their COVID-19 policies should be. The Paris Republican has sent a letter across the state (and copied it to all House and Senate members) declaring it “potentially” unlawful for districts to require face coverings or “create alternate learning environments for unvaccinated students, segregate such students, or treat them any differently.”

UPDATE: Griffey made some changes to the letter and got 11 GOP colleagues to sign on, including former Speaker Glen Casada of Franklin and Reps. Todd Warner of Chapel Hill, Jerry Sexton of Bean Station, and Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster).

Shelby County Schools is the only district in the state that has said it will require students to wear face coverings in the upcoming semester. Gov. Bill Lee said at a press conference last week that he oppose the move.

Read the whole (updated) Griffey letter here:

Dear Tennessee School Boards, Special School Districts and Directors:

As the 2021-2022 academic year is fast approaching, Tennessee families are anticipating whether or not masks will be required in our Tennessee public schools. For many, this is a contentious issue and one that crosses a wide spectrum of policy areas such as public health, parental rights, the role of government, and the constitutional rights of every citizen.

While we do acknowledge that there is a legitimate state interest in the safety of all Tennesseans, as legislators and elected officials, we must ensure that we continue to maintain the public trust in our government by above all else upholding the laws of our state. Citizens should rightfully expect that our state government will not exceed its authority by making rules that have no basis in state law or in our Tennessee Constitution.

On April 30, 2021, a Williamson County Chancery Court issued an order in Citizens v Golden (Case No. 20CV-49753) which carried an alternative ruling on the merits of the case indicating that requirements for face-coverings in schools have no basis in state law. The ruling stated, “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,” and, ” … continued enforcement of face-covering requirements is not viable.”

Additionally, House Bill 13 was passed this year adding a new section to our Tennessee Code Annotated in Title 68, Chapter 5, Part 1 stating the following:

The governor shall not issue an executive order, a state agency or department shall not promulgate a rule, and a political subdivision of this state shall not promulgate, adopt, or enforce an ordinance or resolution, that requires a person to receive an immunization, vaccination, or injection for the SARS-CoV-2 virus or any variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

As this has now been signed into law by Governor Bill Lee and mady effective as of May 25, 2021, a vaccine, immunization, or injection for COVID-19 may not be required by any public school in the state of Tennessee for students or staff. Regardless of any recommendations or guidelines set forth by the CDC, WHO, or any health official, it must be understood that state law now prohibits a vaccine for COVID-19 to be mandated by the state, a county, a municipality, or any state agency in Tennessee.

To be clear, the legislature has not granted any authority to local school boards or superintendents to require face-coverings or promulgate any rules related to healthcare or the prevention of communicable diseases. As such, any attempts to create alternate learning environments for unvaccinated students, segregate such students, or treat them any differently would be potentially unlawful in the state of Tennessee.

We value our educators, and we value our students. Last year was hard on everyone. But our students suffered most of all. This year, let us focus on our students and ensure that they are our priority by providing them with the kind of education they so richly deserve. In this year’s special legislative session, we passed legislation that focused on those goals and provided increased resources to educators with the tools they need for a successful school year. Let’s lead the nation this year in putting our students and families first. We are the Volunteer State.

/signed/

Representative Bruce Griffey

Representative Bud Hulsey

Representative Tim Rudd

Representative Jerry Sexton

Representative Jay Reedy

Representative Rick Eldridge

Representative Terri Lynn Weaver

Representative Lowell Russell

Representative Mike Sparks

Representative Todd Warner

Representative Glen Casada

Representative Kirk Haston

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