The new law tasks the comptroller’s office with vetting requests for exemptions, which are granted for one year and renewable for another.
While applications stream in, the law has stirred a fight in K-12 schools. Under a federal court ruling, several public school districts are continuing to require masks in the classroom. However, Williamson County Schools, the district attended by a plaintiff in the lawsuit, eliminated a mask mandate Monday.
Gov. Bill Lee signed the measure into law on Friday. On Monday, the University of Tennessee dropped its COVID-19 mask requirements across all campuses, save for the UT Health Science Center, which runs clinical settings. On Tuesday, the chancellor of the flagship Knoxville campus announced the mask mandate would return for most buildings on Nov. 22.
Universities have noted that they have to require certain levels of COVID-19 vaccinations as federal contractors, while allowing medical or religious exemptions.
The University of Tennessee said it had $742 million in federal funding in the 2020 fiscal year, making up 28% of its overall budget. The university said the vaccine mandate applies to employees working on or in connection with covered federal contracts, or at the same location as those workers. To exclude a location from the mandate, an institution would have to “affirmatively determine” that none of its employees subject to vaccine requirements are likely to be there while working under federal contract, the university said.