Knox County Superintendent: Masks required on Monday
The judge said the ruling would take effect immediately, according to court documents.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer ruled Friday that Knox County Schools must immediately require all staff and students to wear masks amid a legal battle.
On September 1 of this year, the Knox County Board of Education voted to not renew the mask policy by a vote of 5 to 4 against the recommendations from the Knox County Health Department, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Under the judge’s orders, Knox County Schools is required to reinstate the same mask mandate from the 2020-2021 school year. Under that mandate, masks were required by students and staff while on school property. However, the mandate only recommended masks at outside sporting events.
Any individuals with autism or a tracheotomy are exempt from the mask mandate, according to the court orders. The judge also ordered that The Knox County Board of Education identify in a written filing with the Court, any other medical conditions that it believes may require exemptions from its mask mandate.
Governor Bill Lee’s executive order allowing Knox County School parents to opt-out of the mask mandate was also blocked by the judge.
If students decide not to wear a mask or face covering inside one of Knox County Schools facilities, consequences include a verbal warning for the first and second offense, quarantine from the general population on the third offense and a parent pick-up on the fourth offense, according to the 2020-2021 mask policy.
Visitors are required to wear face coverings at all times and could be removed from the building if they refuse to.
The parents of three Knox County School students filed a federal lawsuit in September to sue Governor Bill Lee and Knox County over the current lack of a mask mandate.
All three children have medical conditions that make them more susceptible to catching COVID-19. Their parents had previously decided to enroll them in virtual learning, due to the fact that children in their classes are not required to wear masks.
Two of the three children are too young to get the vaccine.
The families sued on two counts; discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and discrimination under section 504.
A spokesperson from Knox County Schools said they would be reviewing the ruling now and would comment on how it affects sports tonight and families and children going forward.
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs said the ruling was a federal overreach.
“It’s unfortunate to see another example of federal overreach in Knox County subverting the legislative authority of both the Knox County Board of Education and the Governor of the State of Tennessee,” Mayor Jacobs said.
Knox County Superintendent Bob Thomas released a statement on the order, saying Knox County Schools would comply for the time being. Below is the full statement sent to KCS families.
I want to address an important development concerning our district’s response to COVID-19. This afternoon, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer issued a preliminary injunction which ordered the Knox County Board of Education to immediately enforce the face covering mandate which was in place during the 2020-21 school year.
In conjunction with the Knox County Law Department, the district is reviewing the judge’s order and working to understand its implications. However, we do want to provide our families, students and employees with preliminary guidance in preparation for next week.
Beginning Monday, Sept. 27, all our students, employees, and visitors will be required to wear a face covering when indoors at one of our facilities or riding a school bus or shuttle, until further notice. Any individual with autism or with a tracheotomy is exempt; however, parents who have students with autism who can wear a face covering are encouraged to do so.
Others with a documented medical condition may be exempted from this policy pending court approval.
We recognize that this is a sensitive topic and that there are a wide variety of strongly held feelings about COVID-19 mitigation measures. At the same time, I want to make very clear that we are required to implement this order.
Thank you for your understanding.
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