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Knox County Schools masking order sparks controversy

Several Knox County groups are speaking out against the controversial masking order.
Students wear masks in the classroom
Students wear masks in the classroom(WITN)
Published: Sep. 26, 2021 at 10:29 AM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A recent order by a federal judge forcing Knox County Schools to reimplement its former mask mandate has sparked controversy in the area.

The order, which requires all students, teachers and staff in Knox County to wear masks while inside school buildings, was given Friday. It was the result of a legal battle between the parents of three Knox County Schools children and the district. All three children have medical conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19, so their parents sued on the grounds that the lack of a mask mandate went against the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Shortly after the order went into effect, Knox County parents started a change.org petition demanding that the mask mandate be reversed. According to the petition “mandating masks for children is hypocrisy and not needed.”

Knox County Schools bus contractors also briefly considered halting service on Monday as a protest to the mandate, but eventually decided that the lack of warning for some students would put them in unsafe positions.

The resistance to the masking mandate comes as health experts warn that more children are becoming sick with the Delta variant of COVID-19. They warn that while the strand is not any more deadly than other variants of the virus, it is much more contagious.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recently released a study showing that masks in schools lessen COVID-19 outbreaks. One study from Arizona found that outbreaks were almost four times as common in public schools without mask mandates.

As of Sunday, 297 students and 33 staff members are currently sick with COVID-19 in the Knox County Schools system, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard. At its peak in late August and early September, the district saw 816 cases among students and 107 among staff.

Superintendent Bob Thomas released a statement on the order Friday, saying for the time being the district plans to enforce the mandate.

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