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Knox Co. Law Director’s office files motion on behalf of BOE

The motion argues the temporary federal mask order is too strict and asks for certain exemptions to be allowed.
Published: Sep. 27, 2021 at 4:54 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 28, 2021 at 5:02 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The Knox Co. Law Director’s office filed a motion to amend a federal judge’s order that temporarily requires masks in Knox County Schools.

Deputy Law Directors David M. Sanders and Amanda Lynn Morse filed the motion.

Knox Co. Board of Education member Daniel Watson confirmed the Knox County Law Director’s office filed the motion on behalf of the Knox Co. Board of Education.

This comes following 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.

Governor Bill Lee’s executive order allowing Knox County School parents to opt-out of the mask mandate was also blocked by the judge.

“I am very disappointed in the ruling. I think the most important thing to remember about this for the people in Knox County, is this is not something the Board of Education did or Knox County Schools has done. This is a federal order that they have to comply with,” explained Mayor Glenn Jacobs.

Jacobs said the federal order is too strict for schools and should be modified to be similar to last year’s KCS mask requirements.

Last year’s mask policy was more broad, allowing for exemptions based on documented medical conditions, behavioral or other disability concerns. Students were also allowed to remove masks for specific instructional needs when social distancing could be maintained.

The federal judge’s order does not allow for the removal of masks during instruction and only allows exemptions for those with autism or a tracheotomy.

The motion to amend the order argues it’s too strict, “A list of medical conditions to be exempted is simply not a workable system and will result in a list of exemptions that are both under- and over-inclusive.”

Knox County Executive Director of Student Supports, Jason Myers, revealed in court documents what KCS representatives are faced with under the federal order.

“KCS staff are already receiving dozens of calls, emails, and correspondence from parents and staff regarding which ‘medical conditions’ to list as exempt from masks,” said Myers.

In a written statement, Myers also said that if the order is not amended, the school could face violations of students’ rights under the American with Disabilities Act and Section 504 by denying them a reasonable accommodation KCS provided last year.

On Tuesday, active cases in Knox County Schools students were down 103 cases, bringing the total case count to 297, according to the KCS dashboard. The dashboard showed a steady decline in cases since August.

Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas, who canceled school for all students on Monday, Sept. 27 to ensure schools would be ready for students Tuesday, told parents via email, “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.”

Superintendent Thomas said KCS would follow the same disciplinary measures that were in place last year.

  • 1st offense: Verbal warning
  • 2nd offense: Verbal warning
  • 3rd offense: Removed from the general population
  • 4th offense: Parent pick-up

Thomas said students who refuse to wear a mask can enter the school building but won’t be in their regular classroom.

“A parent/guardian may take their child home for refusing to wear a mask, but the child’s absence will be counted as unexcused,” Thomas said.

Jacobs said that parents need to be tolerant and respectful, despite their frustration towards the mandate and the cancellation of school.

“We’re trying to work our way through this. And again, this is not something that happened at the local level,” said Jacobs, “This was something that came down from the federal level.”

“It’s people having very passionate feelings on both sides. But we all have to remember, too, we don’t want our community to be torn apart, “ said Jacobs.“ So I do think we just need to dial it down and try to be tolerant of each other.”

Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery filed an appeal against two federal rulings that he said goes against Gov. Bill Lee’s Executive Order 84.

“These orders have impeded the Governor’s executive authority during an emergency to direct the State’s public health response, which is why this Office will be appealing those decisions,” said Slatery.

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that Mayor Glenn Jacobs ordered the motion to be filed. However, a representative with his office says that is inaccurate.

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