Mayor Glenn Jacobs makes statement on KCS mask lawsuit, asks federal judge for response

Mayor Jacobs said that “masking is simply not an option” for some students.
Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 2:37 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs made a video statement Monday amid filings in the ongoing legal battle between Knox County Schools and a temporary court-imposed mask mandate.

Jacobs said that even though his office did not have a standing in the case, he could not ignore the calls from the hundreds of residents and parents who continued to reach out to him.

“Further, I won’t stop speaking up on behalf of these students and their families who feel as if they aren’t being heard when they speak for themselves,” Mayor Jacobs said.

He continued by saying he believed U.S. Federal Judge Ronnie Greer imposed the mask mandate with the intent of protecting students with certain disabilities but said the order makes it impossible to serve the needs of hundreds if not thousands of other students with special needs.

“In doing so, [The mask mandate] has forced the schools to actively violate 504 and IEP plans which are in place to ensure that those students have reasonable accommodations to meet their needs, none of which have been made available to them in the ten days they were forced to sit in isolation rooms or at home,” Mayor Jacobs said.

His statement continued and said that the mandate based on the ADA has forced the school system to violate other ADA requirements.

Mayor Jacobs also expressed frustration in the lack of communication in the court case.

“Judge Greer asked the schools to provide a list of suggested medical masking exemptions for his consideration. The schools submitted that list on September 29. Since the medical exemption list was submitted, The Court has said nothing. Meaning the schools must continue operating in this horrifically unjust status quo,” Mayor Jacobs said.

He concluded by saying that “masking is simply not an option” for some students and asked Judge Greer to respond to the motions filed.

His statement was in support of the Knox County Board of Education and their request to U.S. Federal Judge Greer to add additional medical mask exemptions to the mandate.

“Even in the few days that the mask mandate has been in place, KCBOE and its students have suffered irreparable harm that is likely to continue. Unlike the Plaintiffs’ theoretical denial of access, some special education students are now being denied actual access to the schools because they must be sent home if they are medically, behaviorally, or developmentally unable to wear masks,” a previous filing from KCBOE said.

On Oct. 6, KCS held a meeting to discuss the process for selecting a new superintendent, but during the public forum portion of the Wednesday night meeting, students and parents turned the conversation to the federal judge’s temporary mask mandate.

The Board of Education did not plan on speaking on the mask mandate and did not disclose any new information about it.

The original lawsuit included a group of families that sued the school system under the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming a lack of universal masking puts their children at risk for severe illness and possibly even death from COVID-19.

Since the initial filing, there have been several motions filed between the school system and the parents.

The last motion filed in the case was last week when attorneys for KCBOE said in the response to KCS parents that the issuing of allowing further exemptions to the court order mask mandate is of critical importance to the school system and asked the judge to rule on that issue as soon as possible.

The school board also said requiring 60,000 students to wear masks is not a reasonable accommodation under the American with Disabilities Act.

Mayor Jacobs had previously expressed his opinion last Thursday on Twitter.

“The Law Dept. filed a proposed list of medical exemptions for the federal order mandating masks in [Knox County Schools] NINE DAYS AGO. We have heard NOTHING! For some children, that means 9 days of segregation, isolation, and denial of educational and therapeutic services. #unacceptable.”

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