KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A federal court judge has issued a temporary injunction telling Knox County Schools to enforce a mask mandate after several families of Knox County students filed a lawsuit alleging Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order and Knox County Schools’ lack of mask mandate violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Knox County Schools must immediately enforce their mask mandate that was in place during the 2020-21 school year. Judge Ronnie Greer’s temporary ruling also temporarily blocks Gov. Bill Lee from enforcing Executive Order No. 84 which allows parents to opt their child out of school mask mandates.

The temporary injunction will remain in place while the lawsuit continues to make its way through the court system.

Students with autism or a tracheotomy are exempt from the injunction and the Knox County Board of Education must provide the court a list of any other medical conditions it believes may require exemptions from its mask mandate within five days.

Greer found that the preliminary injunction requiring masks would serve the public interest because it would advance the ADA’s mandate by providing Plaintiffs with a reasonable accommodation for their disabilities without causing substantial harm to others.

The judge agreed that the plaintiffs could suffer irreparable harm without the preliminary injunction due to their increased vulnerability to COVID-19 due to medical conditions and increased transmission rates of the delta variant.

That Knox County lawsuit came after the Board of Education voted 5-4 against a mask mandate in its schools on Sept. 1. Parents of four Knox County Schools students filed a lawsuit claiming their children are “unable to safely attend school without increased risks of serious injury or even death, unlike their nondisabled peers.”

A similar temporary order was issued in Shelby County after two families filed a lawsuit. The ruling also orders Shelby County to enforce its most recent mask mandate without an exception for the opt-out order.

A Knox County Schools spokesperson sent a statement in response to the injunction.

“We are currently reviewing the order to determine what this means for our students and staff.” 

Carly Harrington, Knox County Schools

Gov. Bill Lee’s office released the following statement:

“The governor had a media avail today and noted that we don’t have further comments to share regarding pending litigation but he believes parents are best equipped to make decisions regarding their children’s health and wellbeing.”

Office of Gov. Bill Lee

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