Knox County Schools Education Board responds to lawsuit seeking mask mandate

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County Schools Board of Education has submitted a motion in response to the request for a temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction after a group of KCS parents filed a lawsuit alleging Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order and Knox County Schools’ lack of mask mandate violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

That lawsuit came after the Knox County Schools 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.”

The motion states that the issue is not about if students should have to mask up or if the board has the authority to issue such a requirement— rather, the issue is if the board’s NO vote on a districtwide mask mandate represents a denial of a reasonable accommodation to the Plaintiffs.

In the motion, the board says that the decision whether to impose a mask mandate is a political one and that the court should not intervene. They contend they haven’t violated federal disability law by not imposing a mask mandate and haven’t discriminated against the plaintiffs in its masking policy. They also say that the mandating of masks is not a reasonable accommodation under Section 504 or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The motion states, “Plaintiffs have made no attempt to argue that accommodations already in place, such as the cleaning protocols, mask recommendations, contact tracing, social distancing, isolation/quarantine of students exposed to COVID-19, and virtual schools are not reasonable accommodations. If KCBOE is already providing a reasonable accommodation, then no further accommodations are required by law.”

The board also said that, due to Governor Bill Lee’s Executive Order 84, they cannot institute an effective universal mask mandate, if it chose to do so.

In their motion, they claim the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate immediate and irreparable harm or demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. In regards to immediate and irreparable harm, they state the plaintiffs can’t show that a mask mandate would be a remedy.

The motion states, “Any time plaintiffs leave their home they will be around people who are choosing not to mask. Moreover, even if every governmental entity did issue a mask mandate, there are still people who will be exempted from a mask mandate due to their own disabilities or medical needs, thereby still increasing the risk.”

Lawyers for the parents of KCS students have filed new affidavits to support their arguments and added a fourth plaintiff to the lawsuit. All four of the parents of Knox County Schools students included in the lawsuit state that their child suffers from medical conditions that put them at increased risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

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