KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The federal judge who ordered Knox County Schools to enforce a mask mandate without the ability to opt-out has denied another motion by the county Board of Education to reverse the ruling.

Representatives of Knox County Board of Education filed an appeal to revert district rules to those determined by the board on Sept. 1, which did not include a mask mandate.

Senior U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee Ronnie Greer rejected the motion on the grounds that removing the mask mandate would constitute a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act by denying immunocompromised students the right to attend school safely.

Greer ordered the school district to reinstate the mask mandate implemented in the 2020-21 school year following a lawsuit filed by parents of disabled students against Gov. Bill Lee and Knox County.

Greer rejected the school system’s claims that the mandate was not a reasonable accommodation under the ADA and the court circumvented the authority of the board by issuing the order. Greer notes the court did not create its own mandate but rather reinstituted precautions that were in place last year.

The judge rejected another claim that the school system was already providing reasonable accommodations through social distancing and enhanced cleaning methods. He cited rising rates of infection in the school system, slack enforcement of those precautions, and testimony from doctors as sufficient evidence that the exclusion of mask wearing all but nullifies attempts to protect students.

“The evidence, however, clearly established – for all the reasons the Court identified in its opinion, including the Knox County Board of Education’s slack enforcement of its social-distancing measures – that these accommodations were not effective in addressing Plaintiffs’ unique needs and were, therefore, not reasonable accommodations. See [Am. Mem. Op. & Order at 29–33]. Indeed, since the start of the school year, infections among school-aged children in Knox County were rising at a rate of 600 percent a day with these accommodations in place.”

Senior U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee Ronnie Greer

Greer wrote that both the Board of Education and Gov. Lee failed to provide evidence that refuted testimony from doctors and recommendations from the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics that support universal masking for all kindergarten through 12-grade students.

The ruling also addressed Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt students out of school mandates, Greer said the opt-out provision would make any district mask mandate ineffective and left schools unable to provide a reasonable accommodation for disabled students under the ADA.

The Knox County Board of Education’s legal counsel did acknowledge during an evidentiary that the executive order created a procedural catch-22 that prevents it from adopting a mask mandate, the accommodation that Plaintiffs seek under the ADA.

Approximately 8,000 Knox County students are disabled, according to court document. A previously ruling states less than 1 percent of the more than 60,000 students in Knox County schools are currently not complying with the mandate, along with 16 total staff members across the county.