KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Mask exemptions will be handled at the district level and students who refuse to wear a mask will be sent home and counted as absent for the day, according to a letter to parents from Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas.
Both stipulations were announced Wednesday, one day after U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer agreed to allow Knox County Schools to reimplement the 2020 mask mandate exemptions system while a lawsuit brought by parents of four students plays out in court. The superintendent told parents in the letter that Greer’s order on the mask mandate is clear and that “few exemptions” should be allowed.
To stay within compliance of Greer’s parameters, KCS says they will over see exemptions at the district level.
“The mask mandate is universal, and we should not be allowing students to come to school without masks: ‘The record evidence supports the need for – and the Court ordered – a universal mask mandate, and the Court fully expects its mask mandate to be exactly that: universal, to every possible extent, with “very few” medical exemptions,’ the court filing states,” Thomas’ letter reads. “This means that all students and staff who do not qualify for an exemption and visitors will be required to wear a mask while inside our facilities.
“Non-masked students who can be immediately transported by a parent or guardian will need to return home,” the letter states.
Parents or guardians of nonmasked students who arrive at school by bus or who decide to take their mask off while at school will be called to pick them up, Thomas said. The students will remain in an administrative designated area while waiting to be picked up. They will also be counted absent and will not be provided access to assignments while at school.
“Per the Knox County Law Department, the order requires universal masking and states that students who refuse are subject to truancy,” Thomas states. “Students who are marked absent will follow the district’s make-up work guidelines as outlined in Attendance Policy J-120.”
Greer’s initial order made only two exemptions to the mask mandate: autism and tracheotomies. This new order, a return to the 2020 mask mandate policy with the newly announced changes by Thomas, supersedes that order.
“Additionally, an (Individualized Education Plan) or a 504 does not automatically exempt your child from the mask mandate. Students who were eligible last year based on a pre-existing IEP or 504 plan and an approved exemption will be exempt beginning on Monday, Oct. 18,” Thomas said. “If you believe your student has a diagnosis requiring a masking accommodation but is not identified as receiving services under an IEP or 504, please notify your child’s principal.
Based on the Court’s order, these decisions will be approved by the district and not at the school level, the district said.