KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Knox County Schools will require students, staff and visitors to wear masks beginning Monday. The district says face coverings must be worn indoors or while riding a school bus or shuttle until further notice. The announcement comes after a federal judge issued an injunction in a lawsuit filed by parents of disabled or chronically ill children seeking to enforce a mask mandate in Knox County Schools to “enable these children to have fundamental access to the school building itself.”
“Beginning Monday, Sept. 27, all our students, employees, and visitors will be required to wear a face covering when indoors at one of our facilities or riding a school bus or shuttle, until further notice,” Superintendent Bob Thomas wrote in a letter sent to families of Knox County Schools students on Friday,
The letter says any individual with autism or with a tracheotomy is exempt; however, parents who have students with autism who can wear a face covering are encouraged to do so. Others with a documented medical condition may be exempted from this policy pending court approval, the letter said.
At this time, according to Thomas, in conjunction with the Knox County Law Department, the district is reviewing the judge’s order and is working to understand the order’s implications.
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“We recognize that this is a sensitive topic and that there are a wide variety of strongly held feelings about COVID-19 mitigation measures. At the same time, I want to make very clear that we are required to implement this order,” Thomas said.
Local leaders are sharing their thoughts on the move from Judge Greer. State Rep. Gloria Johnson, who has been a vocal supporter of COVID-19 mitigation efforts in schools, says this is a victory for Knox County kids.
“This is a huge win for the safety of our kids and the safety of our school staff. Parents really trust the school to keep their kids safe and Knox County, the majority of the board of education violated that trust in my view and this judge has set it right,” Johnson said.
Other state leaders, like Rep. Jason Zachary, think it is an overreach of power. In a Twitter video, Zachary encourages parents to ignore the order.
“This is a stand that has to be made and this is where we make our stand. So what do we do? What’s the next step? You send your child to school Monday without a mask. You don’t put a mask on your child,” Zachary said.
School Board member Betsy Henderson responded on her Facebook page.