KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County Board of Education is scheduled to meet Wednesday at 5 p.m. for a regular session. The meeting comes as students and staff in Knox County Schools returned to classes earlier this week for the start of another school year – with the option of wearing masks amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and rising cases of COVID-19 among pediatric patients in Tennessee hospitals.

Currently, Knox County Schools does not have a mask mandate in place for students or staff; opting instead to let families make the choice for their students. While mask-wearing is encouraged by school officials, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends all students regardless of vaccination status should be wearing masks indoors, students in Knox County have the choice.

The topic of allowing students and families to choose to wear masks instead of mandating masks in Knox County Schools became a central issue during last week’s board of education work session. Parents attending last week’s work session expressed their concerns both for and against a mask mandate in schools.

Meanwhile, the school board questioned if they had the authority to issue a mask mandate. In a memo sent to board members before last week’s meeting, Knox County Law Director David Buuck stated the board could issue a mandate or give Superintendent Bob Thomas that power. But Buuck also said he doesn’t recommend it and says the board should “proceed with caution.”

On the agenda for Wednesday night’s regular session meeting is an item titled, “Discussion and possible action regarding the Board and Superintendent’s authority concerning the implementation of public health protocols as it relates to the Superintendent’s KCS Connect 2021-2022 plan as approved on April 14, 2021.”

This means the board will revisit its decision from the spring, when at its April 14 meeting, the board voted, 5-4 (passed) to approve the superintendent’s plan that was proposed and amended on April 14; to follow the guidance from the CDC and the state health department. (see below)

The district’s page KCS Connect, which had informed families of school policies and updates launched around the arrival of COVID-19 in the area, is currently unavailable. However, the district’s “Back to School” page has a frequently asked question regarding masks in schools which states: “The Tennessee Department of Health recommends the use of face coverings; however, the district recognizes that this is a family decision. The district will not tolerate harassment of students or employees regarding the use of face coverings.”

The Knox County Board of Education regular session meeting starts at 5 p.m. and will be held in the Main Assembly Room at the City-County Building, located at 400 Main St.

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