KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Parents of three Knox County Schools students have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Bill Lee and Knox County claiming their children are “unable to safely attend school without increased risks of serious injury or even death, unlike their nondisabled peers.”
All three of the students have disabilities or chronic illnesses, according to the suit. One student attends Cedar Bluff Elementary. Another attends West Valley Middle. The third attends Beaumont Magnet Academy. The suit alleges Lee’s executive order and Knox County Schools’ lack of mask mandate violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A fourth student was added later to the lawsuit.
The suit, seeking class-action status, is calling for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction of Lee’s Executive Order No. 84, which allows Tennessee students to opt-out of school mask mandates. It also asks for an injunction to enforce a mask mandate in Knox County Schools to “enable these children to have fundamental access to the school building itself.” The school board voted 5-4 late Wednesday night against a mask mandate. Knox County Schools is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are also asking for reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, and expenses.
The suit would be the second by parents seeking an end to Lee’s executive order. Two Shelby County families have also filed a lawsuit stating the executive order allowing parents to opt their children out of school mask mandates violates the American with Disabilities Act.
“Sending these students home, and providing a ‘virtual education,’ as learned in 2020, resulted in substantial harm to countless students across the state,” the suit states. “It is simply not a reasonable modification that allows them equal access.
“In short, the inaction of Knox County, and the action of Governor Lee’s Executive Order, places children … in an impossible dilemma: risk their life to obtain the basic fundamental right to education or stay home and fall further behind academically, socially, and mentally from lack of access to school.”
Justin Gilbert is one of the attorneys representing the families in the federal case. He feels masks could benefit thousands of students with other underlying health conditions.
“There are many, many other children like them. Obviously, not disabilities this severe in many cases, but nonetheless, kids with heart conditions, lung conditions, all kinds of medical conditions that are increased or at increased risks due to COVID,” he said.
The CDC says there is limited evidence about which conditions might increase a child’s risk for severe COVID-19 illness, but “current evidence suggests that children with medical complexity, with genetic, neurologic, metabolic conditions, or with congenital heart disease might be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”
On children facing more common conditions, their website reads “similar to adults, children with obesity, diabetes, asthma or chronic lung disease, sickle cell disease, or immunosuppression might also be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.”
EDITOR’S NOTES: A fourth student was added later to the lawsuit.