KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The federal judge who ordered Knox County Schools to enforce a mask mandate without the ability to opt-out has denied a motion by the county board of education to reverse the ruling.
Senior U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee Ronnie Greer denied the motion by the Knox County Board of Education after determining it failed to show new evidence the mandate placed an undue burden on the school system or that it constituted a clear error of law.
Greer ordered the school district to reinstate a mask mandate following a lawsuit filed by parents of disabled students 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” in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Organizations covered by ADA do not have to provide auxiliary aid, service or modification if doing so would cause undue burden through significant administrative or financial difficulty.
The motion sought relief from Greer’s injunction under federal rules of civil procedure Rule 59(e) which permits the court to alter or amend a judgment based on a clear error in law, newly discovered evidence, an intervening change in controlling law or a need to prevent manifest injustice.
“The Knox County Board of Education, however, cites no legal grounds—statutes, regulations, or case law—by which the Court can determine, under the facts it now describes to the Court, that the mask mandate is causing it to endure an undue administrative burden,” Greer’s ruling stated.
The ruling states less than 1 percent of the over 60,000 students in Knox County schools are currently not complying with the mandate, along with 16 total staff members across the county.
Greer ruled the district’s voluntary adoption of policies to deal with noncompliance both in 2020 and 2021 demonstrated that school administration was not unprepared to deal with the mandate. He also cites the fact that no school days or classes have been canceled as evidence that the mandate does not satisfy the legal definition of an ‘undue burden’ on the school system.
“While the absence of these staff members might burden the Knox County Board of Education to a degree, the Court cannot conclude that it creates an undue burden—particularly in light of the fact that the Knox County Board of Education already has policies and procedures in place from last year to address acts of noncompliance.”
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