Knox County School Board questions authority to enforce mask mandate

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Knox County School Board got an ear full Wednesday from parents expressing their concerns about masks or no masks in schools. But before even considering the action, the board wrestled with the question: Do they have the power to issue a mask mandate?

At the April 14 meeting, the board voted to follow the guidance from the CDC and the state Health Department.

Fast forward almost four months later and cases are up. As of now, the CDC recommends all students, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks indoors. For now, Knox County Schools will not be entering the school year with a mask mandate.

“I’m very concerned at the lack of action on masks. I don’t feel like the school board is really taking action to protect my kid,” Knox County parent Barry Golden said.

Golden has a daughter who is not old enough to get the vaccine, and wants to see a mask mandate put back in place before the school year begins.

In a memo sent to board members before the meeting, Knox County Law Director David Buuck says the board could issue a mandate or give Superintendent Bob Thomas that power. But Buuck goes on to say he doesn’t recommend it and says the board should “proceed with caution.”

Most of the conversation was not about whether to implement a mask mandate, but if the board should. Board member Jennifer Owen questioned why the board was not sticking with what they voted on in April.

“This board voted on language that was in an opening plan and that language said that we would follow the recommendations of the CDC and the state. What I see is a question of why what we voted on isn’t being carried through,” Owen said.

Other parents feel the choice should be between families. Heather Carroll says she attended the meeting to ask the board not to implement a mask mandate.

“There’s literally no evidence that supports that masks actually prevent viruses,” Carroll said. “I just believe that the mask mandates with the masks implemented last year should be left up to the parents.”

This was a work session – so no votes. As of Wednesday evening leaders had not put any mask vote on the agenda for the full meeting.

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