Long discussion, no change: Knox County school board doesn’t issue mask mandate

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — After three hours of community input, a motion by Knox County school board member Daniel Watson to give Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas the power to “implement layered prevention strategies regarding COVID-19 that align with the guidance from CDC” failed 5-4, leaving the current optional mask policy in place.

“I think that it is important that families feel comfortable that they can make their own choice. That students should feel welcome to wear a mask in our schools if they choose to. And even if students don’t want to wear a mask right now and they want to next week that should be perfectly welcomed,” board Chair Susan Horn said of the vote.

At the Aug. 4 work session, the board went back and forth about whether or not they had the authority to enforce a mask mandate or any COVID-19 protocols. A memo from the Knox County Law Director David L. Buuck revealed that they did have that power, but Buuck said he did not recommend using it to implement a mask mandate.

On Wednesday, a number of state house Republicans signaled their support for a special session to limit the authority of local school boards and superintendents to make rules aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. There are currently three county school systems in Tennessee that are requiring masks in its schools: Shelby, Davidson and Hancock.

As of now, things in Knox County Schools remain the same. There are no COVID related votes or discussions planned for any school board meetings in the near future.

“I think the board would hope that we’re not focusing on this every month because we want to focus on academics,” Horn said.

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