KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Knox County School officials are asking a federal judge to relax exemptions around a recently implemented court-ordered school mask warrant, arguing they need more flexibility to determine who needs a mask.
Last month, U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer ruled Knox County schools must adopt a mask warrant to help protect children with health conditions more susceptible to the coronavirus pandemic. He also blocked Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt out of enforcing school mask warrants. Both changes remain in effect as the legal battle continues to fight its way through the courts.
The decision was one of three similar decisions where federal judges stayed Lee’s order for three counties. Families and advocates across the state have challenged the policy in a handful of lawsuits amid a growing number of cases of the virus in schools.
Yet in Knox County, which includes Knoxville, the order sparked strong protests from those opposing mask warrants and other COVID-19 precautions. Some students have been confronted with adults calling them “sheep” while wearing a mask, as at least one Republican state lawmaker has encouraged families to “take a stand” and challenge Greer’s order.
Meanwhile, Knox County schools officials said Greer’s mask mandate only allowed students with autism or tracheostomies not to wear masks to school.
“A list of medical conditions to be exempted is just not a viable system and will result in a list of both insufficient and excessive exemptions,” school district attorneys argued in last week’s filing. “It needs to be determined whether a student should be exempted from wearing a mask on an individualized basis. “
Court documents say more than 700 students “refused to wear a mask to school” on the first day the mask warrant was in place. The next day, more than 530 students showed up without masks, the district said in a file.
While this is only a tiny fraction of the more than 60,000 students enrolled in the county, the school district argues that the mandate has strained resources as schools and staff try to enforce the requirement. to resistant families.
“In addition, it is evident that the resistance of parents and students to the court order will continue,” argued the school. “If this continues, students who are sent home every day for not wearing a mask may be deprived of their constitutional right (in Tennessee) to free public education. “
Greer has yet to weigh in on granting more exemptions.
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