Special called BOE meeting over “mask mandate”

School Board member Susan Horn at a recent meeting.

A special called meeting of the Knox County Board of Education has been set for Monday, April 18 in connection with the federal “mask mandate” lawsuit.

The meeting, which is to allow for mediation between the Board and the lawsuit’s plaintiffs, will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the the Sarah Simpson Professional Development Technology Center at 801 Tipton Avenue.

There will be no public forum and “disruptions will not be tolerated,” according to school system spokesperson Carly Harrington. Also, no recording devices, cell phones or cameras will be permitted.

The legal maneuvering in the case began in September when the parents of four disabled Knox County students filed a lawsuit arguing that their children’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had been violated by the system’s lack of a mandatory mask policy. 

U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Greer — a Republican who was appointed to the bench by George W. Bush in 2003 — handed down a preliminary injunction requiring Knox County to re-institute the mask policy it used in 2020-21 until the lawsuit is resolved. He also blocked Governor Bill Lee’s controversial Executive Order 84, which allows parents to exempt their children from covering their faces, from applying to Knox County during the litigation. 

Greer’s ruling triggered both praise and derision, with hundreds of parents and students opposed to the mandate taking part in numerous protests and acts of civil disobedience that included picketing, refusing to don masks in class, and even withdrawing from the public schools entirely. After filing a series of motions that were rejected by Greer, the school system’s attorneys filed an unsuccessful appeal with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The two sides have since agreed to suspend the mask requirement while they try to resolve the case through mediation. 

Published on April 11, 2022.