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Two appeals filed in school mask opt-out rulings

Slatery says he would only appeal two out of the three lawsuits filed by families and advocates who are opposed to the Republican governor’s latest executive order.
(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)
Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 5:54 AM CDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT / AP) - Tennessee’s Attorney General Herbert Slatery has filed a notice of appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in the recent federal court decisions that blocked Gov. Bill Lee’s order allowing families to opt-out of school mask mandates in Knox County.

U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer ruled Friday that Knox County Schools must immediately require all staff and students to wear masks amid the legal battle.

Slatery says he would only appeal two out of the three lawsuits filed by families and advocates in the state who are opposed to the Republican governor’s latest executive order.

To date, federal judges have blocked the order from being implemented in Knox, Shelby, and Williamson counties. Slatery’s office didn’t immediately respond to questions about why he was not pursuing a similar effort in Williamson County. The appeal was filed by Attorney General Slatery in the Knox Co. ruling late Monday afternoon. Governor Lee’s order remains in effect until Oct. 5. The governor has not said if he’ll extend it.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs told WVLT News on Monday the county law department planned to file a motion to amend a federal judge’s order that temporarily requires masks in Knox County Schools. Jacobs said he met with the Knox County Law Department to discuss the move.

“I am very disappointed in the ruling. I think the most important thing to remember about this for the people in Knox County, is this is not something the Board of Education did or Knox County Schools has done. This is a federal order that they have to comply with,” explained Jacobs.

Jacobs said the federal order is too strict for schools, and should be modified to be similar to last year’s KCS mask requirements.

Knox County Law Department has now filed an affidavit and motion to amend Judge Greer’s ruling on Monday afternoon.

The affidavit filed was a declaration by Knox County School’s Executive Director of Student Supports Jason Myers. In the document, Myers said that KCS staff are already receiving dozens of calls, emails, and correspondence from parents and staff regarding which medical conditions to list as exempt from masking.

Myers said that KCS has already received requests for 504 meetings for students who last year were provided accommodation of not wearing a mask. Meyers said in the affidavit that a list of medical conditions to be exempted is “simply not a workable system and will result in a list of exemptions that are both under and over-inclusive”.

The Knox County Law Department filed a motion to alter or amend the judgement, in the filling the Law Department is asking the court to implement the schools’ mask mandate policy from last year that would have the following exceptions:

  • Students, employees, and visitors may remove masks or face coverings for eating and drinking
  • Students, employees, and visitors may be exempted from this policy by the school principal due to a documented medical condition; and students with health, behavioral, or other disability concerns, as noted in his or her IEP or 504 plan(s), will be addressed on an individual basis and afforded all protections and safeguards under federal and state law
  • Students, employees, and visitors may remove masks or face coverings on a case-by-case basis for specific instructional needs and other activities (such as, when 6 feet distancing can be maintained, outdoor recess and/or other appropriately distanced activities), as determined by the principal in consultation with the teacher, and permission will not be unreasonably withheld, in which case the teacher will utilize appropriate social distancing measures
  • Students, employees, and visitors may be exempted from this policy due to special behavioral or individualized needs as determined by the school principal.

Mayor Jacob’s sent an email to the Knox County Law Director David Buuck on Monday afternoon, in the letter Jacob’s strongly encouraged Buuck to consider appealing the Preliminary Injunction and a whole, or in part as quickly as possible.

Jacob said in the letter that his office had hundreds of people reaching out since the order was delivered on Friday.

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