• Amid a lawsuit brought against Gov. Bill Lee and Knox County over masks in schools, U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer issued a preliminary injunction on Sept. 24, 2021, requiring the Knox County Board of Education to immediately enforce a mask mandate for KCS students and staff until further notice. Updates on the litigation may be found below:

    March 14, 2022

    U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer granted on Monday, March 14, the joint motion to lift the mask mandate while the Board of Education and the plaintiffs are undergoing the mediation process.

    This means that when students and staff return to school on Monday, March 21, masks will not be required, until further notice. However, students and staff may still wear a mask if they choose.

    March 11, 2022

    On Monday, March 7, U.S. District Judge J. Ronnie Greer ordered the Board of Education into federal mediation with the plaintiffs in the “mask mandate” lawsuit.  On Wednesday, March 9, the Board of Education voted to mediate in a public meeting which will have the Board switching between the public session and meeting in executive session. The day and location will be made available once a court-approved mediator has been selected and further arrangements are made.  Additionally, on Wednesday, March 9, the Board of Education voted to hire advisory outside counsel to assist the Knox County Law Department in its defense of the Board of Education in the mask mandate lawsuit.

    Further, on Monday, March 7, the Board of Education voted to file a joint motion with the plaintiffs in the mask mandate lawsuit. The motion requests the judge lift the mask mandate while the parties are mediating (negotiating) the case. The motion has been filed and the Board is awaiting a decision from the judge.

    Lastly, the Board of Education’s appeal of the mask mandate injunction continues with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. That Court Clerk gave notice this week that oral arguments in the case have been set for May 4, 2022, at the 6th Circuit Courthouse in Cincinnati, Ohio.


    Feb. 18, 2022

    Board representatives and the Knox County Law Department have engaged in settlement negotiations with attorneys for the plaintiffs in this case. The substance of the negotiations may not be revealed unless they are successful.

     

    On behalf of KCS, the Knox County Law Department filed pleadings this week rejecting allegations that photos provided to U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer, intended to show mask compliance, were staged. Additional documents requesting relief will be filed in the near future.

     

    Jan. 7, 2022

     

    The mask mandate preliminary injunction placed by the federal Eastern District Court remains in place for Knox County Schools.  On behalf of KCS, the Knox County Law Director has recently filed a brief with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disputing the Eastern District Court’s decision to grant the preliminary injunction ordering a mask mandate. It is expected that the other parties will file a brief supporting the preliminary injunction pursuant to the Sixth Circuit’s schedule.


    Dec. 21, 2021

    The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has denied the Knox County Board of Education’s motion to stay the preliminary injunction pending its appeal. Additionally, the State of Tennessee, which had filed a similar motion to stay the injunction of the governor’s Executive Order 84 (in consolidated appeals from the Middle District, the Western District, and the Eastern District), was also denied.  However, the motion to stay was only an initial motion and the appeal of the preliminary injunction continues in the Sixth Circuit with briefing continuing this month and next.


    Dec. 10, 2021

    The Knox County Law Director has filed a motion to stay the injunction which may provide earlier relief if granted by the Court. Additionally, a decision rendered today in the Williamson County case in the Federal Middle District Court does not directly affect the KCS situation.


    Nov. 19, 2021

    As the mask case involving Knox County progresses, KCS attorneys have asked for a trial by jury and are continually monitoring our appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The State of Tennessee has appealed all three federal mask cases (in West, Middle, and East TN) to the same Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Appeals Court has consolidated the three cases and they will be heard by the same panel of judges. It does appear that the Middle District Court (Williamson County) has extended its preliminary injunction to the new state law regarding masks in school.

    Nov. 12, 2021

    Gov. Bill Lee is expected to sign the special session's omnibus bill that will change how the state responds to COVID-19 today. However, the masking provisions of the bill would not apply to Knox County Schools as long as the district is under a federal court order.


    Nov. 5, 2021

    U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer in September issued an injunction requiring our schools to implement a mask mandate. Since then, the Knox County Law Department has filed several motions for relief and Judge Greer has allowed for mask exemptions and accommodations which are medically based. Judge Greer has denied all other requested relief from the mask mandate.

    Pursuant to the judge’s order, Knox County Schools has filed with the court a confidential list of mask exemptions for November. Such a list is due each month.

    While the case is still proceeding in Judge Greer’s court, an appeal has been filed with the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio (the appropriate appeals court for Tennessee) with regard to the mask mandate injunction order. Argument briefs in that appeal are due in December and January. At this time, KCS will be required to maintain the mask mandate until further order of the federal court.

    In addition, the Tennessee General Assembly last month approved legislation which would limit the ability of school boards to implement mask mandates, except in certain circumstances. This legislation has not yet been signed by Gov. Bill Lee. However, even if this law is implemented, please know that a federal order supersedes state law.


    Oct. 13, 2021

    U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer issued a ruling on Oct. 12 regarding the mask mandate.

    This update gives the district the ability to authorize a mask exemption or accommodation for a student if there is documentation that demonstrates a medical need. Please note that the blanket exemption for autism and tracheotomy no longer exists. Additionally, an IEP or a 504 does not automatically exempt your child from the mask mandate. Students who were eligible last year based on a pre-existing IEP or 504 plan and an approved exemption will be exempt beginning on Monday, Oct. 18. If you believe your student has a diagnosis requiring a masking accommodation but is not identified as receiving services under an IEP or 504, please notify your child’s principal. Based on the Court’s order, these decisions will be approved by the district and not at the school level.

    The order makes clear that the mask mandate is universal, and we should not be allowing students to come to school without masks: “The record evidence supports the need for—and the Court ordered—a universal mask mandate, and the Court fully expects its mask mandate to be exactly that: universal, to every possible extent, with ‘very few’ medical exemptions,” the court filing states.

    This means that all students and staff who do not qualify for an exemption and visitors will be required to wear a mask while inside our facilities.

    • Non-masked students who can be immediately transported by a parent or guardian will need to return home.
    • Non-masked students who arrive at school by bus or who decide to take their mask off while at school will remain in an administrative designated area while a parent or guardian is called to pick them up.


    Per the Knox County Law Department, the order requires universal masking and states that students who refuse are subject to truancy; as such, students who refuse to wear a mask will be counted absent and will not be provided access to assignments while at school. Students who are marked absent will follow the district’s make-up work guidelines as outlined in Attendance Policy J-120.


    Sept. 24, 2021

    U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer issued a preliminary injunction this afternoon which ordered the Knox County Board of Education to immediately enforce the face covering mandate which was in place during the 2020-21 school year.

    In conjunction with the Knox County Law Department, the district is reviewing the judge’s order and working to understand its implications. However, we do want to provide our families, students and employees with preliminary guidance in preparation for next week.

    Beginning Monday, Sept. 27, all our students, employees, and visitors will be required to wear a face covering when indoors at one of our facilities or riding a school bus or shuttle, until further notice. Any individual with autism or with a tracheotomy is exempt; however, parents who have students with autism who can wear a face covering are encouraged to do so.

    Others with a documented medical condition may be exempted from this policy pending court approval.

    We recognize that this is a sensitive topic and that there are a wide variety of strongly held feelings about COVID-19 mitigation measures. At the same time, I want to make very clear that we are required to implement this order.