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Group forms to advocate for COVID-19 safety plan changes in Knox County Schools

KCS PASS in partnership with Stop The Spread Knoxville organized a district-wide "sick out" on Monday.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — As parents and families continue to express frustrations with Knox County Schools leaders, many came together to form a new group advocating for changes to the district's COVID-19 safety plan.

The group, KCS Parent Advocates for School Safety, said they are volunteer-based and non-partisan. Parents, guardians and caregivers of students in Knox County are all part of the group. They said they are working to hold leaders accountable for having a COVID-19 safety plan that is compliant with federal expectations and follows recommendations from the CDC.

KCS PASS alongside Stop The Spread Knoxville, also organized a "sick out" event for Monday. During the event students and staff will stay home to protest the board's handling of COVID-19.

During the event, organizers will call for a mandatory mask policy, advanced learning, social distancing policies, provisions for students and teachers who stay home due to COVID-19, as well as improved contact tracing and reporting at schools.

KCS PASS and Stop The Spread Knoxville called for parents to demonstrate at their zoned school during morning drop-offs. They asked for parents to arrive at elementary schools between 6:45 a.m. through 7 a.m. Organizers also asked for parents to arrive at middle and high schools by 7:30 a.m.

They urged participants not to block driveways, the car line, the road or any safety patrols. They also said people should not approach cars, maintain safe distances from the school and wear masks.

Officials said the demonstration was organized with Stop the Spread Knoxville, another group that advocates for increased COVID-19 restrictions.

They are also organizing a demonstration for Wednesday, during a special meeting education leaders called to discuss COVID-19 safety proposals. Previously, they said they did not believe they had the power to institute COVID-19 safety restrictions and voted against giving Superintendent Bob Thomas the power to implement them.

During an earlier procedural meeting, some board members said they were concerned they were not following a vote in April to follow CDC guidelines and implement a mask requirement. However, other members said they did not have the power to follow the vote after Governor Bill Lee's state of emergency ended.

One member also said it was difficult to follow the CDC's recommendations to wear masks in schools. Mike McMillan said that they changed their recommendations too much to follow during a meeting on August 4. He also spoke about the board's credibility with parents and families.

"Thirty days from now, you can go to Walmart and stop the first 10 people. Do you think you would find one who would remember anything we did as far as credibility?" he said during the meeting. "I don't think we're going to be judged about what we did on April the 12th, or whatever it was."

The number of COVID-19 cases in Knox County Schools has shattered previous records, and more than 1 in 7 students have stayed home recently. On Friday, they reported a total of 905 active cases across the district. The record was 277 cases in January, during the height of the pandemic.

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