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Knox County school board asks appeals court to overrule judge in mask mandate dispute

Senior Judge Ronnie Greer last month ordered the board to put a mask mandate in place as a health safety measure under federal law.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Knox County Board of Education wants an appellate court to toss a federal judge's order requiring them to impose a mask mandate.

Lawyers from the Knox County Law Director's Office on behalf of the board filed a formal appeal Tuesday with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

The move was not unexpected. The notice of appeal filed in U.S. District in Knoxville consists of a single page.

Last month, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Greer in Greeneville ordered the school board to impose a mask mandate. The school system has complied while also fighting it in court.

Greer's order has sparked strong reaction both for and against it in the community. He put it down amid rising virus case counts and an uptick in community deaths.

Greer acted at the request of the parents of four Knox County public school children who said they already had compromised health systems and exposure to hundreds of schoolmates and teachers without masks further imperiled their health.

Credit: WBIR
Two Anderson County Schools students wearing masks in their school building.

The school board narrowly declined this summer to put in place a face mask order to stop the spread of COVID-19. Last school year a school system mask order was enforced, and virus cases among the young remained relatively low.

Greer granted the parents' request while also allowing limited exemptions for compliance.

The judge also froze Gov. Bill Lee's August executive order giving parents in the state the ability to opt out of any school mask orders. The state attorney general is appealing that to the appellate court as well.

In his ruling imposing a mandate in Knox County, Greer criticized Knox County lawyers who argued for more sweeping mask mandate exemptions, lambasting county and district leadership for a lack of foresight.

“The Court would be much more sympathetic to the Knox County Board of Education’s argument if not for the fact that it had every occasion, both before and during the preliminary injunction hearing, to argue in the alternative as to what a mask mandate—with exemptions— ought to look like if the Court elected to put one in place, which it ultimately did. But the Knox County Board of Education presented no such argument or evidence, yet it now blames the Court instead of itself for its own lack of foresight," the ruling read. "Its cry of manifest injustice is therefore at best meritless and at worst disingenuous.”