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Protesters gather outside some Knox County Schools over mask mandate

On Friday, Sept. 24, a federal judge ruled that the Knox County Board of Education must impose a mask mandate for schoolchildren.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knox County students returned to class on Tuesday with a mask mandate in effect.

Parents and students gathered outside some Knox County Schools on Tuesday morning to protest the new federally-ordered mask mandate.

One of those schools was Farragut Intermediate School, where Connie Martell dropped off her granddaughter around 7:45 a.m. Tuesday morning.

"I was able to look at it and say this doesn't look violent, this is going to be okay, but to the children, it's a different story," Martell said. "That was scary for them."

The Knoxville Police Department said there were no issues or incidents that required police intervention at any of the schools within city limits on Tuesday morning.

"By all appearances, it was business as usual according to our folks in the field," said Scott Erland, KPD Communications Manager.  

By the end of the school day Tuesday, KCS said a total of 722 out of the more than 60,000 students enrolled across the district -- roughly a little more than 1%- -- were placed in an "alternative setting" for not wearing a mask. 207 were elementary students, 235 were middle school students, and 280 were in high school. KCS said its student attendance rate was 90.3% and its staff attendance rate was 93.8%.

On Friday, Sept. 24, a federal judge ruled that the Knox County Board of Education must impose a mask mandate for schoolchildren after a group of Knox County parents filed suit in federal court.

The parents claimed the voluntary-mask policy that was in place put children with weakened immune systems at risk.

KCS Superintendent Bob Thomas confirmed on Friday that all students, faculty and visitors must wear a mask while indoors or riding a school bus.

RELATED: Knox Co. Schools to implement mask mandate Tuesday; BOE files motion to make rules similar to 2020

The district said there are consequences for students who violate the mask-wearing rules. The first and second offense is a verbal warning. The third will result in removal from class. The fourth time means the parent or guardian will have to pick the child up from school.

The school district made the last-minute decision on Sunday night to close schools on Monday, Sept. 27 in preparation. 

On Monday night, Chief Public Affairs Officer Carly Harrington told 10News the decision to close school for students for the day was to allow administration and staff time to plan and implement the federal court's order. 

This included but wasn't limited to ensuring an adequate supply of masks, preparing communication to families and staff and determining locations for students who refuse to wear a mask.

"I think the division in our community will show up at the school door tomorrow," Kristi Kristy said Monday to 10News. "I think it will be very challenging tomorrow."

On Monday, the Knox County Sheriff's Office said it received one report from someone concerned about an anti-mask social media post. The Knoxville Police Department said officers were monitoring the potential for protests surrounding the mask mandate and were present outside some schools on Tuesday.

Harrington said the school district plans to work with law enforcement to ensure the safety of both students and staff.

RELATED: Parents, students react to Knox County Schools being closed Monday