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Three Knox Co. students ask to be included as defendants in mask requirement lawsuit

The parents who originally sued over masking in schools also filed a motion Monday asking for the mask requirement to be suspended, following CDC guidelines.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A group of Knox County students asked to be defendants in an ongoing lawsuit over mask requirements in schools on Friday, filing a memorandum in federal court.

In the motion, they said that the government attorneys arguing in the case are not "situated to advocate for [their] interests," partially because those attorneys have not argued that masks are ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The motion goes on to say that the students would argue that masks are ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19, despite repeated studies from health experts across the world showing that universal masking reduced the chance for at-risk people to develop severe and deadly illness from the coronavirus.

The CDC also downgraded Knox County to a "medium" community risk level on Thursday. As part of this designation, they said people generally can stop wearing masks inside of public places. However, people who are at high-risk for COVID-19 should speak to their healthcare providers about ways to stay safe, which can include wearing masks.

The group of parents who sued KCS over an absence of universal masking in public schools also filed a motion on Monday requesting the judge to include new national health guidelines that would allow the current mask mandate in schools to be suspended soon, in anticipation of the CDC's guidelines changing for Knox County.

All of the students filed the memorandum through their parents on Friday. They include an 18-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl from Hardin Valley Academy who are siblings, as well as a 9-year-old boy from Hardin Valley Elementary.

The 18-year-old said reports mask-wearing would prevent the spread of COVID-19 was "misinformation," according to court records. He also said that since he was a "highly successful runner," he needed to attend school in order to show college recruiters his potential. So, he said he could not enroll in homeschool.

Parents originally sued the school saying that their disabled students could not safely attend public schools due to the lack of universal mask-wearing, as guaranteed by the Americans With Disabilities Act. By not being able to safely attend public schools, they were not being given equal opportunities for success, they said

The court filing from Friday claims that research did not recognize the effectiveness of masks at preventing illness before April 2020. It also shows data from the New York Times' coronavirus maps for California, which the court filing says required masks across the state. While it says the number of cases rose in California, it does not address possible delays in reporting COVID-19 related data.

The 18-year-old went on to say that he has experienced depression and powerlessness over the mask requirements in schools "because other people are making a decision about what happens with his body." He also says disciplinary consequences from not wearing a mask and being removed from class could unfairly damage his grades.

"Yet, he has no voice in the decision whatsoever," the court filing says.

It goes on to call wearing a mask or facing disciplinary consequences a Hobson's choice.

The 15-year-old said she struggles with apathy and opposed the mask requirement. The court filing says she is the sister to the 18-year-old and she said the mask requirement interferes with activities like playing the flute and the violin. 

The court filing says her grades fell compared to previous years and says that "wearing a mask and being around others who are wearing a mask interferes with normal social interactions and impedes instruction by teachers."

She and her brother also said they developed acne from wearing masks during the pandemic. However, she also said she has problems with TMJ and wearing a mask can cause her to feel pain.

The 9-year-old child was enrolled in Hardin Valley Elementary until Oct. 15, 2021, when he enrolled in homeschooling according to the court filings. They said wearing a mask for more than 6 hours per day was too overwhelming for him, and he intuitively believes that mask requirements are a "violation of his bodily autonomy."

The court filing says he "with the assistance of his parents, made the decision to home school because the indignities of forced masking loomed too large."

It was filed with the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Tennessee in Knoxville.

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