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Knox County Board of Education members respond after ethics complaint

Several parents filed an ethics complaint against board chair Kristi Kristy, board members Betsy Henderson and Susan Horn.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Knox County Board of Education members Kristi Kristy and Betsy Henderson said they didn't violate any ethics rules or break any laws when they attended the Knox County Commission's February 15th meeting. 

Kristy, Henderson and Susan Horn asked the commission to let the school board hire outside counsel to represent them in the school board's mask lawsuit. 

In response, several parents who are members of KCS Parent Advocates for School Safety submitted ethics complaints against the three school board members. 

The parents submitted a letter to the Knox County Board of Education's Ethics Committee. The letter argues the board members violated Tennessee's Sunshine Laws by attending the county commission meeting without giving the public notice of their attendance and by coordinating with others to attend the meeting. 

RELATED: Advocates file ethics complaints against three members of Knox County Board of Education

However, Deborah Fisher, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government said she does not think the board members violated the state's Open Meetings Act. 

"Open Meetings Act protects against members of a governing body from deliberating or deciding business in secret," said Fisher. 

Fisher said three members of the school board, acting in their capacity as school board members but not speaking for the full school board would be allowed under the Open Meetings Act. 

"You have three people who are school board members, who expressed their opinion and wanted the county commission to take action," said Fisher. "But it wasn't the school board taking action."

"Based on what I know, I'm not seeing an obvious violation of the Open Meetings Act," said Fisher. 

Kristy said she attended the meeting, without the intention to speak, but the Commission asked her to weigh in during their discussion. 

"Hiring outside counsel isn't really a tool we have in the toolbox without county commission first granting permission," said Kristy. 

The second complaint against Kristy, Henderson and Horn said they went against the will of the board by asking County Commission to hire an outside lawyer. 

In early February, four board members indicated they wanted to hire outside counsel for the mask lawsuit. Board member Betsy Henderson said she didn't have confidence in the Knox County Law Director's Office to effectively fight the case on the school board's behalf. 

However, board member Mike McMillan made a motion to ask the law director's office to continue the fight against the mask order in Knox County Schools-- essentially a vote of confidence, as he called it. 

Five board members voted in favor of McMillan's motion.

The parents who made the ethics complaint said they feel the school board members weren't honoring the wishes of the entire board by asking the county commission to hire an outside lawyer. 

Henderson and Kristy did not see the vote that way. 

"I see that as a vote of the law director just doing their job," said Henderson. 

Regardless of maneuvering by the school board and the law director's office, only a federal judge or a panel of judges can end the county's mask mandate.

The CDC continues to recommend everybody in K-12 schools wear a mask. 

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