Judge taken to task for Knox County Schools mask-mandate ruling

It is ironic that I am supposedly “selfish” for not wanting to wear a mask, yet four plaintiffs forcing 60,000 others to wear them for alleged benefit to the four plaintiffs are not. There is too much blind acceptance of “up is down” thinking in our world today. It’s time to start calling it out.

For credibility, I am an attorney with experience in disability law, a former (7-year) school board member of a large public district, and a parent of a disabled child in KCS. I disagree with Federal Judge ( J. Ronnie) Greer’s Order Friday, Sept. 24 ( mandating masks for Knox County Schools) both in substance and procedure.

The 56-page Order is based on two beliefs: (1) masks are effective and (2) KCS schools are “on fire” with COVID. The Order provides no data to support either. The only numerical evidence it cites to suggest that masks work is a thoroughly debunked Duke study that lacked a control group and tried to prove a negative.

Google “sophistry at Duke” to see Wall Street Journal’s take.

But we have more COVID in schools this year without masks, you say. If true, the likely cause is the more virulent Delta variant. But is it true? The sole teacher Judge Greer heard complained of “300 maskless students standing shoulder to shoulder in a hallway” at Farragut Intermediate. Yet she failed to mention how that school, with all those cluttered maskless people, presently has less than five active COVID cases in more than 1,100 students, and ZERO staff cases. Not one.

The school’s 95-percent attendance rate is about the same as it was pre-COVID. Don’t agree? Look it up yourself: www.knoxschools.org/Page/24428.

So without numerical evidence that masks work, and based on testimony about a school with almost no COVID cases, Judge Greer issued a Friday afternoon order “immediately” mandating that over 60,000 students wear masks on behalf of four plaintiffs.

According to the Order, “(a)pproximately 8,000 of those students are disabled.” Yet the Order exempts autistic students from wearing masks, which accounts for about 7,500 of those disabled students, quantified as such simply because they have an IEP.

The Order effects entire buildings with no people in the high-risk categories of the four plaintiffs. It effects extra-curricular activities they do not attend. It effects buildings with populations that are fully vaccine-eligible. In short, the ruling is incredibly overbroad, and is not a “reasonable accommodation” for the plaintiffs.

And don’t blame KCS for calling school on Monday. Blame Judge Greer for handing out an injunction on a Friday afternoon with “immediate” effect. An injunction affecting so many people usually allows time to prepare, and should have done so here.

Blame the local NBC affiliate for irresponsibly putting on some random mother with no school administration experience to tell us authoritatively how this should be simple since “schools did it last year.”

This is not last year! Then, everyone was wearing masks. Now no one is. Now we have 100,000 people at football games with no masks. Now kids (if they haven’t already) will see this as a farce and a double standard: Do as I say, not as I do.

This will not be easy to enforce and places our teachers and school administrators in the middle of a political debate instead of leaving them to educate our kids.

Masks aren’t just a nuisance for kids. They are socially isolating. They discourage speech and participation from an already shy and uncomfortable audience. They block facial expression—a key component to communication. Judge Greer should have weighed those significant downsides against hard empirical evidence showing a significant health benefit.

But he didn’t. Because there is none.

- Mike Turner, Farragut