Anti-mask- in-school voices sound off locally

  • Ingrid Maddox, right, leads “The Circle” group as it left Farragut High School Wednesday, Sept. 29. The group has been protesting against the recently re-imposed mask mandate since Tuesday, Sept. 28. - Michelle Hollenhead

  • Farragut students and parent protestors line a portion of West End Avenue Sept. 29. - Michelle Hollenhead

A group of Farragut parents began openly protesting a federal judge’s masking mandate for Knox County Schools last week, and are vowing to keep “fighting for their children’s rights as long as it takes.”

The group, called simply “The Circle,” first gathered Sunday, Sept. 26, at Bob Leonard Park opposing the Friday, Sept 24, ruling from Judge J. Ronnie Greer requiring masks for all students and visitors with only two exceptions — students with autism and those with tracheotomies.

After the leadership role fell to Ingrid Maddox, who had taken her Farragut Middle School daughter’s karaoke machine to use in lieu of a PA system, she quickly coalesced the grass roots efforts that started early Tuesday, Sept. 28 — the day KCS implemented the mask order.

About 25 parents and students showed up that first day along West End Boulevard with signs and the American Flag. They stood on the sidewalk as cars drove past on their way to school, many honking their approval and support.

Group members then walked their own children to Farragut Intermediate, Middle and High schools just prior to the respective schools’ start times.

“We are standing up for freedom, our Constitutional rights and the rights of our children,” Maddox said Sept. 29.

“I feel Judge Greer was wrong, and there are no grounds for the injunction,” she continued. “The numbers do not support it, and he is causing a county-wide mask mandate for no reason.

“We’ve had enough. We are tired and fed up with the government telling us what to do with our children.

“It’s my child, my choice.”

“We are out here to preserve the rights of all kids,” Bill Taylor said. “It is not right to infringe on the rights of 60,000 kids — our kids have rights also.

“We are not anti-masks and not anti-vaccine — we just want the autonomy to make the choice for our children.”

Jennifer Wilson, who has a son at FIS and one at FMS, said both sons refused to wear their masks the first day, but her younger son decided to wear his mask the second day.

“We gave both of them the choice to decide, and we fully supported their choices,” Wilson said.

“We are very proud of both our sons, and we think this is a good civics lesson for them both to understand that we have three branches of government that provide checks and balances so that one branch does not have more power over another,” she added. “But what this judge has done is legislating from the bench, and that is a huge issue for us.”

One parent who asked that her name not be used said she was planning to protest “as long as it takes.”

The Circle’s efforts attracted the attention of producers for Dr. Alan Keye’s national TV show “Lets Talk America,” which featured an interview with Maddox on its Friday, Oct. 1 broadcast.

Not everyone was supportive of their efforts, however. A Farragut mom, who asked that her name not be used, said she “had driven past them on the first day, and they seemed peaceful at first, but then when they went up to the schools they went as a pack and crowded around the entrance.

“A police officer told them it was illegal to protest on private property. I think if they want to protest, they should remove it from the schools. It is a big group, and they are scaring some of the children. Personally, I don’t have a harsh stance — I have friends on both sides of this issue — but I just want kids and everyone to feel safe.”

Ruling, appeal

Greer’s ruling came after four parents of students with disabilities sued under the American’s with Disabilities Act, alleging the lack of mask mandates in Knox County put their children at risk.

By Thursday of last week, the parents suing agreed to less restrictive mask mandates, but it is unclear how or when that would take place.

KCBOE appealed the motion Friday, Oct. 1, in federal court, stating to require 60,000 students to wear masks is not a reasonable accommodation under the American with Disabilities Act.

“Even in the few days that the mask mandate has been in place, KCBOE and its students have suffered irreparable harm that is likely to continue,” the motion stated. “Unlike the Plaintiffs’ theoretical denial of access, some special education students are now being denied actual access to the schools because they must be sent home if they are medically, behaviorally, or developmentally unable to wear masks.”

Knox County Schools Board of Education voted against mandatory masking twice this school year, but Greer’s ruling usurped their authority, and also ruled against the “masking opt-out” Executive Order issued by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee earlier this year.

For their part, 722 students across the district declined to wear a mask on Sept. 28, or about one percent of the district’s enrollment, according to KCS’s communications director Carly Harrington.

That number had dropped to 550 Sept. 30, then to 225 by Friday, Oct. 1.

Additionally, about 10 teachers or substitute had declined to wear masks, and were sent home by the district earlier in the week.

“Our goal is for our kids to be in school,” Wilson said. “They have the right to free public education that is the least restrictive. The mask is restrictive and can create learning barriers for some students.”