Henderson-Kristy ‘mask lawsuit’ letter

Expressing frustration after nearly five months of legal inaction, District 6 Board of Education representative Betsy Henderson and Board Chair Kristi Kristy (District 9) drafted a letter last week formally requesting Knox County Law Director David Buuck hire outside counsel to fight the federal mask mandate Knox County students currently are under.

The letter was delivered to Buuck’s office the day following the regular Board meeting Wednesday, Feb. 9, during which members discussed the lawsuit and approved a resolution encouraging the county’s lawyers to negotiate with the case’s plaintiff lawyers.

But Henderson and Kristy are looking at other options, too.

“Our children have been in masks for far too long, and the scientific consensus around universal mask mandates in school has changed,” the letter stated. “Despite requests for a new legal strategy, your office has not introduced one medical expert witness for the court to consider.

“It is time for course correction.”

The duo called out a plan from Buuck they both describe as “ridiculous.”

“On Monday, your latest plan called for the following,” they stated, then reacted:

“‘Suspend any child for not wearing a mask properly;

• “‘Not allowing parents to attend sporting events; and

• “‘Shut the lights off at extracurricular activities and send everyone home if students and parents are not in full compliance.’

“Your recommendations are unacceptable and quite frankly, ridiculous.

“As members of the Board of Education, if you refuse to hire outside counsel, we are requesting that the Knox County Commission pass a resolution for the Board to do so. Our children cannot wait on the slow speed of bureaucracy to be allowed to learn without the burden of an unnecessary mask mandate.”

The letter also was copied to each member of Knox County Commission.

Knox County students began the 2021-22 school year under a mask-optional policy, but have been under a federal mask mandate since late September, when Senior U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer of the 3rd District of Tennessee ruled in favor of four plaintiffs of medically compromised children who alleged the lack of COVID-19 precautions did not accommodate their children as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

However, reports indicated at least two of the children in question — possibly all four — currently are not attending Knox County Schools even with the mask mandate in place.

In recent weeks, the plaintiffs have demanded a special monitor be assigned to the schools, ensuring masks were being worn consistently and properly — a demand the Board voted against during the Feb. 9 meeting.

In a separate statement, Henderson said in the following paragraphs: “When I ran for School Board I promised to be a voice for parents. Parents and our children are done with mask mandates. People will look back in horror that we masked our children for two years after canceling school for months — with increasing evidence that mandates do not work.

“We have all had enough.  

“In September, Knox County Law Director David Buuck was caught off guard at the injunction hearing. His office brought no medical experts to testify in front of the judge. While the other side had a number of witnesses to lay out their case.

“Since then, the law director has continued to make the same argument that the Court rejected in September. No additional facts have been presented. The judge cannot take into consideration facts not presented to him. 

“I was told by Mr. Buuck’s office that they are unaware of any new medical circumstances that have changed since September, and it would be hard to convince the judge that the situation is different now than last year when Knox County had a mask mandate.

“That ridiculous response prompted me to bring forth multiple articles from the New York Times, Washington Post and the Atlantic at the School Board meeting.

“These are pieces by medical experts from Harvard and other premier medical institutions. They all agree that masking children in school should end. 

“That’s why (we) sent (the)letter to the Knox County law director asking him to hire an expert outside attorney to defend the School Board on the never-ending mask mandate lawsuit.

“I have not heard from Mr. Buuck, and given my experience with his office I don’t expect to. I have spoken to other County officials about our pressing need and I’m hopeful we can make progress.

“While deep blue states around the country end their mask mandates, there is no end in sight for Knox County’s children. 

“We cannot stop fighting.”

Farragutpress reached out to Buuck via e-mail but did not find a response at deadline Tuesday, Feb. 15. However, a copy of a response letter from Buuck to Henderson and Kristy was obtained. (See that letter under "Buuck responds")