Classes at public schools in Knoxville, Tennessee, were canceled Monday after a group of mask advocates threatened to stage disruptive protests at Knox County schools over a mask warrant.
Video of a Sunday afternoon parent rally in a Knoxville-area park shows people applauding after a speaker urged attendees to “bring Knox County schools to a screeching halt.”
The man encourages spectators to “block the entrance to the school with his car” and not to let school buses pass. He calls it “a moral obligation for the future of our children” and compares it to civil rights protesters using sit-ins to desegregate meal counters.
From a public health perspective, the hostility towards mask requirements is troubling to say the least. Studies have shown that mask warrants effectively control the spread of COVID-19 in schools, and that masks work best when everyone is wearing them. This is especially important for young children who are not eligible for the vaccine.
State Representative Gloria Johnson (R) shared a segment of Sunday’s video on social media. “This is not a group that cares about children” she said, underlining the “really worrying” call to physically impede access to schools.
At the end of the event, its organizer – who claims to be a field coordinator for the John Birch Society, a far-right political organization, asked attendees to share bell times for their children’s schools on Facebook. Many parents obeyed.
Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas canceled the school shortly after, notifying parents in a message Sunday night that students did not need to show up on Monday.
The district did not respond to a request from HuffPost about the reason for the abrupt shutdown, or whether it had anything to do with the anti-mask group. Attempts to reach the man who called for vehicles to block school entrances were unsuccessful.
In a message to parents, Thomas said school administrators and staff would use the time Monday “to make sure our schools are ready for students on Tuesday.”
Last Friday, a federal judge ordered Knox County schools to require students and staff to wear masks, overturning an executive order of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) that allowed parents to disregard warrants local masks promulgated by school or health boards.
Four families have filed a lawsuit against Lee’s order, arguing that the governor and the Knox County School Board failed to make “reasonable accommodations” to protect their children, who have underlying health issues that affect them. predispose to severe illness from COVID-19.
U.S. District Judge Ronnie Greer’s preliminary injunction on Friday overturned the order, prompting a change in school district policy.
“Starting Monday, September 27, all of our students, employees and visitors will be required to wear face coverings inside one of our facilities or on a school bus or shuttle, until further notice,” Thomas, the county superintendent wrote in a message to families on Friday.
“We recognize that this is a sensitive topic and that there is a wide variety of strong feelings about COVID-19 mitigation measures,” he wrote. “At the same time, I want to make it very clear that we are required to implement this order. “
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up to become a founding member and help shape the next chapter of HuffPost