Knox County Board of Education Members respond after ethics complaint

Several parents have complained about ethics to board chairman Christy Christy, board members Betsy Henderson and Susan Horn.

Knoxville, Tenn. – Members of the Knox County Board of Education Christy Christy and Betsy Henderson said they did not violate any ethical rules and did not violate the law when attending a meeting of the Knox County Commission on 15 February.

Christy, Henderson and Susan Horn have asked the commission to allow the school board to hire outside lawyers to represent them in a lawsuit about school board masks.

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

The parents submitted a letter to the Ethics Committee of the Knox County Board of Education. The letter alleges that board members violated Tennessee’s sunlight laws by attending a district commission meeting without informing the public about their participation, and by coordinating participation in a meeting with others.

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

However, Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Coalition for an Open Tennessee Government, said she did not believe board members violated state law on open meetings.

“The Open Meetings Act protects the governing body from discussing or making decisions in secret,” Fisher said.

Fisher said three members of the school board who act as members of the school board but do not represent the full school board will be allowed under the Open Meetings Act.

“You have three people who are members of the school board who have expressed their views and wanted the district commission to take action,” Fisher said. “But it wasn’t school board.”

“From what I know, I don’t see a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Fisher said.

Christie said she attended the meeting without going to speak, but the Commission asked her to weigh it during the discussion.

“Hiring outside attorneys isn’t really a tool we have in the toolkit without the prior permission of the county commission,” Christie said.

The second complaint against Christie, Henderson and Horn said they went against the council’s will by asking the county commission to hire an outside lawyer.

In early February, four council members said they wanted to hire outside lawyers to sue for the masks. Board member Betsy Henderson said she does not trust the office of the Knox County District Principal to effectively fight the case on behalf of the school board.

However, board member Mike McMillan has made a proposal to ask the Office of the Director of Legal Affairs to continue to fight the order of masks in Knox County schools – essentially a vote of confidence, as he called it.

Five board members voted in favor of Macmillan’s instructions.

Parents who complained about ethics said they believed school board members did not comply with the wishes of the entire board by asking the district commission to hire an outside lawyer.

Henderson and Christy did not see the vote that way.

“I see it as a vote by the director of legal affairs who is just doing his job,” Henderson said.

Regardless of the maneuvers of the school board and the office of the director of legal affairs, only a federal judge or panel of judges may revoke a county mandate.

The CDC continues to recommend everyone in K-12 schools wear masks.

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