Family files lawsuit against Tennessee school district asking to ban chewing gum, eating in class

A Jane Doe and her parents have filed a new lawsuit against Knox County Schools asking them to ban chewing gum and eating in classrooms.
Published: Feb. 26, 2022 at 2:30 PM CST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT/Gray News) - A Jane Doe and her parents have filed a new lawsuit against a Tennessee school district asking them to ban chewing gum and eating in classrooms.

The case was filed because Doe said she has the medical condition misophonia, described as “an extreme reaction to hearing normal sounds,” in response to chewing, according to court documents obtained by WVLT News.

The representatives for Doe, the same firm involved in the ongoing mask suit against KCS, alleges that the Americans with Disabilities Act gives Doe the right to request the change in the policy of Knox County Schools.

“Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes, and so do reasonable accommodations,” the documents said. “Knox County Board of Education’s written policy states that students with disabilities are entitled to equal opportunities and it cites the ADA.”

The documents alleged that Doe suffers “extreme distress” when she hears the sounds of chewing, and “must escape.”

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs responded to the suit on Twitter, referring to it as “GumGate.”

“I was made aware today that the same lawyers responsible for the federal order mandating universal masking in Knox County Schools have filed a new grievance in federal court. The issue? Kids chewing gum in high school classes,” he said.

In his tweets, Jacobs said that he feared several other similar lawsuits are imminent.

A Harvard health blog cited in the documents said misphonia causes a fight-or-flight response to sounds others would not even notice, like that of chewing or yawning. The legal team representing Doe said this condition, when activated, affects Doe’s ability to concentrate and learn. Doe is missing out on an estimated half of her allotted class time due to the condition, the documents said.

“By the end of the day, by constantly trying to escape the sounds, I am physically and emotionally exhausted to the point that I cannot do things a normal kid my age would do,” Doe said in the documents. “I am just too tired.”

Doe went on to address the fact that her condition is unusual, but said that her previous school, Episcopal School of Knoxville, was able to accommodate her with no issue.

According to the documents, Doe’s family has made several requests to L&M STEM Academy, the school Doe attends, asking for them to ban eating and chewing gum in class, something commonplace in educational settings. The school’s current policy gives the right to enforce food rules in classrooms to the teachers themselves. Instead, the documents said, the school told Doe to forego some of her classes in favor of taking more study halls.

WVLT News reached out to Knox County Schools officials, but they were unable to comment.

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