At first glance, a federal chewing gum lawsuit in the classroom may seem trivial.
Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, who received the suit last week, appeared to treat it as such. In a tweet about the Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit, which he hashtag #GumGate, Jacobs wrote, “When I was a kid, chewing gum in class could land you in detention. If these people get what they want, it could land you in federal custody search.”
Despite Jacobs’ rhetoric suggesting a widespread assault on individual liberties, the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court seeks reasonable accommodation for a student’s disability, in their classrooms only. This accommodation, a ban on eating and chewing gum in the classroom, is a request for enforcement of a rule in the school manual, which states: “No food or drink (outside exception of water) is permitted in classrooms or other teaching areas. except special permission. »
A Knox County spokesperson referred requests for comment to Chief Legal Officer David Buuck, who was unavailable by phone Friday afternoon. Calls to the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, Jessica Salonus and Justin Gilbert, were not returned Friday afternoon.
At the heart of the lawsuit is a ninth grade student from L&N Stem Academy. Jane Doe, the lawsuit states, suffers from a rare disorder called misophonia, characterized by an extreme reaction to hearing certain sounds such as chewing gum and eating food.
“When I hear these sounds I have a physical reaction,” the 14-year-old wrote in a statement accompanying the complaint. “If I don’t escape, I get very agitated (like a panic attack) and can’t think or concentrate.”
At her previous school, Doe wrote, a ban was enforced and she rarely had to leave the classroom, noting that she was a member of the National Honor Society with straight Aces. At L&N, however, a ban is selectively enforced, the lawsuit says. Doe estimated that she frequently had to quit her history class, missing 75% of her class time.
“As it is, I find an ’empty room’ where I go out alone more than 50% of the time to escape,” she wrote. “At the end of the day, constantly trying to escape the sounds, I’m physically and emotionally drained to the point that I can’t do what a normal kid my age would do. I’m just too tired.”
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The student tried to silence the headphones without success, according to the lawsuit. Her parents made a number of accommodation requests, but the school district found no evidence that her rights were violated.
The student and her parents also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, asking for “reasonable accommodation” of her disability. The motion calls for a forced restriction on chewing gum and food consumption in and for her college classrooms, emphasizing that it is not a request for a school-wide ban .
U.S. District Judge Katherine Crytzer has scheduled a hearing for the motion on March 3.