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Knox County, STEM School Hit with Lawsuit Over Gum Chewing, Food Consumption Classroom Policies

— February 25, 2022

Knox County is at the center of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a student sensitive to sounds of people chewing food.

A student attending L&N Stem Academy is suing Knox County over allegations that the school failed to make “reasonable accommodations for a disorder, which she says is causing her to miss around half of her educational time and creating physical and emotional exhaustion.” The student is in ninth grade and is identified as ‘Jane Doe’ due to her age.

Equality graphic
Equality graphic; image courtesy of Wokandapix via Pixabay,

According to the federal suit, the student has misophonia. Misophonia is a disorder that can trigger “extreme reactions to sounds like chewing gum or eating food in her case.” The suit notes that the “pathways in her brain causes Jane Doe extreme distress upon hearing these sounds, to the point that she cannot tolerate them and must escape.” Additionally, the suit claims “the condition is made worse by a migraine headache disorder and hyperacusis, an unusual tolerance to ordinary environmental sounds.”

When commenting on the particular condition, Dr. Michael Green, an internal medicine and pediatric physician said, “It’s not like a rash or something like that, where somebody has an easy ability to understand.” He added, “due to the complexity of it, he understands how it can be difficult for people to understand, especially if they haven’t experienced it.” He also said:

“That sensory input changes how we feel. And, that’s where it becomes more than just a quirky thing. But actually, maybe a disability or at least a diagnosis where you can’t function when you hear a certain sound.”

So what happened, exactly? Well, according to the suit, teachers at the school are allowed to set rules regarding the consumption of food or chewing gum in their classrooms. It noted that the “school’s administration will not recognize the need for all classes to modify their stances of eating food and chewing gum as an accommodation.”

In an effort to deal with her condition, Jane Doe reportedly missed out on classroom time and instead spent time in empty rooms to escape the sound of students eating or chewing gum. According to the suit, she has missed out on more than 50% of her educational time so far. She’s also had to miss out on an elective called ‘Genius Hour.’ That elective “allows food for the entire 80-minute class as it overlaps with lunchtime.”

Prior to attending L&M, Jane Doe attended the Episcopal School of Knoxville. There, students were prohibited from chewing gum and eating food in class. However, that school doesn’t offer classes beyond eighth grade, which is why she moved to L&M for high school.

In an effort to raise awareness about their daughter’s condition, Jane Doe’s parents have “requested bans on eating food and chewing gum in her Knox County classrooms.” They said, “they have never seen an official policy stating a right to eat and chew gum in classes.” They even submitted a written request on December 8, 2021, and on January 3, 2022, the district responded by saying “it found no evidence her rights were being violated.”

According to the suit, school officials also told Jane Doe and her family that she should “forego certain academic classes and take additional ‘study halls,’ and on January 14, the assistant principal told her parents, “In terms of Genius hours, based on our school policy and school rules we do not prohibit the eating or drinking of food in class.”

The suit is demanding that the school make reasonable accommodations for Jane Doe’s condition. 


9th-grader files federal lawsuit against Knox County over gum-chewing, food consumption in class

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

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