Essex County teachers protest decision to end all COVID mitigation measures, forcing schools to close early
ESSEX COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) – Dozens of Essex County teachers called in sick Friday, forcing schools to close early.
The “sickout” was to protest the school board’s decision to not only end its mask mandate following Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order, but to end COVID mitigation measures in the school division altogether.
Valerie Taylor, a Tappahannock elementary teacher and president of the Virginia Education Association, said about 60 teachers took sick leave because they felt unsafe in the classroom.
“I don’t feel like they’re healthy because I had to go around and clean seven bathrooms on my own,” she said.
Taylor said 30 of the Essex Education Association’s 52 members want universal masking and other COVID protocols to stay in place. 18 members support the board’s decision or are undecided, according to Taylor.
She and other staff have been absent since Tuesday as they want better protection at their schools.
“I know there could be a community and some of my colleagues are saying shame on you all for calling, but you know what? We are not ashamed because we not only want to protect those who wear a mask, but also those who do not have a mask,” she said.
The school board voted to follow the governor’s order to make masks optional this week. The council also suspended all other COVID mitigation strategies like social distancing, quarantine and contact tracing – defying recommendations from the Youngkin administration.
Annastasia Fisher, a student at Essex County High School, disagrees with their decision: “You are putting other people’s lives in danger. Not just teachers and students, but also people at home.
Keimya, another Essex County High School student, said their voices were finally being heard: “Teachers feel like they were always quiet because they didn’t want to lose their jobs, but that’s like now they have to talk because it’s life or death.”
However, students like Warner Beazley, a sophomore at Essex County High School, agree with the school board’s decision to give families a choice.
“I choose not to wear a mask because I’m sick of this stuff,” he said. Asked about potential exposure to the virus, Beazley said: ‘I’ve looked at the numbers and the cases don’t relate to me. I’ve had COVID before, so I have natural immunity to it.
The Superintendent of Schools did not respond to our multiple interview requests.