Teachers in Essex County protest decision to end all COVID mitigation measures, forcing schools to close early

ESSEX COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Dozens of Essex County teachers called out sick Friday, forcing schools to close early.

The ‘sickout’ was to protest school board’s decision to not only end their mask mandate following Governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order, but to end COVID mitigation measures in the school division altogether.

Valerie Taylor, a Tappahannock Elementary teacher and the Virginia Education Association President, said about 60 teachers used sick leave because they don’t feel safe 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 remain in place. 18 members either support the board’s decision or are undecided, according to Taylor.

She and other staff have been out since Tuesday, because they want better protection in their schools.

“I know there might be some community and some of my colleagues are saying shame on you all for calling out, but you know what? We’re not ashamed because we not only want to protect those with a mask, but those who are maskless,” she said.

The school board voted to follow the governor’s order to make masks optional this week. The board also suspended all other COVID mitigation strategies like social distancing, quarantining and contact tracing – defying recommendations from Youngkin’s administration.

Annastasia Fisher, a junior at Essex County High School, disagrees with their decision, “You’re putting other people’s life at risk. Not just teachers and the students, but also the people at home.”

Keimya, another Essex County High School student, said their voices are finally being heard, “Teachers feel like they were always quiet because they didn’t want to lose their jobs, but it’s like now they have to speak up because it’s life or death.”

However, students like Warner Beazley, a sophmore at Essex County High School, agrees with the school board’s decision to give families a choice.

“I choose not to wear a mask because I’m tires of this stuff,” he said. When asked about potential exposure to the virus, Beazley said, “I’ve looked at the numbers and the cases don’t concern me. I’ve had COVID before so I have a natural immunity to it.”

The schools’ superintendent did not respond to our multiple requests for an interview.

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