By Chrissy Clark
Educators in Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) are alleging a “hostile work environment” after some teachers were threatened with disciplinary action, including termination, for refusing to comply with the district’s mask mandates, according to correspondence obtained by the Daily Caller.
John Ray, a teaching assistant at Belmont Ridge Middle School in LCPS, told his school’s principal he would no longer wear a mask while teaching, following Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order rescinding school mask mandates. Administrators pushed back against Ray in a Jan. 25 email that threatened termination for noncompliance.
Belmont Ridge Principal Katie Johnson emailed Ray stating that “the expectation at this time is that school staff report to work and wear a mask.” Staff who fail to comply with the mask mandate will be charged “Leave Without Pay,” per Johnson’s email. Ray received a letter stating that he could be terminated or face disciplinary action if he does not provide “extenuating circumstances” for why he refuses to mask by Feb. 8.
“My ‘extenuating circumstances’ as you call them, is Executive Order Number 2 issued by Governor Glen [sic] Youngkin,” Ray said in an email. “I am following his order as I did Governor Northam’s when he was in office.”
Ray is among other LCPS teachers who feel they are subjected to a “hostile work environment” for refusing to comply with mask mandates or refusing to tattle on students who fail to comply with mask mandates. Teachers are encouraged to report students for noncompliance, according to one Loudoun County teacher who requested anonymity for fear of retribution.
The teacher said that students are “having a lot of trouble breathing,” and her own child — who attends Loudoun County schools — claims that teachers can’t hear students with their masks on. The teacher alleged that the district relies on educators to tattle on their students, who face 10-day suspensions and potential trespassing charges for attending school maskless. (RELATED: Maskless Students Suspended, Could Face Trespassing Charges)
The teacher also alleged that students are not suspended for a multitude of reasons including threats of violence and fighting, yet “unmasked kids [are] the biggest threat.”
Nearly every educator who spoke with the Daily Caller also alleged that their colleagues “bully” or tattle on them for failing to comply with mask mandates. One middle school teacher, who requested anonymity, told the Daily Caller that a colleague tattled for him for wearing his mask around his chin while teaching.
“Administrators aren’t coming to me telling me to pull up my mask,” the teacher said. “It’s always been someone else.”
The middle school teacher told the Daily Caller that the most difficult part of the mask mandate is seeing children corralled into “mask jail” for attending school maskless. Throughout Loudoun County, students who attend school maskless are placed in segregated maskless zones and are barred from attending class. The teacher called on school principals to start standing up for students and ending “failing” COVID mitigation strategies.
“It just broke my heart,” he said. “There is not a single principal that is standing up and saying enough. And, we [teachers] feel we have to speak up anonymously so we don’t get retaliated against.”
Another teacher, Karen Mineo, said she was bullied by her colleagues for speaking against the mandates on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News program. Mineo alleges that her co-teacher removed her items from the classroom and told her that she did not want to be friends, following the Fox News interview.
Mineo is one of the few teachers who received an approved mask exemption and will wear a clear visor mask in place of a cloth mask. Educators who have not procured medical or religious mask exemptions told the Daily Caller that they fear they could lose their job any day.
Jeremey Wright, a teacher at North Star School in LCPS, told the Daily Caller that he bypassed the mask mandate before Youngkin’s executive order. Wright was placed on administrative leave in December for failing to comply with the mask mandate, according to written correspondence.
Wright claims that the district took his badge, shut down access to his work accounts, and left him unable to communicate with students.
Wright said he feels that his colleagues and bosses punished his students for his noncompliance with mask mandates and failed to find an adequate substitute teacher, knowing that this would upset him as a quality teacher. This realization led him to return to wearing a mask.
“I used to feel like I could trust the system — my colleagues, my bosses — to do what’s best for my students when I’m gone. I don’t feel that way anymore,” Wright said. “A lot of my students when I came back, they said ‘what happened?’ ‘We didn’t know what to do.’ They used my students against me.”
Wright alleges that his assistant principal is constantly checking on him to confirm that he is wearing a mask. He fears he is one slip-up away from termination.
Loudoun County Public Schools did not respond to the Daily Caller’s request for comment.