‘I feel like it’s punishment’: NC teacher sent home for refusing to wear mask

SMITHFIELD, N.C. — A North Carolina high school teacher has been sent home for refusing to wear a mask as required by her school district.

Aurora Preston, who teaches at South Johnston High School, said she had worn a face mask in the previous school year, but now doesn’t think they’re effective in slowing transmission of COVID-19, WRAL reported.

Preston argues that it should be her constitutional right to decide whether to wear a face mask.

“I feel like they’re overstepping their bounds in trying to dictate things that really have nothing to do with education,” Preston said Tuesday.

According to WRAL, Preston showed up maskless last week for a teacher workday to prepare for the new school year. She was told by her principal to stay alone in her classroom for several hours before being sent home.

“Nobody had any answers. Nobody knows what to do with me,” she said. “I have the right to choose whether or not I comply. ... I’m not breaking the law. I’m not telling others to break the law. I just want to adhere to my God-given rights.”

Her husband, Joe, said the Johnston County Public Schools system told his wife that she is on leave without pay. After nine weeks, her job status will be reviewed, he said.

The Johnston County school board voted on July 29 to make face masks optional. But the board voted Aug. 10 to require masks -- joining more than three-dozen North Carolina school districts that reversed their decision to make masks optional.

Superintendent Eric Bracy said in a statement that he couldn’t discuss a personnel matter, but he added that anyone who needed an accommodation for the mask requirement could have a doctor fill out a form for district officials to consider.

Preston said she doesn’t need to fill out the form because masks don’t present a medical issue for her.

“I’m choosing not to wear a mask for my own beliefs. You’re choosing to wear a masks for your own beliefs. We still live in a country where those rights are given,” she said.

District administrators have offered to let her take nine weeks of unpaid leave and re-evaluate her status then.

“I feel like it’s punishment. It’s punishment for not complying,” she said. “You have to stand up for what you believe in.”

Joe Preston said he hopes his wife and the district can reach an amicable solution.

“Obviously, I would like her to keep her position,” he said. “It’s not just the paycheck and the benefits we get from it. She enjoys her children, her students.”

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