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A Johnston County high school teacher has been sent home for refusing to follow the school district’s requirement to wear a face mask in school.
Aurora Preston, an English teacher at South Johnston High School in Four Oaks, argues that it should be her constitutional right whether she wears a face mask. She faces up to nine weeks of unpaid leave and could lose her job as a result of her decision to not mask up on campus.
“It is not the job of government agencies to dictate when and where it is appropriate to utilize the rights afforded to me by being a citizen of the US,” Preston said in a statement Wednesday. “It is their job to uphold the Constitution affording these rights to all of the citizens all of the time.
“If someone disagrees with that stance, it would that persons right and it’s wonderful to have that choice to do so.”
The school district said in a statement Wednesday that it will not comment on confidential personnel matters. The statement says that the decision to require that masks be worn indoors by students and school employees was based on guidance from health officials.
The district said employees can request an accommodation to the face mask requirement. But Joe Preston, Aurora’s husband, said she wouldn’t qualify for the medical accommodation. Even if it was approved, she’d have to wear a face shield as opposed to a face mask.
Health officials recommend face masks
The Johnston County school board originally had voted 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.
As of Wednesday, 90 of the state’s 115 school districts are requiring face coverings.
Preston had worn a face mask last school year but now she says she doesn’t think they work at slowing the transmission of COVID-19. Her Facebook page has statements such as “I trust my immune system. My body, my choice. Freedom to choose.”
Groups such as the state Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says masks are effective and recommend requiring they be worn in schools.
Preston showed up maskless last week for a teacher workday at South Johnston to prepare for the new school year. She was told to stay alone in her classroom for several hours before being sent home.
Nine weeks without pay
Preston’s exact job status is uncertain. Joe Preston says the district told his wife that she’s on leave without pay and that after nine weeks her job status will be reviewed.
A school district spokeswoman said Preston is still an active employee but would not say whether she’s on unpaid leave.
Preston isn’t resigning. Nor is she planning on putting on a mask. At the urging of friends, Joe Preston said they’ve set up a GoFundme page to raise the $6,000 the family says it could lose while she’s on unpaid leave for two months.
“It’s not about the masks,” Joe Preston said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s about government control versus individual liberty. That’s how we personally feel about it.
“We feel that a mandated vaccine is on its way, which she’s obviously not going to comply with.”