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Teachers from states banning mask mandates are speaking out. Here’s what they want you to know

Some fear students who aren’t eligible for vaccines may die. Others worry about having to enforce social distancing. Or they worry about bringing the virus home to family.

State officials in some states, including Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona and Iowa, have passed laws or used their authority to prevent statewide mask mandates and make mask usage optional.
CNN spoke with teachers from states banning mask mandates to get their perspective. They requested CNN withhold their last names out of fear of retribution.

Here are some of their stories, as told in their own words. Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Pam • Oklahoma

I teach in Oklahoma where it is now illegal for schools to mandate masks or vaccination. This is my 25th year teaching. My biggest concern this year is that there is a real possibility one of my fifth graders could die from Covid-19 and I can’t do anything to protect them because it is against the law.

I just can’t imagine having students that are there one day and not the next. Or even if they don’t die, what if they’re hospitalized and have to go through that traumatic experience? If I have someone walk into my room with a weapon, I would do everything I could to protect my kids. And so this just seems so backwards that I can’t protect them from something that I can’t see.

Julie • Houston

There are over 3,000 students at my high school. There will not be three feet between anybody at any given time. How fast do you think the Delta variant will travel within that population? I have no power. There are no teacher unions in Texas. Walking back into my school building is going to feel like I’m a lamb walking into a slaughterhouse.

I don’t see how the governor has the power to tell the school districts what to do, it’s ridiculous. It’s a public health issue. The least we could do is to wear masks. Those work. The kids all wore them last year and they didn’t have any problem. Not one kid. And I have older students, they’re seniors. When the kids have more sense than the district, you have wonder what the school district’s doing. And I hate to say this, but for Texas, it’s going to take children dying for the governor to take that no mask mandate away.

Victoria • Palm Beach County, Florida

I worry since I live in one of the largest counties in Florida and masks are not allowed to be enforced in schools that there will be a lot of Covid cases in our area. My school district has become very creative with their mandate. They’re doing a loophole where masks are now required for students unless a parent has written an opt out letter.

This is my second year teaching. I spent my entire student teaching experience in this pandemic, and I want to be able to have normalcy in my job since I’ve never had it. The only way to get to that point is by being safe right now, but it seems our governor is too concerned with politics than with the lives of young children. I’m so excited to get back into the classroom, but I am also so scared for myself and for all my students. I keep thinking of this one thing that Gov. DeSantis said, “We need our kids to breathe.” I immediately thought, “How can they breathe if they’re dead?” I know that’s so morbid and so dark, but that’s the reality.

Jennifer • Avondale, Arizona

My children are excited to be around friends again and to get back into activities they enjoy. It is unbelievably frustrating that certain states, like Arizona, have banned school districts from requiring masks to protect our children who are too young to receive the vaccine. It is not using common sense because our governor is pushing vaccines. We are beginning the school year as if there’s no pandemic happening and common sense should tell our governor that it’s a matter of time before we’re right back where we were, if not worse.

I’m a mom in the district and I’m a teacher in the district. My older daughter’s school has already had positive Covid cases. However, that school was on it fast, they made the kids stay home and it hasn’t spread to other students. And I’m teaching with someone that has a cough and a fever. She should have been sent home. These kinds of things are happening now within the same district. I would be livid if I found out my child’s teacher had a fever and a cough and was teaching.

Diane • Jacksonville, Florida

I worry that while I am vaccinated and not required to wear my mask, my students are not vaccinated and are unmasked too. It has to be all or nothing. We can’t pick and choose who wears masks and who doesn’t. It’s frustrating. I would rather teach remotely until everyone is on the same page.

We did well last year because we had so many protocols in place with cleaning, wearing masks, socially distancing, quarantining and contact tracing. And all of that seems to have just gone away. We may not all agree politically, that’s fine, but we all have a common enemy and that enemy is Covid. Why are we not unified on that?

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