LARGO, Fla. — A Pinellas County school teacher threatened to leave her job Tuesday, depending on how district leaders choose to handle masks in the classroom.
Annette Wylie, a special education teacher at Pinellas Central Elementary, told the school board during its meeting Tuesday that she knows the impact COVID-19 has had on the community.
She's said she's buried family and a coworker and, right now, she knows of fellow teachers and students battling COVID-19.
"It’s been heartbreaking. I’ve cried," Wylie said in an exclusive interview with 10 Tampa Bay. "I was crying coming to school every day and on the weekends because I’m seeing kids get sick, staff members, colleagues of mine. I lost a colleague of mine last year to COVID and it’s painful to bury someone you care about."
Wylie said after 35 years of teaching, her decision to resign was a tough one.
"If we can’t do it safe, I cannot mentally, emotionally, handle watching one of my kids or any kids get sick or die," Wylie stated.
Sept. 6 will be her last official day as a teacher for Pinellas County Public Schools.
“As painful as this is to retire, I’m going to retire and become an advocate for these children," Wylie explained.
Wylie spoke during the public comment period of Tuesday's school board meeting. The topic of face masks wasn't on the agenda, but it had been expected to come up anyway.
"I came here to resign today because I will not participate in the endangerment of children," Wylie told the board, pleading that members vote to hold an emergency meeting to consider a 90-day mask mandate.
"...So I pray that you allow me to continue teaching because I’m a darn good teacher. My parents burning my phone up – vote to have the meeting. Our students – you might not see if they’re not handicapped that they have an underlying condition, but they do."
At a special meeting on Aug. 9, Pinellas Superintendent Dr. Michael Grego recommended the district keep the wording in their policy as is, "Pinellas County Schools strongly recommends the use of face coverings," rather than requiring masks with an opt-out, which could violate the governor's emergency order banning mask mandates in Florida schools.
On Friday, the Sarasota County School Board voted 3-2 to temporarily enforce a mask mandate across the district, and on Wednesday, Hillsborough County Public Schools, the seventh-largest school district in the country, passed a mask mandate with a medical exemption.
It's unclear if districts defying the emergency order will see financial penalties. Gov. DeSantis previously said school districts that violate the ban could lose school funding. His office later clarified it would be the equivalent of the superintendent's salary.
The Biden Administration responded to the governor's decision with a letter stating it would support school boards in Florida that are defying DeSantis' order to prohibit mask-wearing mandates.