5 teachers fired after mask refusal sue school district
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Five Oklahoma City teachers who were fired after refusing to wear masks have added wrongful termination to their pending lawsuit against the school district.
The Oklahoma City Public Schools district board voted unanimously Wednesday to terminate their employment, according to The Oklahoman. Superintendent Sean McDaniel recommended termination after the teachers “plain outright refused to wear a mask,” said Jessica Sherrill, general counsel for Oklahoma City schools.
Jesse Paxton, James Taylor, Grace Trick, Nelson Trick II and Jason Widener were initially sent home on paid suspension on Aug. 16 when they showed up to work without wearing masks the same day the school district began to require masks for both students and staff.
All five were tenured educators in the district. They sued Oklahoma City schools on Sept. 2.
The teachers said they chose not to comply with the district policy because they viewed it as a violation of the new state law that prohibited school boards from implementing mask mandates without an emergency order from the governor.
McDaniel said he does not believe the requirement violates the state law banning school mask mandates because he, not the school board, issued the directive.
While the district offers exemptions to staff for medical reasons only, all five of the teachers requested to opt out because of their personal opposition to the requirement.
A sixth teacher, A.B. “Branch” Hague, was also fired for refusing to wear a mask. Hague however, was in his first year of teaching and had not yet achieved tenure, meaning the standard of cause to fire him was lower.
Republican state Rep. Rhonda Baker, chair of the House Common Education Committee, said it was unwise for the district to fire multiple teachers who otherwise had high marks.
“The decision by the OKCPS Board of Education to terminate these teachers, without allowing for personal or religious exemptions, seems to be less about doing what is right for our kids and more about sending a message to other teachers who might feel the same way,” Baker said in a statement.