No regrets for teacher fired over mask requirement

Courtesy photo Rather than teaching in her classroom at Henry A. Coffeen Elementary School this fall as planned, Amanda Smith now home schools her two children. Smith was terminated Sept. 20, after she refused to follow Sheridan County School District 2's mask requirement.

SHERIDAN — Amanda Smith probably won’t be returning to her classroom at Henry A. Coffeen Elementary School, not after Sheridan County School District 2 terminated her for refusing to comply with the district’s mask requirement.

Smith is one of three SCSD2 staff members terminated for not wearing a protective mask, as required by the district’s COVID-19 plan that was updated Aug. 30, just one day prior to the start of the current 2021-22 school year.

Smith, along with fellow teacher Mallory Painter, showed up for the first day of class Aug. 31 and was suspended. Then, at a luncheon meeting Sept. 20, their termination was approved by the SCSD2 Board of Trustees as part of a personnel report.

That followed the termination of a Sheridan Junior High School paraprofessional, Ashley Davis, at the board’s regular monthly meeting Sept. 13.

Despite the loss of her job, Smith said she doesn’t regret her decision to take a stance and oppose the mask requirement.

“I couldn’t ask the kids to do what I didn’t believe in,” she said. “I feel this is a lot bigger than just the masks. It’s a lot bigger for the kids.”

Smith’s decision definitely came at a cost; her annual salary is more than $60,000, considering her eight years of experience and her master’s degree. But the mother of two credits her husband, Joe Smith, for helping make the decision not to mask an easy one.

“It was an easy decision, but only because I had the support of my husband,” Smith said. “My husband has been amazing in his support.

“We both believe in our freedom of raising our kids. We felt strongly enough for our kids and for our freedoms, it's worth it,” she added. “I have my family. We’ll be just fine.”

And Smith isn’t sitting alone at home, while she considers what’s next. The Smiths withdrew their two children from the school district.

“Right now, I teach my own two kids (at home), rather than in a classroom,” Smith said.

That’s not to say she isn’t considering a return to teaching at a local school at some point in the future, as the family has no plans to leave the Sheridan area.

“I would … I’d love to go back to teaching, though I don’t know about the public school system,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of avenues, I think. I just have to see what doors open. The only thing holding me back is figuring out what’s best for my kids.”

In fact, Smith added, despite being initially suspended, she thought she’d still be teaching for SCSD2.

“I had my bag ready, my lesson plans and was ready to teach,” she said. “I feel I did a great job. I worked hard. I enjoyed my kids immensely.”

Still, she stands by her choice to not wear a mask, adding her only regret might be that she waited to make her opposition known. Smith said he had considered making a similar stance during the first half of the 2020-21 school year, when SCSD2 had a similar mask requirement in place.

“I think that’s what made the decision this year so easy,” she said.

SCSD2 isn’t the only local school district to face the loss of staff members over a mask requirement, as part of its efforts to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Sheridan County School District 1 Superintendent Pete Kilbride confirmed that one staff member, a paraprofessional at Tongue River Elementary School, resigned over the issue of having to mask. The SCSD1 board approved the resignation at its Sept. 21 meeting.

Neither Kilbride nor SCSD2 Superintendent Scott Stults would comment further, stating they could not discuss specific personnel matters.