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My First and Last Day

Today was the first day of school for teachers… and quite possibly the last day of school for this teacher.

I have been a teacher for over 12 years, and it has been the joy of my life to make a difference every single day with young people of all ages, races, and backgrounds.

I have taught Spanish, ESOL, and currently I am working as a special education teacher in one of the largest counties in the United States.

Today, I made the decision to go to work with a smile on my face instead of a mask.

To my surprise, I was greeted with hugs by several co-workers which helped to melt away some of the initial fear and anxiety that I had upon entering.

I decided to skip the breakfast where everyone was eating… indoors… without a mask, and instead decided to use that time to pray.

We started our day with a meeting in the auditorium where a fellow teacher shared that this year we would be working on “creating brave spaces” – not just “safe spaces.”

What is a “safe space” or a “brave space,” you ask?

They defined a “safe space” as “a place intended to be free from bias, conflict, criticism or potentially threatening actions, ideas or conversations.”

A “brave space” means “accepting that we will feel uncomfortable when exploring issues of bias, injustice and oppression. A brave space is one in which we take risks, doing so with care, compassion and accountability.”

I found it ironic that the very thing that we are expected to do for our students is the exact opposite of what we are expected to do for ourselves.

After the presentation, I proceeded to work on some of my annual compliance training in which I needed to pass a quiz about gender and LGBTQA+ students.

We were asked the question: “If other students feel uncomfortable with a transgender student using a sex-specific bathroom consistent with the student’s gender identity, should the school make arrangements for the transgender student to use a private bathroom?”

The answer to that question is: “No. The discomfort of other students is not a reason to deny access to the transgender student.”

After working on compliance training online, I proceeded to attend an in-person training about the “PB Way” – compassion, kindness, building relationships, etc.

And it was in the middle of this live training – 3.5 hours after I arrived at school – that my principal sent me a text message.

She respectfully said that she did not want to call me out in front of the group, but that I needed to wear a mask.

I informed her that I have a medical and a religious exemption. She requested that I speak with her outside, which I did. She proceeded to tell me that I needed to wear a mask because “I was making other people feel uncomfortable.”

I politely said, “No, thank you.”

She indicated that I needed to “obtain permission” for a medical or religious exemption, but that she would get more information and let me know.

About 15 minutes later, the assistant principal came to me with a box of masks in his hands. He said that I had two choices:

1. Wear a mask, or

2. Go home with indefinite leave without pay

I informed him that I am still awaiting a response from Dr. McKnight (superintendent) and Ms. Wolff (president of the Board of Education) since I have sent them a letter of conditional acceptance several days ago.

He emphasized that we all need to “obey the rules” and “follow the guidelines” – even if they are illogical, illegal, and immoral.

However, to go against one’s conscience is neither right nor safe.

I asked to confirm that my public school system would require me to violate my doctor’s counsel per my medical exemption (which they had on file from last year) and to violate my own religious beliefs and conscience (which is a violation of my own religious freedom).

Apparently, they would.

They only want a “brave space” when it comes to gender – but not God.

They only want a “brave space” for people of color – not people of faith.

It doesn’t matter if students are uncomfortable about a transgender student using their bathroom. But if students or staff are uncomfortable that I am smiling at them, then I must be fired.

As I walked out of the building that I so dearly love – the school I graduated from and the school that I have the privilege of serving in for years – I looked up at the American flag flying overhead.

We are STILL in the land of the FREE and the home of the BRAVE.

And let me tell you, it takes courage to be both – BRAVE and FREE!

And I pray that more of you would choose CONSCIENCE over CONVENIENCE.

Choose CHARACTER over COMFORT.

Choose FAITH over FEAR.

I may not know what tomorrow holds for me or my children, but I know the One who holds tomorrow!

He is our Hope and ever-present Help in times of trouble.

Thank you so much to those of you who have fasted and prayed for me today. I truly felt your love, your support, and your faith on my behalf.

Soli Deo Gloria.

PS – A few of you asked if you could buy me a drink to celebrate. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I don’t drink, but if you want to buy me a cup of coffee, I would love one!

CashApp $ajharders or Venmo @Angela-Harders

Thank you so much for all the prayers and support!!!

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