Brittney George is one of many Iowans impacted by mandatory masking decisions by Iowa school districts. George was an aide at Monroe Elementary in the Prairie City-Monroe District. Her daughter attended kindergarten in the district.
At the beginning of the year, masks were recommended by PCM. But in October the district changed its policy due to a new mandate by Gov. Kim Reynolds. The rule went into effect on Monday, Oct. 5.
George, who said she does not vaccinate her child and uses a religious exemption for that, turned in a religious exemption regarding the mask mandate.
The exemption was to be applied to both Brittney and her daughter. It was sent to the district on Oct. 3 and signed by pastor Steve Rowland.
“This is to confirm the religious exemption for the George household, releasing them from the mandate to wear a mask,” the letter states. “The use of masks has become a culturally polarizing topic in our world today. We teach in our church (faith or religion), that when you place yourself in submission to Christ, the Holy Spirit leads us in truth and in application of that truth, through the Scriptures.
“Genesis 1:27, Ephesians 4:24, Romans 14:1-4 are some scriptural references used for this dialogue. According to scripture, everyone will ultimately be accountable for the life they lived and the choices they made.
“We also teach that everyone will be called to give an account for how they live and specifically how they followed the Spirit’s leading. Due to this teaching, we can stand confidently with every member of our church family in either decision they personally make on wearing or not wearing a mask. After evaluating Brittney’s religious conviction, we are proud to endorse her decision to not wear a mask for religious convictions. If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact me using the information on this letterhead.”
The district refused her religious exemption.
“We note that the letter you provided does not support your claim that your refusal to wear a mask is due to a sincerely held religious belief,” the letter, signed by PCM superintendent Michelle Havenstrite, said. “As your pastor indicates that members of your church are free to individual choose (sic) whether to wear or not wear a mask. Instead, your request to be exempt from the District’s mask requirement appears to be based on a personal or political belief, not a religious one.
“The district will not make an exception to its mask requirement under these circumstances, as the community health and safety interests clearly outweigh matters of personal preference. The ‘religious exemption’ card that you sent does not have any legal merit. You are expected to report to work and comply with the district’s mask rule. Failure to do so may result in employment action up to and including termination of your employment with the district.”
George said she was placed on paid personal leave and fired two weeks later for not coming into work and wearing a mask.
She took her daughter out of school on Oct. 5 when she was told she needed to put a mask on or leave the building.
“I wasn’t going to send her to school wearing a mask,” George said.
George received a letter on Oct. 13 letting her know she would be recommended for termination at the Oct. 19 board meeting.
“The decision to terminate your employment is based on your refusal to comply with the district’s generally applicable requirement that all employees wear masks at work on school grounds to mitigate the risk of transmitting COVID-19 between students, employees and their families.”
George, who said she has a friend who also tried to turn in a religious exemption but was also denied, was offered the opportunity to resign rather than be terminated.
She started the job two weeks before Spring break during the previous school year. In addition to what she said is a religious exemption, George also has “really bad” anxiety. But she went the religious exemption route because she turns in a religious exemption for vaccinations every year and it is accepted.
“I just don’t feel like a public school system or any public place can tell me what I can and can’t do with wearing a mask or not wearing a mask,” she said. “I don’t feel like they have that right to control my health. If I’m healthy, being at school should be totally fine.”
In remarks she emailed to the board prior to the meeting, George said she “prayed for days” about whether she would take legal action for religious discrimination or even speak at the meeting at all. She was only afforded three minutes to speak and masks were required at the board meeting, so she instead opted to send an email.
In her email, she cited various Bible verses about not covering a face because it is made in the image and glory of God.
“Me putting on a mask represents a lie, that I believe that it is a safe, effective and healthy choice in which I do not believe that to be true,” she wrote. “Proverbs 21:3 says ‘To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord, than sacrifice.’ Proverbs 12:22 says ‘The Lord detests lying lips.’ I cannot go against Scripture and teachings.
“I should not have to even write this email and fight for my job and quite frankly pick apart my religion and beliefs for you. The law does not require me to provide such a lengthy justification to the school for an exemption. I could have just simply stated it is for religious reasons. You have no right to judge whether or not my exemption is sufficient to your standards.”
George said she would continue to stand for her religious beliefs.
“If I don’t stand for my faith, I won’t stand at all,” she said. “I pray after you read this you will consider NOT terminating me and letting my daughter and I return to school with our religious exemption. I love this district and love my job more than I can even explain. I miss the staff at Monroe Elementary, my student and the other students I was able to work with and help throughout the day. My termination will not only impact me but it will also impact my daughter, my student I was working 1-on-1 with and quite possibly a few other students in the classroom that I helped often.”
George was officially terminated on Oct. 20.
At a later school board meeting, board member Dr. Greg Ingle said the following regarding masks:
“A lot of times during this, we get double messages. But the masks, they’re supposed to prevent this, and one on hand — this is more a feeling than a fact — I feel like we say the masks prevent it, but it doesn’t. On one hand, we pretend it prevents the spread, on the other hand, we have spread and we’re using masks, so how’s that work together? How does that work together? So, I’m a little concerned about that.”
George said she was told by the superintendent and principal they’d like to rehire her for the fall in a meeting, but when she applied, she was told the district would not rehire anyone who has been terminated.
“So now I’m no longer getting my job back,” she said.