FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — An instructional assistant at Carroll High School is speaking out after she says she was fired for choosing not to wear a mask but still complying with the rules: she was outside six feet of other people throughout the school day.
“Out of his mouth did not come ‘you’re fired,'” instructional assistant Claire South said. “I want to make that clear because that is the honest truth. He did not say ‘you’re fired.’ But in two different instances, in two different settings, I reiterated that I was not resigning and this was a fire and he said ‘okay.'”
Claire South says she has worked with the school system for 11 months as a study hall supervisor. South said she loved the relaxing setting, getting to know the students in her class, and enjoyed working for the school system.
But the way she says she was treated regarding her option on mask-wearing made her question if she really wanted to work for the Northwest Allen County School Corporation. South also said this is not about the mask mandate.
“This is about the termination,” South said. “It was wrong. It was done in a very tactless way with zero concern for employees. Beyond any issue in this school no matter what it may be, if you can’t be treated like an individual that matters and has value, you don’t belong there.”
Monday night the NACS school board voted to reimplement the mask mandate. This led to an eruption from the crowd with some parents, students, and staff members upset and frustrated.
While the temporary order is in place, anyone on NACS property or at NACS activities are required to wear masks unless:
- They are six feet or more apart from all persons
- They are outside
- They are engaging in high-exertion activities such as physical activities implemented during physical education classes, sports or marching band
- They are eating or drinking
- They are covered by all other exception required by federal or state law
Tuesday, South says she and other staff members received a letter from Superintendent Chris Himsel which included those mask exceptions (above). South says she took a tape measure to her classroom and found that she was at least 6 feet 8 inches apart. In other parts of her classroom is was up to eight feet away.
“I covered all of my bases and I was more than covered,” South said. “I knew I could take a stand and say I don’t need to wear one. I’m not required to.”
The corporation’s mask mandate went into effect Wednesday, Sept. 1. South says she showed up at Carroll High School Wednesday and was half an hour into her day when there was a knock on her door and two assistant principals entered with a box of masks. One of the assistant principals went in to cover South’s class the other pulled her into the hallway and ask her to put on a mask.
“I said ‘I will not’ very respectfully and he continued to say ‘you have to, you need to’ and I said ‘actually I don’t because of the guidelines that were sent out by Dr. Himsel on Tuesday,'” South said.
South then asked to talk to Carroll High School, principal Brandon Bitting. She was taken to a conference room where she sat for 20 minutes until the assistant principal came back to say the principal was too busy to talk to her. South said she was prepared to wait all day to speak with the principal.
That’s when she says the assistant principal told her to ‘put on a mask or resign.’
“I said I am not putting on a mask, this is a fire,” South said. “I did not resign this is a fire, (I was) pushed out of my position. So I left.”
Hear South’s account of the day in her own words below.
After she left the school South took to Facebook Live to share her experience. At the time this web article was posted her video received more than 6,000 views and had been shared nearly 300 times. She says the majority of the feedback she has received has been positive.
But was she really fired?
WANE 15 reached out to Northwest Allen County School Corporation. An official for the school confirmed that South did work at Carroll High School and was an instructional assistant. However, they could not go into the reason for South’s departure or the events South described to WANE 15.
Other Carroll High School teachers and instructional assistants reached out to WANE 15 supporting the school district. They wanted to remain anonymous but told WANE 15 that the principal told staff members both last year and this year that staff members were to wear a mask around their students in the classroom whether they were 6 feet apart or not because teachers and staff were to set a good example for students.
For South, she says she was setting an example and being a role model. She also says that the principal should have told them if there was a change to the email the superintendent sent on Tuesday.
“I was a role model in standing up for my freedom and my rights and somebody trying to bully me when it wasn’t really the rule,” South said.
South says she’s not sure what she will do next. She says she will ‘see what’s down the road.’ But when asked if she’d ever work for the school system again she firmly said no.
NACS officials say the mask mandate is temporary and expires on Oct. 14 at 11:59 p.m.