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Learning Curve: Teacher Resigns Rather Than Expose Her Family To COVID-19


A lot of parents have impossible choices to make as this school year gets started - between keeping jobs and keeping kids in school, between keeping an income and staying safe. For our series Learning Curve, we are introducing you to parents and teachers and, today, someone who is both.

CASSIE PIGGOTT: My name is Cassie Piggott. I am currently a former teacher here in middle Tennessee. I am married with a son, Jack, who I'm currently teaching at our kitchen table.

KING: Cassie taught English to juniors in Rutherford County schools. The district says 22 of its teachers have resigned because of COVID-19 in some way. Cassie Piggott is one of them. After more than a decade of teaching, she left to protect her family. Her son Jack is 9 and is particularly vulnerable to the pandemic. When the district said teachers had to come back to the classroom, Cassie made her choice.

PIGGOTT: It was hard and it wasn't at the same time, if that makes sense. When COVID-19 became an issue and we shut down schools in March, we went ahead and I taught advanced placement language and composition on my back porch through Zoom and didn't really think much about it. I thought, surely we'll be able to go back in person safely, or our school board will make a good decision and we'll all be virtual. As the summer kind of waned, things obviously weren't going to be safe in my mind.

KING: Tell me about the concerns that you have just personally in your family.

PIGGOTT: Well, Jack has a very rare immune disorder. He had a bone marrow transplant five years ago. We've spent a majority of his life trying to keep him healthy. And when we went up to Cincinnati earlier this summer to check in with his immunologist, he basically said there's no safe way to go back and...

KING: To school for him.

PIGGOTT: To school for him. And I worked a long time to get him to where he can be in school, and he can live a normal life and go to karate class and all that. So I'm not willing to put him in that sort of situation, where we have a lot of maybes.

KING: So you were not given an option to teach remotely, is that right?

PIGGOTT: No. And in my mind, a large enough chunk of our students actually went virtual that it would have made a lot of sense to have completely virtual teachers who were willing to do that sort of work with all the virtual students. I'm still connected with my English department at the school that I taught with, and what they are doing is really difficult because they're teaching in person and online and they're having to maintain those relationships. And my son's teachers are doing such a fantastic job, but I feel like we're pushing these people to the brink. And it's not right because there's a way that we could have done this, and it just wasn't done.

KING: Is it going to be a struggle for your family financially for you to give up that income?

PIGGOTT: I mean, it wasn't easy. Thankfully, my husband has a very good job and can take care of us financially. But there are other people that I know that had to make the decision to go back to work or to send their children to school because they can't make that decision financially, the way I was afforded to.

KING: May I ask about the precautions being taken in the school where you teach?

PIGGOTT: Well, there is a mask mandate at this point, and there's enough students that did virtual learning to where they have been able to keep the class sizes really small, and they're trying to keep people six feet apart, if possible. I mean, the elementary school - I can't really speak to anything except for what I've seen on Jack's Zoom classes. And they are always wearing masks. They seem to be taking this very seriously, which is really nice.

KING: But even all that is not enough to assuage...

PIGGOTT: I don't think so.

KING: ...Your own concerns about your family's safety.

PIGGOTT: No. We're taking this extremely seriously. And I know people taking vacations and eating in restaurants and things like that - we're not there yet.

KING: Do you go to the grocery store?

PIGGOTT: No, I don't. I get it all on my app online.

KING: Yeah.

PIGGOTT: And go pull through the little drive-through and get my groceries. I mean, some of my friends have said that we're taking this a little too seriously.

KING: What goes through your mind when they say things like that to you?

PIGGOTT: Concern. Like, I'm concerned that maybe they're not seeing this as a real risk. It's - there's a pervading thought in this area that COVID isn't necessarily real or it's not as bad as it's being made out to be, that maybe we're fearmongering a little bit. And I just kind of have to take that with a grain of salt. And I take care of my family and myself. And, you know, I do what I know I need to do.

KING: How is Jack doing, not being able to see friends right now?

PIGGOTT: He's doing pretty well. This is not our first time having to quarantine ourselves. Jack and I lived in Cincinnati at the Ronald McDonald House for about six months after his bone marrow transplant. And, you know, he was used to not being around people and wearing a mask in public. So this is OK for him. He's sad that he can't go to school. He really loves going to school. It was kind of like a sense of independence for him.

KING: So what do you think? I mean, is the plan for you to go back into the classroom whenever this is all over, whenever that is?

PIGGOTT: I hope so. I am a teacher in my heart, and I need to be back at school. And I need that interaction. I need the relationships. I am absolutely doing the best thing for my family, but I feel like I have so much more to give to the world. And I hope that doesn't sound too corny.

KING: I get it.

PIGGOTT: But I really feel like that's where I'm supposed to be.

KING: Cassie Piggott. She recently resigned from her teaching job in Rutherford County, Tenn. Thank you so much for talking with us, Cassie.

PIGGOTT: You're so welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENNY SEGAL'S "WORLDS TO RUN (VIP DUB)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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