Veteran teacher implores Governor Lee to issue a statewide mask mandate

My name is Trisha Zeringue. I have been a high school math and statistics teacher in Williamson County for 13 years. I grew up in Ohio and graduated from college there. When my mom moved to Nashville for her job, I followed her to Tennessee and began my teaching career. My husband and I are parents of three children – ages 7, 5, and 2 months.

Trisha Zeringue

Our baby daughter was born in August with a severe heart condition. She has been in and out of the pediatric intensive care unit many times since her birth. She’s at home with us now but is monitored regularly by her cardiologist for any immediate risk. We know that she will require surgery sometime early next year to repair her heart, so we are just trying to protect her health between now and then so she is healthy and strong for that procedure.

I have been home with her since August when I took FMLA leave. That leave expires at the end of the year and, even though it would be safer for me to do online teaching only, I do not have that option. Until a few weeks ago, my two school-age children had returned to in-person learning at their elementary school. However, due to the high risk associated with Halloween activities and school-based transmission, we decided to keep our children at home, both to protect them and for our baby daughter, who might not survive a respiratory virus because of her yet unrepaired heart defect.

Every day we hear new reports of school-based transmission and school closures because of the uncontrolled spread of COVID19. Multiple high schools in Williamson County have opened and closed. Even my children’s elementary school has struggled to maintain a full staff because teachers have been exposed to the virus and are required to quarantine.  

Governor Lee’s strategy of passing the buck down to local mayors and school boards to fight this pandemic on their own has not, and is not, working. We need leadership from the Governor’s office.

Governor Lee, I voted for you in 2018. Please be the leader I voted for and listen to what the doctors and health experts have been telling you for months – issue a statewide mask mandate. Masks are one of the best tools we have right now to control the spread of COVID19. It is just that simple.

Our schools simply don’t have the ability to protect teachers the way we need to be protected. Our students don’t wear masks properly or consistently, and we are jammed into poorly ventilated classrooms without space to maintain social distance properly. Until we have the virus under control, it will continue to be unsafe in our classrooms.

I am terrified of returning to the classroom in January for many reasons. But, I have no choice if I want to maintain my health insurance benefits. My choice is a hard one – do I risk returning to the classroom and risk the health of my family, particularly our high-risk baby daughter, or do I stay home and risk losing the financial stability we currently have with quality, affordable health insurance and my income as a teaching professional.

Governor Lee, our teachers, parents, businesses, and communities shouldn’t have to fight a global pandemic on their own. We can defeat COVID19, but it depends on us having a shared statewide plan and decisive leadership from you. You aren’t responsible for the coronavirus, but you ARE responsible for refusing to do your job in this crisis. Your lack of leadership is endangering the lives of all of us and leading to completely avoidable school and business closures.

For the sake of my family, my students, and my community, and as someone who voted for you, I implore you to have some political courage and use your power as the leader of our state to issue a statewide mask mandate. Our lives depend on it.