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Local teacher struggles with risk of COVID-19 infection



Ashleigh Holliday never dreamed that the last time she left her classroom, it was for good.

When school started in Vicksburg two weeks ago and hundreds of teachers returned to their physical classrooms armed with surgical face coverings, Plexiglass shields, and stores of sanitizing supplies, one Dana Road Elementary teacher was not among them.

Forced to choose between the career she loved and the health of herself and her family, art teacher Ashleigh Holliday resigned. She hopes to teach again one day when the pandemic ends, but for now she can’t take that risk. For her, it is a matter of life or death.

Holliday was born with bronchiectasis, a disease similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, known as COPD.

“It’s not a form of COPD, but it’s like that,” she said. “Basically, my lungs have a lot of scar tissue and damage from years of chronic pneumonia and bronchitis, so my lungs get progressively worse each time I’m sick. It also makes me a lot more susceptible to infection, especially respiratory ones like COVID-19.”

She says that on a good day, she has 20% lung function. “I think the only reason I”m not on oxygen permanently is because I’ve lived my whole life like this. I’ve learned to adapt.”

Holliday always knew that she would eventually have to leave teaching but she never thought it would be after only eight years in the profession. “I had my dream job at a school I love with the most amazing coworkers. Anyone would be crazy to quit!” she said. “Resigning was the absolute hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

Schools in the Vicksburg Warren School District closed Friday, March 13, for what was supposed to be a week-long spring break. No one could have predicted they would remain closed for 22 weeks.

“I think that’s the part that hurts the most. I developed pneumonia a couple of weeks before spring break, so I wasn’t even able to be there that last week. How could I have known that when I left on March 2, I just wouldn’t ever get to go back?” Holliday said with tears in her eyes. “I didn’t even get to tell my babies goodbye or I loved them or anything.”

“I had my dream job at a school I love with the most amazing coworkers. Anyone would be crazy to quit! Resigning was the absolute hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

“When it finally hit me a couple of months ago that this is real, that everything had changed, and we won’t ever be able to go back to the old normal, I came up with a plan to be a virtual art teacher,” she said. “I wanted to be able to teach art not just to my kids, but all the elementary students at schools without art.”

Holliday’s plan included prerecording lessons for each grade level every week, and the schools or teachers could implement them according to their individual needs. Her plan didn’t come to fruition.

“I had brainstormed some ways to get supplies to all the kids, and I wrote up a whole proposal and everything. It was a great plan in theory, but realistically it wouldn’t have worked,” she said.

Holliday says she has looked into teaching other subjects online. She is certified in elementary education as well as English and Social Studies through high school, but she hasn’t yet found anything. Her future plans are up in the air.

“That’s a good question,” she said when asked about those plans. “Until this whole COVID mess is over or at least until there’s a vaccine, I can’t really do any kind of job in person. If I were to contract it (COVID-19), it would be fatal. Even if I thought about going back anytime soon, my husband and my mother would not let me.”

These days, Holliday spends time designing personalized planners primarily geared for teachers.

“It’s not even close to doing what I want to do. My heart is with the kids at school. But it is something I can do from home,” she said. “I spend a lot of time looking for other opportunities in education, and I spend even more time praying. I pray that God’s will will be done with this virus. I pray that He will see fit to heal us, and I spend a whole lot of time thanking Him for bringing me this far.”

When asked what she would tell her old students if given the chance, Holliday said, “I’d tell them that I love them and that I’m determined to find a way to get back to them. I’d tell them that when I closed our classroom door that last day all those months ago, I didn’t know all of this quarantine stuff would occur. I’d tell them that I didn’t tell them good-bye that day because we weren’t done. And I’d tell them that I refuse to say good-bye to them now for that same reason. I’m just not done.” 

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