Whether you are a parent or a student, you have at least one favorite teacher. If you are a parent, that teacher may be the one who helped you navigate the complicated world of special education services for your child or who would call you to share your child’s successes, rather than focus on their failures. If you are a student, that teacher may be the one who taught you to read, gave you lunch money, gave you a compliment, or helped you look at the world in a different way. Now, imagine if that teacher were no longer there. Thousands of students, families, schools, and communities have been faced with that horrible reality as teachers and education staff have been stricken by COVID and died.
Alexandra Robbins, an education reporter and author, evaluates how teachers have been excluded from the pandemic school decision-making process, while organized parent groups have heavily influenced decision-makers. The “callous disregard” for the lives of education staff has hit teachers and other staff hard. It has made them question their professions, particularly when some parents and decision-makers treat them as replaceable or disposable and disparage them on social media.
Ms. Robbins describes many educators who have lost their lives, but we would like to point out a few not mentioned in her story whose lives have had an outsized impact in their school communities.t
On April 16, 2020, Zoao Makumbi Sr., a former Angolan Freedom Fighter, was the first Washington, DC Public School employee to die of covid-19. Makumbi was a 25-year veteran of the school system and ended his career with his “dream job” as a psychologist at Houston Elementary in Ward 7. [Photo credit: courtesy of Florie Matondo. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/zoao-makumbi-a-dc-school-psychologist-is-school-systems-first-confirmed-covid-death/2020/04/21/193b502e-83e0-11ea-878a-86477a724bdb_story.html
Principal Tom Russell of Flagler Palm Coast High School in Flagler County, FL passed away on December 9, 2020 due complications from what he thought was a “mild case” of COVID. He was known as “a true champion for students in Volusia County.” [PHOTO: Teachers_2_Russell_photo] [Photo credit: unknown. https://flaglerschools.com/about_us/newsroom/archived_news/flagler_schools_mourns
Kelley Gaines, Hart County Middle School (HCMS) Teacher of the Year for 2019-2020, passed away on December 20, 2020 after a battle with COVID-19. She was in her 21st year of teaching and was the Engineering & Video Production teacher at HCMS, who also served as the TSA advisor and chairperson for the STEAM Committee. Photo credit: Greg Gaines. https://www.foxcarolina.com/news/treasured-middle-school-teacher-passes-away-after-battle-with-covid-19/article_a466d26a-497c-11eb-aeaa-5b76d2e9a63d.html
Ms. Blancas, a 1st grade bilingual teacher at Dr. Sue A. Shook Elementary in El Paso, TX whose November 30, 2018 viral video of warm greetings among her students was liked by nearly 92,000 times on twitter. Ms. Zelene Blancas, died December 28, 2020 after battling COVID for 2 months and spending 9 weeks in the ICU. Photo credit: KVIA, https://abcnews.go.com/US/el-paso-teacher-gained-popularity-online-dies-month/story?id=74978111 Dr. Sue Shook Elementary School teacher Zelene Blancas.