The week before classes begin, three educators in Broward County, Florida, have died within about 24 hours of each other from Covid-19 related complications, local education officials said.
Two teachers and a teaching assistant, all women, died from Covid-19 this week, according to a statement from Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco. All three were unvaccinated.
Fusco identified the three teachers as Janice Wright, 48, a teacher/Union Leader at Pinewood Elementary School; Yolanda Hudson Williams, 49, a teacher assistant at Dillard Elementary School; and Katina Jones, 49, also a teacher at Dillard Elementary School.
Fusco previously said four employees had died of Covid-19 related complications, but she said in the corrected statement Friday afternoon that the fourth was a Broward County Public Schools graduate who had “close ties to the school district through her job.”
“We grieve their losses along with their families and the school communities they left behind,” the statement said.
Broward County School Board Chair Rosalind Osgood was aware of several teachers’ deaths, telling CNN Friday morning: “We got information on Tuesday that was reported to us. I know of three of those teachers that passed away from Covid in Broward County.”
“I was also told that they were unvaccinated,” Osgood said when asked whether three of the teachers were not vaccinated.
The teachers’ deaths come just days before classes start in Broward County, among the country’s largest school districts, and as coronavirus cases surge in Florida and other states, driven by the Delta variant and low vaccination rates. The confluence is reigniting debates over Covid-19 mitigation strategies as a new academic year begins.
Broward County Public Schools has had 138 employees test positive for Covid-19 since August 1, according to the school system’s Covid-19 dashboard, which was updated Thursday. Classes are set to begin next week, according to the school calendar; employees began planning on Wednesday.
The school district is using funds to incentivize staff to get vaccinated, Osgood said.
“But there are a lot of people that have still not gotten the vaccination,” she said. “And it is becoming a deadly thing for them not to be vaccinated.”
“You need to get vaccinated,” Osgood said. “This disease will kill you or leave with you a lifelong complication that not only impacts you but also impacts your family and the people that you love and care about.”
The district already had found itself in the headlines in recent weeks for steps taken on mask mandates: Earlier this week the school board voted to maintain a mask mandate approved late last month, despite an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis effectively prohibiting such a requirement in school districts.
The order — the subject of several lawsuits — required the state’s health and education departments to make rules giving parents, not schools, the ability to choose whether their children should wear masks.
“The eight of us on our board are adamant that we cannot have people in schools without masks,” Osgood told CNN Friday, “because we are living backlash of people dying with Covid.”
“You can’t take a risk with peoples’ lives,” she said. “We feel strongly that the lives of our students and staff are invaluable, and we’re not willing to play Russian roulette with their lives or take a risk of losing people because we have people in schools without masks.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized one of the four people who died based on information provided by the Broward Teachers Union. That person has been identified as a female Broward County Public Schools graduate with close ties to the school district through her job.
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