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Empty desks: Coronavirus steals U.S. teachers’ classrooms

In July, fourth-grade teacher Susanne Michael was delighted as she welcomed the adoption of a former pupil from a dysfunctional home and two brothers of a child. Michael dressed them and her other children in matching T-shirts that read “Gotcha FOREVER” for the festivities. By October, the 47-year-o

Empty desks: Coronavirus steals U.S. teachers' classrooms
Empty desks: Coronavirus steals U.S. teachers’ classrooms

In July, fourth-grade teacher Susanne Michael was delighted as she welcomed the adoption of a former pupil from a dysfunctional home and two brothers of a child. Michael dressed them and her other children in matching T-shirts that read “Gotcha FOREVER” for the festivities.

By October, the 47-year-old Jonesboro, Arkansas, was dead—one of the reported 300 school staff killed by a coronavirus in the U.S. after the outbreak.

“Actually, she would feed, sleep, and drink teaching. She enjoyed it,” said her partner, Keith Michael, who is now left to raise three new arrivals, ages 3, 8 and 13, along with two other daughters, 16 and 22.

Across the U.S., the murders of educators have ripped through the fabric of school experience, stealing the lives of students, principals, superintendents, coaches, middle school secretary, security officers. Losses pushed school boards to make tough choices about whether to keep schools open and leaving students and teachers grieved.

Harrisburg Elementary, where Michael taught, remained open following her passing, but the next morning 14 counselors went to school to help distracted students and teachers.

“I can frankly tell you now that neither of us would have made the day if it weren’t for them,” said Chris Ferrell, Harrisburg School Superintendent, coughing.

Susanne Michael’s death at home was especially painful for her toddler. “He’s probably going to look to the sky and say, ‘Mama is up there said her husband.

His wife had diabetes, was a survivor of uterine cancer, and had just one kidney. Therein lies the biggest difficulty of running schools: while children usually have minor cases or no symptoms at all, approximately 1 in 4 of their students, or about 1.5 million, are at risk of becoming severely ill with coronavirus, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.


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Early findings indicated that children are unable to contract or spread coronavirus—an notion that has influenced school re-opening in some cultures. But Laura Garabedian, a professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School, said that most of the study was performed during lockdowns while children were at home and monitoring was not done on people with minor or symptomless cases.

“I guess the big question is whether being in school places teachers at an elevated risk of having COVID. I don’t think we know,” she said. Yet she said There are children who certainly relay it and we know that.”

With culture scattered rampant through most of the world and touch trackers exhausted, it’s also impossible to know where the teachers are being infected.

When cases can be tracked back to their source, it is mostly a casual meeting, a restaurant or a sports event, not a classroom, said Emily Oster, Brown University Economics professor whose study of in-school infection evidence from all 50 states showed that putting students together in schools does not seem to be causing the spread.

“I don’t think anybody’s going to complain that nobody got COVID at school. That would be unrealistic,” she added. “But in most of the situations we see among people who are school-affiliated, the real case has not been taken up at school.”

Its database reported 17 cases per 100,000 students and 26 cases per 100,000 employees as of Friday. She said the workers rate is marginally higher than the general population rate.

“There are people who would argue that if even one teacher got COVID at school and died, it wouldn’t have been worth opening schools,” Oster said. “I think the point is difficult because families are going to benefit enormously from school cuts, but that’s a tough estimate.”

Her death was another blow to the newly adopted youngsters, the oldest of whom, Holly, encountered Susanne Michael during a year in which the youngster mostly skipped a lesson to take care of her baby boy. As welfare authorities moved in, Michaels offered to become the adoptive parents of the child.

“The social worker turned up with Holly and the two brothers, and they said they were going to take them to two different locations,” said Keith Michael. His mom, he said, “looked at me and I knew what she was saying,” and the couple ended up taking all three children.
Keith Michael, who is the transport supervisor for the city of Jonesboro, spoke to his wife about the possibility of going to her school before classes began and believed that she may have been contaminated there.

During the summer, his wife mostly remained at home, only going out to buy food. She worked tirelessly to fan out the desks in her classroom, according to her husband, even though he said, “Once you have a full classroom, it’s difficult to distance anyone absolutely socially.”

She started coughing, feverish, and vomiting violently fast. She spent about two weeks on a ventilator until a blood clot broke out and killed her.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who has maintained a list of educators killed by the virus, said the reports “break your heart.”

They include Margie Kidd, a 71-year-old South Carolina First Grade Teacher and Jennifer Crawford, a 53-year-old Iowa Special Education Assistant. Their families said they thought the two had been contaminated at school.

The district of Phoenix lost special education teacher Nawaialoha Keli’imahiai Kalai to COVID-19 earlier this month and opened its board meeting with a moment of silence before agreeing to leave the classrooms open. Here too, grief counselling gave assistance to children and staff members.

“I am devastated by the fact that distance learning is not an appropriate replacement. And I certainly want as badly as anybody else to re-open school buildings for girls,” Weingarten said.

“But here’s the caveat: you’ve got to have the precautions that the CDC suggests, and you can’t have a surge going on at the same time. Then you’ve got to get the exam, and it’s all costly.”


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Daniel Jack

For Daniel, journalism is a way of life. He lives and breathes art and anything even remotely related to it. Politics, Cinema, books, music, fashion are a part of his lifestyle.