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13 Miami-area school staffers have died of covid-19 this school year

Miami-Dade County Public Schools are reporting at least 13 employee deaths from covid-19 since mid-August, a tally that forecasts what could be a grim autumn for Florida educators. 

13 Miami-area school staffers have died of covid-19 this school year

MSN News / Kim Bellware / September 7, 2021

Miami-Dade County Public Schools are reporting at least 13 employee deaths from covid-19 since mid-August, a tally that forecasts what could be a grim autumn for Florida educators.

Spokeswoman Jaquelyn Calzadilla told The Washington Post in an email that the district is aware of 13 deaths of employees since Aug. 16 but that the figure is based on what families report.

"When relatives of employees apply for death benefits, they are not asked to disclose cause of death, so we only know about employee covid deaths anecdotally," Calzadilla said.

Among the dead was Abe Coleman, a longtime Miami math teacher and beloved mentor who died Sept. 1, days after telling colleagues he had covid-19 and was going to the hospital. Coleman taught third-grade math for 31 years, and colleagues say he elevated the stories of Black scientists and leaders in his classroom. In recent months, he kept his young students connected through remote learning.

Coleman was a longtime mentor with the 5,000 Role Models for Excellence Project, a mentorship and dropout-prevention program for boys in Miami-Dade County schools that now-Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.) founded when she was a district board member. Wilson told The Post in a statement that the chapter at Holmes Elementary School, where Coleman worked, was among the strongest in the district thanks to his dedication.

"Abe Coleman was one of the best leaders that the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project ever had and exactly the kind of mentor I had in mind when I founded the program 30 years ago," Wilson said.

Inez Jackson, Coleman's wife, did not immediately respond to The Post's request for comment Tuesday but told another outlet that she agreed with the public plaudits for her late husband.

"You couldn't ask for a better man than Abe Coleman. He was the best," Jackson told the Miami Herald.

Jackson told the Herald that she had been vaccinated after contracting covid-19 but that her husband was not.

Wilson said Coleman, whose sister recently died of covid-19, hoped that because of the influence he had in life, his death might encourage others who were on the fence about getting the vaccine.

"We hope that his death will give vaccine-hesitant people the courage to take this lifesaving shot," the congresswoman said.

Alberto M. Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, said Tuesday that all of the employees who have died of covid-19 this year were unvaccinated.

Carvalho lamented how effective anti-vaccine misinformation campaigns have been in dissuading some people from getting a shot. Despite the flood of misleading information, Carvalho said about 85 percent of the district's teachers who responded to a survey said they have been fully vaccinated.

"As educators, we want to ensure that people have access to the information and the resources they need to get vaccinated and hopefully, spare other families from the terrible effects of this virus," Miami-Dade teachers union President Karla Hernandez-Mats said in a statement.

United Teachers of Dade, the teachers union, erected a pop-up vaccine site Tuesday in response to the growing covid-19 death toll among district employees. Carvalho said the district also has a mobile vaccine unit for those who want to be immunized.

Coleman's death adds to the growing toll of teachers and school staffers who have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, since students returned to classrooms this fall. Three educators in nearby Broward County died within a 24-hour period days before the new school year started, according to MPR News, while two teachers in the Connally Independent School District in Central Texas died in the same week, prompting five school closures.

In Florida and Texas, politics are increasingly affecting how schools respond to the pandemic. The Republican governors each face lawsuits after seeking to bar school districts from implementing mask mandates or other health precautions. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) threatened school districts with financial consequences if they tried to implement their own restrictions.

School districts in Florida are grappling with how to boost the lagging vaccination rate among eligible employees and families. According to data tracked by The Post, 54 percent of the state's population has been fully vaccinated. The rate is significantly higher in Miami-Dade County, where an average of 64 percent of the eligible population has been fully immunized.