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A Kindergarten Teacher Died of COVID & School Board Members Refused to Honor His Memory

Patrick Key, 53, of Marietta, Georgia, was a Cobb County Elementary School art teacher for 23 years before he died of COVID-19 on December 25, 2020. His obituary shared his love of comic books, Star Wars, his pets, and his many family members — including Priscella, his wife of 23 years — as well as one final wish: “Patrick felt passionate about wearing masks during the pandemic. In lieu of flowers, please buy and wear a mask to protect others and yourself in honor of him.”

This was apparently too big an ask for at least two members of the Board of Education in Cobb County last week. At a meeting, school district employee Jennifer Susko asked members for a moment of silence to honor Keys and begged members of the board who were not wearing masks to put them on “as a tribute to this teacher who did everything you asked of him, even teaching through a pandemic,” according to the Daily Beast. When at least two of them did not, including Superintendent Chris Ragsdale, Susko went on to say: “I would like the record to reflect that some of you did not wear a mask… The final request of a Cobb teacher who died. Your actions in these two minutes have spoken louder than words.”

“I have many feelings but no socially appropriate words to describe them,” Priscella Key wrote on Facebook, sharing a clip of the meeting.

Priscella also battled COVID but recovered, while her husband’s condition deteriorated. Though he had no pre-existing conditions, he was unable to beat the virus and succumbed after a six-week battle in the ICU. Heather Welch, Key’s niece, told the Washington Post her family is outraged by the administrators’ callousness during the meeting.

“All it had to be was a few seconds of a demonstration of kindness and empathy,” Welch said, “and they couldn’t even do it.”

Cobb County has the third-highest number of COVID-19 infections in Georgia and has experienced a surge since December, with cases doubling to nearly eight out of 100 people testing positive. While the school district switched to remote instruction for the end of the fall semester, in-person classes resumed after the winter break, causing major health concerns for teachers.

Debates over whether teachers and students should return to in-person classes continue to rage across the country, as COVID-19 continues to spread. According to data compiled by the American Federation of Teachers and shared with the Washington Post, more than 530 K-12 teachers died of the virus last year. Just Sunday, the Chicago Teachers Union voted to refuse in-person instruction and directed educators to work remotely starting Monday. The decision comes two weeks after the nation’s third-largest school district called teachers and staff to come back into classrooms for in-person instruction and began to phase out remote instruction.

This is all the more reason for us to urge our legislators to pass a COVID relief package that gives more money to schools to open safely, and to continue remote education to those who still need to remain at home.

When kids are stuck at home, there are so many great new and old ways to keep them busy.

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