MIAMI – Miami-Dade County Public Schools teachers who decided not to receive the protection of any of the three COVID-19 vaccines that are available for free are dying. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he has a “strong” message for teachers: “Get vaccinated!”
United Teachers of Dade reported Wednesday that two more unvaccinated M-DCPS teachers died of complications with COVID-19 — raising the recent death toll of the Delta variant surge to three.
The three teachers worked at Dr. William A. Chapman Elementary School, William H. Turner Technical Arts High School, and Holmes Elementary School.
“Crisis teams are being deployed to these schools now because it is a crisis for the students and it is a crisis for the faculty and staff,” said Karla Hernández-Mats, the president of United Teachers of Dade.
Lillian Smith and Abe Coleman, both beloved veteran elementary school teachers, died before the first day of the 2021-22 school year. Michael Thomas, a high school teacher, was in the classroom during the first and second days of school before he was hospitalized.
Thomas was a teacher at William H. Turner Technical Arts High School in Miami-Dade’s West Little River neighborhood. He joined the district on Aug. 18, 2006. The Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner’s Office reported he died on Monday afternoon.
Coleman was a teacher at Holmes Elementary School in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, and he had been working for the district since March 8, 1989. Amber Hayward-Carr, Coleman’s colleague and friend, said he was known as “the soul of Liberty City.”
“He was so dedicated to his community. He was dedicated to the children and he was so dedicated to the work that needed to be done,” Hayward-Carr said. “Mr. Coleman was something special ... it is a tremendous loss ... We deal with so much trauma and we have to find a way to be there for our students and Mr. Coleman was a master of that.”
His friend and colleague, Tanya Jackson, said she was texting with Coleman after he tested positive for COVID-19, and told him she would pray.
“I began to text him and ask him how he was, and didn’t get a response,” Jackson said. “And shortly thereafter, it went bad.
“He’s just irreplaceable,” Jackson continued. “I don’t know how to tell you how valuable he was and how valuable the lesson is, to please get vaccinated.”
Jacquelyn Calzadilla, a spokeswoman for M-DCPS, said counselors visited Holmes Elementary School to meet with students and teachers on Wednesday.
“The community won’t be well. It won’t just be Holmes elementary; it will be Miami Northwestern, it will be Brownsville, it will be Edison, because that is how big Mr. Coleman was,” Hayward-Carr said.
Smith was a first-grade teacher at Dr. William A. Chapman Elementary School in Miami-Dade’s Naranja neighborhood.
“The loss of any of our employees is one that is always profoundly felt as every member of this organization is considered a part of Miami-Dade County Public Schools family,” Calzadilla said in a statement. “We extend our hearts and prayers to the loved ones of those whose lives have recently been lost.”
Calzadilla said M-DCPS employees have a duty to self-report positive coronavirus test results. According to the M-DCPS dashboard, which includes self-reported cases, 148 employees and 72 students have tested positive for the virus since Aug. 13.
M-DCPS is implementing a universal indoor face mask mandate, but not a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Since the health records of employees are protected by law, the district is not releasing information about employees’ COVID-related deaths.