By October, the 47-year-old Jonesboro, Arkansas, woman was dead — one of an estimated nearly 300 school employees killed by the coronavirus in the U.S. since the outbreak took hold. All together, the U.S. had more than 250,000 confirmed virus deaths.
“She just basically would eat, sleep and drink teaching. She loved it,” said her husband, Keith Michael, who is now left to raise the three new additions, ages 3, 8 and 13, along with the couple’s two other children, 16 and 22.
Across the U.S., the deaths of educators have torn at the fabric of the school experience, taking the lives of teachers, principals, superintendents, coaches, a middle school secretary, a security guard. The losses have forced school boards to make hard decisions of whether to keep classrooms open and have left students and staff members grief-stricken.
Harrisburg Elementary, where Michael taught, remained open after her death, but 14 counselors descended on the school the next morning to help distraught students and teachers.
“I can honestly tell you now, none of us would have made the day if it were not for them,” Harrisburg School Superintendent Chris Ferrell recalled, choking up.
At home, Susanne Michael’s death has been particularly hard for her toddler. “He will just point to the sky and say, ‘Mama is up there,’” her husband said.
His wife had diabetes, was a uterine cancer survivor and had just one kidney. Therein lies the main challenge of operating schools: While children generally have mild cases or no symptoms at all, about 1 in 4 of their teachers, or nearly 1.5 million of them, have a condition that raises their risk of getting seriously ill from the coronavirus, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
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