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What happens if a teacher or student dies of COVID? San Antonio school districts share their plans

Three San Antonio-area faculty members recently passed away due to COVID-19 complications

File photo (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher)
File photo (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher) (AP)

SAN ANTONIO – It’s not a subject that typically comes to mind at the beginning of a school year but with the recent deaths of two San Antonio-area educators and a cafeteria manager, it’s an unfortunate scenario that has to be planned for.

Two San Antonio Independent School District teachers and the cafeteria manager at a Northside Independent School District campus all passed away within weeks of each other this summer due to complications from COVID-19.

The first death of a San Antonio-area educator was Carmen Canales who passed away on July 21 and taught at Ogden Academy. The second was Michelle Villarreal who passed away on July 24 and worked as the cafeteria manager at Leon Valley Elementary School. Most recently, Melissa Martinez, who was a kindergarten teacher at Rogers Academy, died Wednesday.

In response to the deaths of the three women, KSAT reached out to the school districts in the San Antonio area to see if there are plans in place in the event that a teacher or student dies of COVID-19 during the school year.

The replies were similar, with every district spokesperson who responded stating that districts would follow the same procedure already in place for any student or teacher death.

All district spokespersons said counselors would be provided and available for staff and students if the death of a student or staff member occurs. They also said the loss would be communicated with the campus and community, typically by way of a letter.

East Central Independent School District spokesperson Brandon Oliver said the district also provides follow-up care for those most affected.

Barry Perez with NISD said the district would “follow similar response guidelines in place for a lab-confirmed case of COVID in our schools to include, consulting with the San Antonio Metro Health District, identifying any individuals who had contact, providing notification and guidance on recommended action (i.e. self-quarantining), and ensuring cleaning & sanitizing protocols are followed.”

“The death of a student or staff member is always a tragedy and requires deep care and consideration. Like other school districts, we have experienced the death of a student and of a staff member at various times over the years,” said Patti Pawlik-Perales, spokesperson for Alamo Heights ISD.

Pawlik-Perales told KSAT the district would use the existing crisis response plan, “which includes communication, counseling, and bereavement support for students and staff. We will continue to follow the same plans if someone dies from COVID-19.”

Harlandale Independent School Districts spokesperson Mariana Veraza noted that the district “would also modify crisis team protocols to provide both virtual and face support.”

KSAT also reached out to the Texas Education Agency to see if there are protocols in the event of a COVID-19 related death of a student or faculty member but has not yet received a response.

The TEA released health and safety guidelines for Texas schools on Tuesday but those guidelines do not address the death of a student or faculty member.

“TEA knows that every district already has established processes in the Emergency Operations Plans to respond to the death of a student or staff member,” Pawlik-Perales said.

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