A Florida teacher wrote a mock obituary for herself to protest the state’s plan to reopen schools in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The state’s education commissioner issued an executive order that required all schools to open for “at least” five days a week in the fall, subject to any advice and orders from state and local health departments.
“We have a moral imperative to do our absolute BEST to return #FLschools to full operation,” the state’s Department of Education said in a tweet on July 8. “Our children’s education & our economy are all depending on us to make a collaborative effort to reopen our school campuses.”
The state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, said the order violates a constitutional mandate to keep public schools “safe and secure” and has sued to block it.
Meanwhile, teacher Whitney Reddick of Jacksonville, Florida, expressed her concerns about the safety risks of reopening schools by posting a mock obituary for herself on Facebook.
“With profound sadness, I announce the passing of Whitney Leigh Reddick,” it begins. “She left us while alone in isolation and on a ventilator at a Duval county hospital in Jacksonville, Florida.”
Reddick, 33, went on to talk about her family, including her 14-month old son, writing, “He will have a hole only a few children bear.”
“She fought with vigor for things she believed in,” the obituary continues. “She stood up to injustice, embraced those who differed from her, and truly listened when spoken to. Whitney never took the easy path, she was assertive, strong-willed, and bossy, she loved that word because, to her, it meant female leadership.”
It ends by saying that Reddick “succumbed to the ignorance of those in power.”
“She returned to work, did her best to handle all the roles placed on her shoulders; educator, COVID-security guard, human shield, firefighter, social worker, nurse, and caregiver but the workload weakened her, and the virus took hold,” it reads.
Reddick told NBC News in a phone interview on Saturday that she decided to write the obituary after reading stories of teachers who have contracted the virus and some who have died, including a summer school teacher in Arizona.
“It was an overwhelming sadness,” she said. “It just stuck with me that, I may not pass away, but somebody is going to. To me, somebody who does something to serve their community and has a serving heart, I don’t want to lose that person.”
She said the purpose of the obituary was to highlight concerns many teachers have about returning to in-person classes amid the pandemic.
“I wanted to portray that sadness … and being introspective and thinking about the choices that our lawmakers are making,” she explained. “I really wanted the gravity of their decisions to weigh.”
Reddick said that after talking with her husband she decided to return when her school opens on Aug. 20, which she said was a tough choice.
“As much as I feel strongly about the stance that I have taken, if students are returning to a face-to-face setting, I’m going to be there to make sure that they have the best possible education in the safest environment that I can provide,” she said.
Reddick said she has already started planning how she will try to keep her classroom safe and enable students to social distance.
In Iowa, several teachers also wrote their own obituaries and sent them to Gov. Kim Reynolds, who announced in July that public school students have to go back to class at least half-time.
“I wrote my obituary just to bring attention to Kim Reynolds not having a plan and not knowing anything,” Jeremy Dumkreiger, a Sioux City teacher, told NBC affiliate KWWL in Waterloo. “I hope to God not to use it and I don’t expect to, but it’s just one of those things where I want people to think about it. This is serious.”
“What if one of those kids gets COVID and takes it home to their grandma or their parents and that parent dies. Can you imagine the stress and trauma that will cause on somebody?” he added. “I can’t imagine this learning environment is going to being conducive to learning, and I think we’re going to need to hire more counselors.”