MIAMI (WSVN) - The Miami-Dade County school community is grieving the death of a longtime math teacher who, officials said, died due to COVID-19, as well as two other educators who have recently passed away.
Abe Coleman, who taught for 31 years at Holmes Elementary School in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, passed away before the first day of classes for the 2021-22 school year, the United Teachers of Dade reported Thursday.
“This is a lot of heartbreak and grieving in our community,” said Karla Hernández-Mats, the union’s president.
Coleman was also deeply involved in his community as a site director for 5000 Role Models of Excellence, an in-school mentoring and dropout prevention program created by U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson.
In a statement, the congresswoman praised Coleman and his dedication to the community, writing in part, “The pandemic did not deter him. He held weekly meetings with the boys throughout the 2020 school year.”
The news of Coleman’s death comes as Florida officials reported 21,392 coronavirus cases and 1,338 COVID-related deaths over the past 24 hours.
Coleman isn’t the first Miami-Dade Public Schools teacher to pass away in recent days.
Michael Thomas, a teacher at William Turner Technical Arts High School, also lost his life.
“It’s really heartbreaking to us, because it’s impacting our schools, our faculties, the staff, of course, the students who knew them,” said Hernández-Mats.
Lillian Smith, a veteran teacher at Dr. William A. Chapman Elementary School, also died before the start of classes, as well as her daughter, a cafeteria worker at the same school, Hernández-Mats said.
“This was a teacher, a longtime teacher, over 30 years in the community, doing God’s work, being in the classroom every single day,” said Hernández-Mats. “Her daughter, who also loved to serve, was a cafeteria manager at the same school, so these are two tragedies in one school.”
M-DCPS Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said there have been a lot of hard conversations in the first few days of the school year.
“I have personally spoken with relatives, spouses and daughters who have lost their lives to COVID-19, and we’re all deeply touched by those occurrences,” he said.
While school officials have not confirmed Thomas or Smith died due to COVID-19 complications, Hernández-Mats said there was one common thread between all three school employees.
“All three of them had been unvaccinated,” she said.
This is why Hernández-Mats said it is important to see the threat and take proper precautions.
“We need you to get vaccinated. This is the pandemic of the unvaccinated, and that’s precisely what we are seeing: unvaccinated people who are passing away,” she said.
Crisis counselors have been on hand at Holmes Elementary School.
Over the last 30 days, 72 students and 148 employees have contracted COVID-19 in the M-DCPS district.
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