More than 35 Georgia teachers, staff lost to COVID-19 since start of school year

ATLANTA — More than thirty Georgia teachers and staff members have died of COVID-19 since the start of the school year in July, Channel 2 Action News can confirm.

The youngest was just 24 years old.

They were teachers and coaches. They were bus drivers and school resource officers. They were administrative assistants and day care teachers. They were lunchroom managers and education specialists.

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At least 37of those teachers and staff members have died since Aug. 11, at a rate of nearly one a day or more.

Channel 2 Action News could only confirm that two of the teachers and staff members were vaccinated, and one had preexisting conditions. At least three were not, according to family members. In many cases, families pleaded with people to get the vaccine after their loved one’s deaths.

Cases of COVID-19 fueled by the highly-contagious delta variant have spread quickly through schools. According to data from the American Association of Pediatrics, cases in children are generally mild.

Taken all together, the list below paints a stunning portrait on the tragic toll the delta variant of COVID-19 has taken on educators across the state. Here are their names and stories:

Dawn “Dee” Carpenter, 49, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 14. She was a kindergarten paraprofessional at Sugar Hill Academy in Hall County. “She loved Florida State Seminoles, Coach Bobby Bowden being her favorite.  Dee was loved by all who knew her and her special smile was contagious when you were with her,” her family said in her obituary.

Federico Foster, 40, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 14 in Savannah. Foster had just started his job as the band director at the Savannah Arts Academy this year. He had been a band teacher at Savannah High School for five years and had also taught at Beach High School.

Staci Fyfe, 47, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 13. She was a special education paraprofessional at Matt Elementary in Forsyth County. She leaves behind a son.

Leigh Anne Garland Brackett, 35, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 13. She was a teacher at Murray County Pre-K Center and Dalton Public Schools. She was a mother of two.

Susan Lay, 50, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 12. She was a 2nd-grade teacher at the Georgia School for Innovation & the Classics in Hephzibah, Ga. She leaves behind two daughters.

Leah Ann Tinsley, 64, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 11, according to her son. She was a bookkeeper with the Board of Education and had worked at Rutland Middle School in Bibb County. She leaves behind a son and grandson.

Terry Barnes, 58, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 9. He was a bus driver for Pepperell High School in Floyd County. Coworkers decorated his bus with red ribbons in his honor. He was a grandfather of four.

Alice Kay Templeton, 59, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 9, according to NowHabersham.com. She was a beloved paraprofessional at Fairview Elementary School in Habersham County. She worked with special needs students and was remembered as a “caring, sweet individual who always brightened someone’s day.”

Ryan Dupree, 24, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 6, just one day after testing positive. Dupree was the new assistant basketball coach at Shorter University in Rome.

Rodney Lee, 44, died Sept. 6 after a battle with COVID-19, the Dalton Daily-Citizen reported. The father of three had been a P.E. teacher at Varnell Elementary School in Dalton for 18 years. He was very active in his church, where he served as a deacon for nine years. His wife, Lacey Lee, said he loved young people. The family was not vaccinated, but Lacey Lee told the newspaper she’s glad her husband’s story has inspired some people to get their shots.

Norma Jean Carter, 55, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 5, according to family members. She was a bus driver in Bulloch County and a devout Jehovah’s Witness.

If you know an educator who is not listed that you want remembered, please email us at newstip@wsbtv.com.

Bobby Leverette, 75, died of COVID-19 Sept. 5, The Associated Press confirmed. He was one of three bus workers to die of the virus in the same week. He was a grandfather of two and a bus driver for the Griffin-Spalding School District. He was a Vietnam War veteran and was retired from Piedmont Airlines/U.S. Airways.

Lee Autry, 56, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 4, The Covington News reports. He was a longtime teacher and the lead football and wrestling coach at Indian Creek Middle School in Covington. “His death leaves a tremendous void in the Indian Creek family,” school officials said. “As such, counselors have been made available to both students and staff as they work through the grieving process.”

Jamie Morris, 40, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 4, according to his wife. He was a 7th-grade teacher at Pierce County Middle School and a father of three. He also coached middle school soccer and football.

Angela Sistrunk, 62, died of COVID-19 Sept. 4 in Savannah, according to WSAV.com. She was a longtime 6th-grade science teacher at DeRenne Middle School who had retired, but came back to teach this year. She had been vaccinated, but had underlying health conditions, WSAV.com reported.

Frankie Gutierrez, 46, died Sept. 2 after a battle with COVID-19. He was a school resource officer at Welch Elementary in Coweta County. He was the father of four, including a newborn, and took the job so he could spend more time with his family.

Scarlet Driggers, 60, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 2, according to her family. She had been employed with the Bulloch County school system for over 20 years in nutrition services. She was most recently the lunchroom manager at Portal Elementary School. She was a mother of four.

Dr. Michael Lewis, 42, died of COVID-19 on Sept. 1 in Bainbridge, numerous friends and coworkers said on social media. He was an award-winning teacher, author, coach and adjunct professor in Bainbridge, Georgia. Lewis, who earned a double doctoral degree from Nova Southeastern University, had most recently taught at Bainbridge Middle School and Southern Regional Technical College. He also taught local prisoners who wanted to earn their GEDs. Lewis also authored a children’s book, was a founding member of Valdosta State University’s Iota Phi Theta Fraternity and was an active member of the Georgia Association of Educators.

Matthew Darby, 30, died from complications of COVID-19 on Aug. 31, according to his family. He was a vocational agriculture teacher at Northside High School in Warner Robins, where he was also the coach for the Livestock Judging Team and was an advisor to the Future Farmers of America.

Sean Hammond, 51 died Aug. 30 after testing positive for COVID-19 just days into the school year. Hammond was a football coach at Hammond Creek Middle School in Dalton. Hammond tested positive three days into preplanning and new teacher induction. However, school officials said he was never able to start the school year with students in the classroom. His wife was also hospitalized with the virus. He leaves behind a young son.

Penny Gary, 58, died of COVID-19 Aug. 29, WJCL.com reports. She was a social studies teacher at Statesboro High School in Bulloch County and had taught with the district for 17 years. She leaves behind her son and several grandchildren.

Natalia D’Angelo, 43, died Aug. 28 of COVID-19. She was a special education bus driver in the Griffin-Spalding School District. Her bus monitor, Marie Darley, also died of the virus. A wreath was hung on her bus, #07-14.

Kristi Crawford, 49, died Aug. 27 after a week-long battle with COVID-19, WTVM.com reports. She was a teacher at J.D. Davis Elementary School in Columbus for more than 20 years. She leaves behind four daughters.

Patricia “Pat” Wilkes, 61, died Aug. 25 after battling COVID-19, NowHabersham.com reports. She was a veteran educator with several schools in South Georgia and most recently with Habersham County School System. She leaves behind a husband, children and 7 grandchildren.

Chris Bachelor, 42, died Aug. 25 after a monthlong battle with COVID-19. He was a school resource officer at C.W. Davis Middle School in Hall County. He leaves behind his wife and an 11-year-old daughter.

Margaret Evans, 63, died of COVID-19 on Aug. 24. She was a nutritionist at North Forsyth High School. She enjoyed singing, playing piano, gardening and visiting churches. She leaves behind four grandchildren.

Jan Elaine Wilson, 58, died of COVID-19 on Aug. 22. She had been an employee with the Forsyth County School system since 1989. She started as a bus driver and was known for being a “second mom” to many of her students. Most recently, she had been a district supervisor. “In addition to her love of driving a bus, Jan loved her grandchildren who referred to her as simply ‘Nana,” her family said in her obituary.

Rachael Akridge, 41, died of COVID-19 on Aug. 21, her family confirmed on a GoFundMe. She was an administrative assistant at Transitions Learning Center in Statesboro. Her 26-year-old stepson, Jimmy Adkins, also died of the virus just four days before Akridge’s death.

Tami Sue Singleton, 61, died after a 9-day battle with COVID-19 on Aug. 20. Her daughter, Brandi Singleton Waters, told Channel 2 Action News that she was a bus driver for special needs students in Gwinnett County and that her husband is still recovering from the virus. “My father got his first COVID shot today, and I believe fully that my mother would still be here if she had agreed to be vaccinated,” Waters told Channel 2. Singleton was also a devoted grandmother. “She had two beautiful, red-headed grandbabies, a boy and girl, that had her tight curly hair, and she loved them.”

Rashida Kimmons, 40, died Aug. 19 of COVID-19. She taught at S.L. Mason Elementary School in Valdosta. “One of the last things she asked me was, ‘Who has my kids?’ She went above and beyond when it came to her kids in school, she treated those kids in school and class like they were her own. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for her children,” her husband Adolphus Kimmons told WALB-TV.

Marie Darley, 75, died Aug. 19 of COVID-19. She was a special education bus monitor with the Griffin-Spalding School District. The driver of her bus, D’Angelo, also died. Darley was a grandmother to 12 and great-grandmother to 14.

Brian Mainor, 51, died of COVID-19 on Aug. 18. He was a teacher at Hahira Elementary School in Valdosta. He was the second teacher in the district to die in just 24 hours. Rashida Kimmons died on Aug. 19.

Shirley Duggan, 77, died of COVID-19 on Aug. 15, according to the Brantley County School District. She was a school bus driver in Brantley County for some 20 years. She loved going to church and spending time with her five sons, 11 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

Walter Kearse IV, 36, died Aug. 13 despite the fact that he was fully vaccinated. He was a teacher and graduation coach at Luella Middle School in Locust Grove.

Janet Bruce, 50, died of COVID-19 on Aug. 12, family members told WSBTV.com. The mother of two was a physics teacher at Grayson High School in Gwinnett County. Bruce taught for Gwinnett County Schools for 27 years. For 17 of those years, she taught at Grayson. A lifelong Gwinnett County resident, she gradated from Central Gwinnett High School and went to the University of Georgia.

Dr. Roy Chapman Mathews, 44, died of COVID-19 on Aug. 11, according to the Post Spotlight newspaper. Mathews was principal at Bainbridge High School. His obituary said Mathews was “an all-around good guy who lived faith, family and football” who loved everything about Bainbridge High School and Bearcat teams.

Catherine Shuman, 38, also died Aug. 11 after a battle with COVID-19, according to her family. She was a science and social studies teacher at Wacona Elem in Waycross. She also coached the Wacona Science Olympiad team. “She will be remembered as an enthusiastic team player who made learning science fun for her students,” family members said in her obituary.

Sandra Ingram, 45, died Aug. 1 of COVID-19, her sister-in-law said on social media. Ingram was a preschool teacher at the Goddard School in Midtown Atlanta and a mother of five, the youngest who is just 1-and-a-half years old. Family members said she wasn’t vaccinated, and begged people to get their shots.

Deborah Daniels, 66, died of COVID-19 on July 31, according to the Johnson City Wire. She was a school bus driver for the Savannah-Chatham County School district. She was also the Union Steward for the local Teamsters branch. Even as she was in the hospital battling the virus, she was on Zoom calls with her union trying to help fellow bus drivers navigate the pandemic safely.


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