An Oslo Middle School staff member, Sherrie Lynn McGary, died last week and a colleague attributed her death to a case of COVID-19 contracted on campus.
McGary, 51, the school’s media center assistant, died Jan. 23. She was the first public school staff member to die from the virus in Indian River County.
While the school officials said there is no way to confirm where McGary contracted the virus, School Superintendent David Moore fired off letters to Gov. Ron DeSantis and state Health Department officials calling for educators to get a higher priority for COVID-19 vaccinations.
“The loss of this staff member has reverberated throughout our school communities,” Moore said in a Jan. 27 letter to DeSantis. “I am respectfully requesting that provisions be made to swiftly prioritize educators in opportunities to be vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Several School Board members offered their condolences to the McGary family and the school district sent grief counselors to console students and staff members.
“As something like that happens, we have a crisis team that is immediately there,” Schools Superintendent David Moore said. “We’re being very sensitive and proactive in providing systems of support.”
A total of 15 students and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 at the Oslo Middle School so far this school year, according to school district records.
A seventh-grade civics teacher at Oslo Middle School, Todd Holden, blamed McGary’s death on the virus, asserted she caught COVID-19 on the job and said he fears other educators will also die from the disease.
“It’s going to be some time before Oslo gets back to whatever passes as normal in today’s environment,” Holden told the School Board during its Jan. 26 business meeting.
“My dear colleague’s death brings us face to face with a harsh reality,” Holden said. “There is no doubt the virus is running through our schools and Ms. McGary contracted the virus at Oslo.
“In the last two weeks, we have had seven teachers diagnosed with COVID, many having significant if not severe symptoms,” Holden said. “Of course, the virus is running through the schools. To deny that or suggest otherwise is to live in a place other than reality.
“To imagine Ms. McGary will be the last school employee to die of this virus contracted at school is also a fantasy,” Holden said. “There is no telling which of us will be next.”
But school district spokeswoman Cristen Maddux told Vero Beach 32963: “With COVID-19 being prevalent in all areas of our community, there is no way to confirm, and it is not appropriate to assume, where an individual contracted the virus.
“We will do everything in our ability to continue enforcing the health and safety guidelines within our schools and expedite the availability of the vaccine to our teachers and staff members,” Maddux said.
Holden urged the School Board to lobby state and federal officials to designate educators as frontline workers so they can gain quicker access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Meanwhile, the school district reported 30 students and eight staff members tested positive for COVID-19 between Jan. 25 and Jan. 31. Another 219 students and one staff member were directed to quarantine.
Altogether, 160 students and 47 staff members have tested positive for the virus since the school year started Aug. 24, school district records show. Another 1,563 students and 31 staff members have quarantined.
The school district reports COVID-19 cases for students and staff members attending school in person.
The Florida Department of Health, which keeps track of COVID-19 cases for those involved in virtual, as well as in person learning at public schools along with cases in charter and private schools, reports a much higher number of total cases.
According to the state, there have been 660 cases of COVID-19 in 34 public, charter and private schools in Indian River County as of Jan. 23, Health Department records show. That includes 524 students, 42 staff members and 94 people whose school role is listed as “unknown.”
During the week of Jan. 17-23, 46 students, one staff member and 14 whose status was “unknown” in the county’s public, charter and private schools tested positive for the virus, Health Department records show.
One of those COVID-19 cases was a student at Oslo Middle School, Health Department records show.
Holden praised McGary’s commitment to the students at Oslo Middle School.
“We have lost one of the hearts and souls that makes Oslo the school that it is,” Holden told the School Board. “Sherrie McGary was … always kind and generous, willing to do whatever needed to be done for what she called ‘my kids.’”