Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that John deVille is a social studies teacher in Macon County.
A third-grade teacher in Stanly County Schools (SCS) has died after contracting the coronavirus, forcing the school district to require third graders who received in person instruction at Norwood Elementary School last Wednesday and Thursday to quarantine through Oct. 9.
The teacher, Mrs. Julie Davis, 50, died Sunday. She had taught at Norwood two years.
On Monday, Stanly County Health Director David Jenkins told the Stanly News & Press that Mrs. Davis did not contract the virus while working at the school.
It remained unclear late Monday how health officials know that Mrs. Davis did not contract the virus at work.
According to news accounts, Mrs. Davis self-quarantined after she started experiencing COVID-19 symptoms on Sept. 25.
Parents of children in Davis’ class were notified on Sept. 29 that their children must quarantine for 14 days because of possible exposure to a staff member who tested positive for the coronavirus.
The school district has operated under a mix of remote and in-person instruction since August.
In a statement posted on the district’s website, interim SCS Superintendent Vicki Calvert described Mrs. Davis, as an educator with a “well-deserved reputation as an inspirational teacher who was always seeking ways to support every student so that they were able to fulfill their potential.”
“Students absolutely loved being taught by Mrs. Davis,” Calvert said in a statement. “Her personality was infectious, and she brought joy into the lives of the students, staff, and community.”
Ms. Davis’ death was widely discussed among educators on social media, many of whom see it as validation of their concerns about returning to school for in-person instruction before the coronavirus is under control.
One teacher questioned whether Jenkins and other health department leaders can afford to be honest about virus-related matters due to political pressure from county commissioners.
“Is there any way to know for sure that the Stanly County Health Department isn’t making back to school recommendations based on pressure from their county commissioners to whom the leadership of the Stanly County Health Department is beholden for their positions?” asked John deVille, a social studies teacher in Macon County.
Tamika Walker Kelly, president of the NC Association of Educators, issued a statement Monday afternoon, calling Davis’ death “preventable.”
“It is absolutely clear that this was a completely preventable death,” Walker Kelly said. “Julie did not have to die in order for her to teach her students, nor should any of our educators have to make the decision between doing the jobs they love and risking their lives.”
Walker Kelly said health officials claim that Mrs. Davis didn’t contract the virus at work does not change her statement. She plans to discuss teacher safety during the COVID-19 pandemic “in the coming days and weeks.”
“But today, I simply ask that you hold the memory of Julie Davis close to your heart,” she said. “By all accounts she was a dedicated and passionate educator who wanted nothing more than to do right by her students, and we mourn her loss to our entire NCAE family.”
Walker Kelly noted that Mrs. Davis is the second known NCAE member to die due to the coronavirus. Teicher Patterson, a Halifax County Schools principal, died in July after battling the deadly virus.
Citing safety concerns due to the coronavirus, the NCAE asked teachers to lobby schools districts not to reopen elementary schools full time, for in person instruction. That directive came after Gov. Roy Cooper announced last month that districts would have the option to return K-5 students to classrooms for in person instruction this month.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) on Monday reported 2.258 new COVID-19 cases across North Carolina.
According to NCDHSS, Stanly County has recorded 2,085 confirmed coronavirus cases and 56 deaths. Mrs. Davis lived nearby in Montgomery County where 1,067 confirmed cases and 34 deaths have been recorded.