School board members won’t wear masks during tribute to teacher

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At least three members of a Georgia school board refused to wear masks during a moment of silence for a teacher who died of COVID-19, according to reports.

Patrick Key, 53, an elementary art teacher of 23 years in Cobb County, died on Christmas Day, following a 41-day battle in the ICU with the virus, according to his obituary

He “felt passionate about wearing masks during the pandemic,” his loved ones wrote. 

“In lieu of flowers, please buy and wear a mask to protect others and yourself in honor of him,” the obituary said. 

But when it came time to do just that during a Cobb County School Board meeting Thursday, some members present still refused, according to The Macon Telegraph

School counselor Jennifer Susko made the request, describing Key’s death as “hard on Cobb educators.”

“We still feel intense sadness and deep empathy for Mr. Key’s wife,” she said.

She then quoted Key’s family’s request in the obituary. 

“I’m going to stop talking for a few seconds in honor of Mr. Key,” she said. “During the silence, I’d like to ask all members of the board and the superintendent to put on your mask as a tribute to this teacher who did everything you asked of him, even teaching through a pandemic.”

While all of the members remained silent, and most were already wearing face coverings, a few — including Superintendent Chris Ragsdale — looked down or fidgeted as they remained maskless, the Telegraph reported.

“I’d like the record to reflect that some of you did not wear a mask — the final request of a Cobb teacher who died,” Susko said in response.

“Your actions in these two minutes have spoken louder than words. We see where your priorities are. Please know that many of us reject your false gratitude for staff, since we seem disposable to many of you.”

Key’s wife of 23 years, Priscella Key, posted a video of that portion of the meeting to Facebook. 

“This happened tonight at the Cobb County Board of Education meeting,” she wrote. “I have many feelings, but no socially appropriate words to describe them.”

Key’s niece, Dr. Heather Welch, said she was “infuriated” by the members who refused to wear masks. 

“It’s a slap in the face,” she told WSB-TV. “It’s basically spitting on us and our loss as a family, and also to the other two families of the two teachers who passed away.”

The other Cobb County educators who have died of the virus are Dana Johnson and Cynthia Lindsey, both elementary school teachers, the Telegraph reported. 

Some teachers have accused district leaders of not taking the virus seriously enough, WXIA reported.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued to CBS 46, the school board said the district mask policy “asks all staff or students to wear a mask at all times when social distancing is not possible.”

“As you can clearly see, in the case of our Board meetings, the room has been intentionally spaced to allow for social distancing,” the statement said. 

“The Cobb County Board and District’s hearts go out to the Johnson, Key, and Lindsey families,” the board also said. “Cynthia, Dana, and Patrick were incredibly valuable members of our Team. The outpouring of support for their families, and voices of our teachers, show how much they were loved and how they positively impacted every student, teacher, and parent who they interacted with.”

“We will continue to take every possible step to keep our hallways safe, our classrooms healthy, and our schools open both remotely and face-to-face.”

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