Death of a Cobb teacher from COVID-19

Patrick Key, a Cobb County elementary school art teacher, died of COVID-19 on Christmas. This is a photo of him with his wife. Credit: Patrick and Priscella Key
Patrick Key, a Cobb County elementary school art teacher, died of COVID-19 on Christmas. This is a photo of him with his wife. Credit: Patrick and Priscella Key

Credit: Patrick and Priscella Key

Credit: Patrick and Priscella Key

Did superintendent’s Christmas day note to staff about the tragic news strike a discordant chord?

A Christmas day note from the Cobb County School District superintendent announcing the death of a beloved teacher from COVID-19 also reminded staff that the “mission has been, and continues to be, serving every student and family in Cobb County as One Team, with One Goal: Student Success.”

Some Cobb teachers were disappointed in the message from Superintendent Chris Ragsdale after Hendricks Elementary art teacher Patrick Key died on Christmas day. Key was admitted to the hospital ICU on Nov. 15 after he began struggling to breathe. His wife and fellow Cobb teacher Priscella Key also contracted COVID-19 but recovered.

One teacher described the district note as “heartless.” Yes, it announced Key’s death, but some teachers said the tone too quickly shifted to a rallying cry to stay the course despite the obvious risks to their safety.

Earlier today, I asked the Cobb district about that teacher reaction and received this message: “Patrick Key was a teacher who was praised by every student, parent, and staff member who he supported and used his love of art to encourage curiosity and learning. The superintendent sent staff an email the evening he passed to mourn together as a team and to rally around our Mission which has not changed, even during this pandemic. Our staff has adapted the way we serve students, the way we support each other, and 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.”

As my AJC colleague and Cobb schools reporter Kristal Dixon has reported:

Patrick Key is one of three known Cobb County educators who have been hospitalized with COVID-19. Dana Johnson, a Kemp Elementary School first-grade teacher, is in the intensive care unit at WellStar Paulding Hospital after she was admitted on Dec. 6. Jacob Furse, a Garrett Middle School chorus and drama teacher, has been hospitalized for a week at WellStar Kennestone Hospital’s unit reserved for COVID patients.

- https://www.ajc.com/news/atlanta-news/cobb-teacher-dies-christmas-day-after-battle-with-covid-19/PG2VL4DSURB2JNKW5G6YNGTRK4/

Here is Superintendent Ragsdale’s message.

As I write to you on this Christmas evening, COVID-19 continues to turn days of celebration into days which remind us of the battle we are fighting. Today, a member of our Team, Patrick Key, lost his battle with COVID-19. The positive impact he made on the students in his classroom has been known for years, and we mourn with his family, the staff, and the community at Hendricks Elementary.

As staff members, and for many of us as parents, this is not the first time the human impact of COVID-19 has brought feelings of loss, sorrow, and uncertainty. Since the first case of COVID-19 in Cobb, I have been consistently encouraged by the commitment our entire staff has made to our students, and I remain confident that we will beat COVID-19, as a Team and as a county. During one of the most challenging years of our lives, you are the reason every Cobb student has been given the chance to succeed, and our entire county is better for it.

It is a time when, as a Team and as a community, our priorities are being tested in ways they have never been before. It is also a time when, as a Team, our Mission, our Vision, and our priorities are more important than ever.

Our Mission has been, and continues to be, serving every student and family in Cobb County as One Team, with One Goal: Student Success. Our Vision has been, and continues to be, a school district of excellence, where all students succeed.

Our first priority has been, and continues to be, student and staff safety.

Since COVID-19 disrupted everything we know about schools and the classroom, we have made decisions based on three simple priorities: student and staff safety, guidance from public health experts who best understand COVID-19, and the ability for every Cobb family to choose the classroom environment which is best for their child. We need each of you as a member of our One Team to keep us aligned with those priorities.

As a proud Superintendent who has seen this Team achieve more, while overcoming ever-changing obstacles, I am asking for you to maintain your commitment to your students in a very actionable way. Your commitment to student and staff safety is made real by following the public health guidance for Cobb families and staff and is the very best way you can continue to fight COVID-19 as One Team.

We have already adapted our schools and our classrooms significantly, and 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. What will not change and what cannot change, is our commitment to every Cobb student as One Team, with One Goal. Your commitment to that Goal is what makes Cobb County the best place to teach, lead, and learn, and I thank you for it. Enjoy the rest of your holiday break, you certainly deserve it.

Best regards,

Chris Ragsdale

Superintendent

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I wanted to end this piece with a tribute to Patrick Key from a former student on a Go Fund Me Page:

Mr. Key was my art teacher for many summers at KSU. He always encouraged me to pursue my passions even when I felt I wasn’t good enough. He gave me the courage to reach out and make friends. Whenever I needed to talk, he would listen, and he always had the warmest smile. I was 13 when we met and I’m 25 now, and I wish I could have told him how big of an impact he had on my life. I don’t even have the words to describe how much it hurts to hear he’s gone. Mr. Key was a wonderful man, and I’m going to miss him so much. Blessed be his family.

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