Cobb County School District leaders have ‘blood on their hands,’ teacher’s family says

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — In an explosive interview with Channel 2 Cobb County Bureau Chief Chris Jose, the family of Patrick Key had an emotional message for Cobb County School District leaders.

“I would say to the leaders of the Cobb County School District that they have blood on their hands. All three of these deaths are their fault,” said Heather Welch. Welch is Key’s niece.

Key, a 23-year veteran of the district, was an art teacher at Hendricks Elementary School. He died on Christmas Day.

On Thursday, Dana Johnson and Cynthia Lindsey passed away.

Johnson was a teacher at Kemp Elementary School. Lindsey was a paraprofessional at Sedalia Park Elementary School.

All three educators were hospitalized with Covid-19.

“We are sad and angry every day. We have different emotions each day. I don’t know how we will ever recover from it,” said Welch.

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On Thursday, more than a hundred educators showed up for a protest ahead of a school board meeting.

Before it started, a teacher said she handed out custom-made masks to each school board member and the superintendent.

A logo on the mask features an apple and the Superman symbol. It was made to pay tribute to Key, Johnson and Lindsey.

During public comment, school counselor Jennifer Susko made a simple request.

“During the (moment of) 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.”

Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and some board members including David Banks did not put on the custom-made masks they were given.

“I actually teared up when I was speaking because this man died. I feel like we’re just glossing over death,” said Susko. “I’m asking you to give a tribute to this man who died and you won’t do it. That was really gut wrenching.”

Key’s niece was so upset after the school board meeting, she emailed the superintendent.

She wrote in part: My name is Dr. Heather Welch. You do not know me, but I am the niece of Mr. Patrick Key, the first teacher who died of COVID-19 in your county. I am writing to you for several reasons, most notably your total lack of leadership and empathy. I watched a video of you at a Board of Education meeting in which a teacher mentioned that in the obituary for my uncle, we pleaded for people to wear masks. She asked that during a moment of silence, the board members put on their masks to honor my uncle; you noticeably refused. I am a little curious as to why the superintendent of a county who has now had three teachers die from COVID, potentially contracted while teaching, could not be bothered to do this one small act to honor a beloved teacher. Does my uncle’s life not matter to you?

Welch emailed Jose a copy of the letter and video clip of the school board meeting.

“It infuriated me. It’s a slap in the face. 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,” said Welch.

Jose emailed the superintendent and school board the letter and video for comment.

He also asked them about masks.

A district spokesperson emailed Jose back with a statement:

“The Cobb County Board and District’s hearts go out to the Johnson, Key, and Lindsey families. 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. Our entire Team, including our Board, is following the District mask policy which can be found here Learning Everywhere (cobbk12.org)” which 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.”