New Rochelle Teacher Karen Johnson Dies Of Covid After School District Denies Remote Work Request

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Written by Ann Brown
New Rochelle
New Rochelle Teacher Karen Johnson Dies Of Covid After School District Denies Remote Work Request. Photo: Facebook

Karen Johnson, a beloved special education teacher at the Albert Leonard Middle School in New Rochelle, New York, passed away on Feb. 11 after a battle with covid-19 and her family is demanding answers.

Due to underlying medical conditions, she had requested to work remotely from home but was denied.

There are no known official statistics on how many teachers have died from covid-19, but Johnson is among them.

While her husband, Robert Johnson, said he knew the coronavirus could have fatal consequences for his 57-year-old wife, who suffered from asthma and struggled with her weight, he still questions why her remote work request was denied. Johnson is a security guard at New Rochelle High School.

The school district does have remote learning.

Karen Johnson wrote last August to the city school district, including a note from her doctor that read, in part, “Every reasonable accommodation should be made to allow this patient to work from home,” according to her husband. Karen worked with the district since 1998, and was known as a caring teacher who was devoted to her students.

The family showed ABC News the response that came two months later from the acting superintendent, who wrote, “The district is denying your request for an accommodation to work remotely,” adding, “the district would be unable to ensure equity of instruction for all students across all classes, grade levels, and buildings.”

Karen’s son, Robert Johnson Jr. said, “This was the one time we asked for anything from the school district or from anyone in the city. And I feel like they turned their back on us, and I lost my mother because of it.”

He added, “We believe that her working remotely and staying home would have prolonged her life. And them forcing her back to work, that was a risky situation.”

The New Rochelle school district put out a statement but didn’t respond to the accusations.

“Ms. Johnson was a devoted educator who provided reading support and special-education instruction to middle-school students,” the school district said in a statement. “Ms. Johnson will be dearly missed. The district extends its deepest condolences to the Johnson family as well as to the staff and students of Albert Leonard Middle School. Treasured memories of Karen Johnson will sustain her students, colleagues, and friends, and she will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

New Rochelle is the 11th largest community in New York, with a population of 78,557 people. Home prices are not only among the most expensive in New York but New Rochelle real estate also consistently ranks among the most expensive in America, according to Neighborhood Scout.

Albert Leonard Middle School, where Karen Johnson worked, is 25.3 percent African American, 27.9 percent Hispanic and 41 percent white, according to School Digger.

The Federation of United School Employees (FUSE) has been at constant odds with New Rochelle school district leadership. The union disagreed with the district reopening schools on Jan. 4 after winter break, when many districts opted for a period of all-remote instruction to reduce the chances of any spread of covid-19 in schools, LoHud.com reported.

The New Rochelle school district opened the school year with all-remote instruction before it phased in hybrid instruction during mid-fall.

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“I have asked the district repeatedly to slow down,” said Mary Claire Breslin, president of New Rochelle FUSE. “I believe we are so close to the end. Let’s get more teachers vaccinated and see what happens.”

According to New York state data, 303 New Rochelle students and 76 staff members tested positive for covid-19 so far in the 2010-2021 school year, as of Feb. 15. Of these, 100 students and 52 staff members were listed as “on-site” by the state, LoHud.com reported. The district has more than 10,000 students.