CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Metropolitan School District is mourning the deaths of two staffers, one of whom, her family confirms, died of COVID-19.
In a statement released late Thursday afternoon, the district said that members of support staff at Andrew J. Rickoff and Nathan Hale schools recently passed away.
Sabrina Coleman was a school secretary at Andrew J. Rickoff Elementary School, and her family confirmed to News 5 she died on September 28 after a month-long battle with COVID-19.
Coleman's oldest daughter, Kylynn, told News 5 her mom could have retired long ago but she kept coming back for the kids.
"She was, in theory, a counselor to people," Coleman said of her mom on Thursday afternoon.
Sabrina Coleman spent more than two decades at CMSD, 15 of them in the front office of A.J. Rickoff. Coleman was one of the first people students would see on school days and had an unconventional way of saying hello.
"Whatever it was, it was something that could motivate you and help you and uplift you so you could get through the day," her daughter said, adding that she stayed so long at the elementary school because "she really cared about the staff there, the teachers, other administrators."
She had not been in the school since Aug. 30.
Kylynn Coleman said she and her mother were always communicating over text message or Google Duo video calls. Last month, Kylynn knew something was wrong when her mother went more than a day without replying to her text, which simply read, "I love you."
Sabrina Coleman was admitted to the hospital and spent several days in the ICU. Kylynn said her mother improved, was moved to a regular room and was eventually able to go home, But her time in her own house didn't last long. Sabrina Coleman was admitted back into the hospital last week and died on Tuesday.
Kylynn Coleman said her mother did not get the vaccine when it was offered to CMSD staff in early 2021. She was listening to the advice of her doctors who were looking into the impact her underlying medical conditions would have on the success of her vaccination.
Because she was unvaccinated, Kylynn Coleman said her mother was cautious in the school.
"I think she had a fortress at her desk at school, like, 'You cannot get in this fortress,'" she said.
It is unknown where she contracted the virus, but Kylynn Coleman said her mother told her it's possible she contracted it at school.
In its statement, CMSD said, "The District has no word on the official causes of death and is restricted in providing other health information. We can say that we found no record of Ms. Coleman’s COVID-19 case being reported to our District COVID-19 hotline. We continue to assure the public that CMSD has strict COVID-19 protocols in place."
The district's whole statement:
We were saddened to learn recently that members of the support staffs at Andrew J. Rickoff and Nathan Hale schools have passed away.
The District has no word on the official causes of death and is restricted in providing other health information. We can say that we found no record of Ms. Coleman’s COVID-19 case being reported to our District COVID-19 hotline.
We continue to assure the public that CMSD has strict COVID-19 protocols in place.
CMSD nurses, with training by the Cleveland Department of Public Health, conduct contact tracing for cases that are reported to the hotline.
We require that all students, staff and visitors wear masks while in our buildings. Other safeguards include social distancing, temperature checks, frequent sanitization and random, voluntary testing for the virus.
On Thursday morning, News 5 sat down with CMSD CEO and Superintendent Eric Gordon for a wide-ranging interview. In that interview, he outlined mitigation procedures happening in district schools and said leaders are looking at the data every day.
"We're seeing between 1 and 5 and 6 cases in nearly every building," he said about the numbers of positive COVID-19 contacts in schools.
At last check, around 4 p.m. Thursday, district reporting showed 11 total cases and only one new case of COVID-19 this year at A.J. Rickoff. Gordon said the trained nurses at schools are contact tracing cases when they appear. The district reports 454 cases of the virus in schools this year but said it has only found one case that came after in-school spread. Students and staff in that class were quarantined for 10 days and did remote learning.
"We are prepared - if we have to - to switch a whole class or a whole school," Gordon said.
Kylynn Coleman said she's a peace with what happened to her mom and is glad she wasn't alone when she died.
"I was never going to leave my mother's side because she never left my side," she said.