School Climate & Safety

A Memorial Honoring School Employees Killed on the Job Has 37 New Names

By Denisa R. Superville — December 20, 2019 5 min read
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The National Memorial to Fallen Educators in Emporia, Kan., added 37 new names this year to its growing list of school district employees who died while they were doing their jobs.

But Michele Barrows, a 67-year-old crossing guard from Springfield, Ma., who was hit by a vehicle in August 2018 during her first week on the job, was the only one on the list who was killed in the 2018-19 school year—the academic year leading up to this past summer re-dedication of the memorial.

Two of the names engraved into the memorial—black granite blocks carved into the shape of books—were those of Glenda “Ann” Perkins and Cynthia Tisdale, substitute teachers who were among those killed in Santa Fe, Tex., in a May 2018 school shooting that left 10 dead.

The other names belonged to school district employees who had died in previous years, but whose stories were somehow missed during research.

The memorial’s organizers honored the Santa Fe teachers at last year’s ceremony, during which they commemorated 10 educators who died in the 2017-18 academic year—five of whom died in school shootings.

But Perkins’ and Tisdale’s names couldn’t fit into the existing granite books, so the memorial organizers raised about $40,000 to buy a new one. The third book, which was installed over the summer, is already more than half full.

“We keep saying #NoMoreNames each year, and, sadly that has not been the case,” said Carol Strickland, the executive director of the National Teachers Hall of Fame, which runs the memorial based at Emporia State University. The memorial’s creation was spurred by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. seven years ago, which left 20 children and seven educators dead.

“We hope we wouldn’t need [to add] a new one, but I guess, realistically, in the next few years we’ll need to,” Strickland said.

A Growing List of Names

So far, 163 names have been added to the memorial, which honors teachers, principals, secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, maintenance workers and other school district employees who died while they were doing their jobs.

Some were killed in accidents; others in vehicular crashes; others in acts of violence. Some are chilling: In one 2013 incident, two janitors were shot and killed by a co-worker in a West Palm Beach, Fla., school.

The names continue to trickle in.

“We knew there were probably lots of names that we missed along the way, especially prior to the 1990s,” Strickland said, referring to a period when many local newspapers did not have an internet presence.

Sometimes Strickland and Jennifer Baldwin, the administrative assistant at the National Teachers Hall of Fame, would get a call asking, “Did you see this?”

Baldwin also conducts weekly online searches for the names of school district employees she and Strickland may have missed. Sometimes the name of a dead school worker emerges from a court case that’s in the news. Other times, a family member, hearing about the memorial, will call the National Teachers Hall of Fame or their state teachers’ union affiliate to find out whether their relative’s name is on the memorial.

That’s how Russell Jean Hampton’s name was added to this year’s list of honorees, according to Strickland. Hampton, a school bus driver in Port Arthur, Tex., was shot by a 10-year-old student in 1988 and later died from her injuries, according to the Associated Press.

Hampton was returning the school bus after dropping off students at Dick Dowling Elementary School when she saw the boy riding his bicycle, the AP reported at the time. Police suspected that she asked the student to get on the bus so she could take him to school, but he feared that she would report him for truancy, the AP reported.

Years later, Hampton’s son, who was a teenager at the time of his mother’s death, contacted the Texas State Teachers Association to inquire about his mother’s place in the memorial.

“We checked, and we’d missed [her],” Strickland said. “She belonged on the wall.”

Strickland said the addition meant a lot to Hampton’s family. The memorial attempts “to give some sort of consolation to the family and let them know that their loved one is remembered,” Strickland said.

School districts continue to be a bit of a stumbling block, Strickland said. When she and Baldwin contact school districts to verify the employment of victims they plan to add to the memorial, they’re often told that the individual was not an educator, but a bus driver, paraprofessional or maintenance worker and does not belong on the memorial.

Strickland’s and the memorial’s definition of educator applies to everyone who is employed by the school district to make children’s education possible. (Contractors are not included.)

“Sometimes the very first person that the kids see is the bus driver,” said Strickland, a former teacher. “Then they see the attendance clerk; they see the people in the lunchroom before they ever get to a classroom, where they see the teachers and paras.”

Just six months after the last memorial ceremony, Strickland and Baldwin already have a list of names to add next year’s book. Among them: a custodian who was killed in March 2018 by a falling bookshelf; a football coach shot and killed this school year while trying to break up a fight in New York; a bus driver killed in 2008 in Angola, N.Y., who had been overlooked; and another bus driver who died along with five children while stranded for hours in a blizzard in Colorado in 1931.

The growing list of names continues to weigh heavily on Strickland, but she’d rather the memorial add names from previous years than new names altogether.

“If we could get by for one year without adding anyone from that year, that would be wonderful,” she said.

1. A granite tablet at the National Memorial to Fallen Educators at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kan., bears the names of school district employees who were killed on the job. Photo by Gwendolynne Larson/Emporia State University

2. Tim Hampton and Sheun Nolan, remember their mother, Russell Jean DeJohn Hampton, during the rededication ceremony at the National Memorial to Fallen Educators on Friday, June 21, 2019. Russell Jean DeJohn Hampton was driving a school bus in Port Arthur, Tex., when she was in November, 1988. She died of her injuries. Photo courtesy Emporia State University.

Related Video:

‘He’s Going to Be Remembered as a Hero': Memorial to Educators Who’ve Died on the Job


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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

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