Three one-time employees of the Fort Braden School, in Tallahassee, Fla.—two of them members of the same family—have died of COVID-19 this summer, losses of life that have deeply affected the school community.
Karen Bradwell, 53, manager of the after-school program at the school, succumbed to the coronavirus in late July. A week earlier, a 19-year old custodian at the school, Jordan Byrd, had died of the disease.
The pain experienced by the Leon County school district did not end there. Last week, Jacqueline Byrd, Jordan’s mother and a former employee of the school, also died of the coronavirus.
Both members of the Byrd family, and Bradwell, are remembered as devoted, caring individuals who made positive contributions to the school system, in very different ways.
The three deaths offer a stark portrait of the indiscriminate toll inflicted by the coronavirus, which has taken the lives of educators of all backgrounds, across many age groups.
Jimbo Jackson, the principal at Fort Braden, praised Bradwell’s devotion to the school, according to an email published by WCTV, a television station. He said he’d known Bradwell for 25 years.
"[Karen] was a solid rock in our school community as our after-school director. More importantly, she was a devoted and loving mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, godmother, and mentor to hundreds of students over many years,” Jackson wrote.
One life lost is one too many, Jackson continued: “She will be terribly missed by all who knew her and her incredibly positive attitude regardless of the situation.”
Cynthia Bradwell, the school’s building supervisor and Bradwell’s sister, posted a message on Facebook.
“I would like to thank everyone for the love and support that was shown to my family and I during this difficult time; we really appreciated everyone reaching out to us to provide words of comfort, donations, and most importantly prayers. We are overly blessed to have so many friends near and far that loved Karen; She will truly be missed. God Bless!”
COVID-19 has had a broad and ongoing impact on the Leon County School System, of which the Fort Braden School is a part.
Last month, the Fort Braden school principal, Jackson, announced that he and his wife, Beth Jackson, who is principal at Hawk’s Rise Elementary School in the district, and his brother all tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. All three are believed to be recovering, the Democrat reported.
Jacqueline Byrd, 55, who passed away last week, was a former Fort Braden school employee, the newspaper said.
In a message posted on Facebook, Jacqueline Byrd’s surviving son, Jacary, paid honor to his mother and brother.
“To my heart I will definitely miss you‼️” he wrote. “You and Jordan Byrd have both left me. I know that you both are having a good time in the Lord. Mommy I will definitely miss you.”
The deaths come as the 34,000-student Leon County school district, like many others across Florida, prepares for the in-person reopening of its schools. Those plans have deeply worried educators in the state who are concerned about their exposure to the virus. The Leon County system said it will reopen in-person classes on Aug. 31, though it will have an online-only option for families.
‘People Gravitated to Him’
When Tricia Rizza, Jordan Byrd’s English professor at Tallahassee Community College, heard of his passing, two things popped into her mind: his positivity and hard work.
“He really was this quiet beacon in the class,” Rizza said in an interview.
“He wasn’t the one who wanted a lot of attention drawn on him and yet when he participated, it just happened people gravitated to him, and it was done so humbly.”
In Rizza’s class, Jordan sat in the second-to last-row. “I found myself a lot of times walking back into his area because he did participate and he had great discussions and worked with others constantly,” Rizza remembered.
When the college made the shift from in-person classes to online, Rizza said Jordan’s positivity shined through.
“Jordan would say something like, ‘You guys, I get it. This is not the way we want it. But we have to plow through. We’ve only got four weeks left, so we’ve got to make the best of it,’” Rizza said.
“That was kind of his message where he acknowledged that everybody was struggling, but in a sense he was that person that helped push us forward.