Newsmaker of the Week: Seven teachers dead within eight days | Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News | Loop News

This week’s featured development as Newsmaker of the Week just ended is the continued heartache from the deaths of at least seven teachers locally between May 11 and May 18.

The disclosure of five of the deaths was made on Tuesday by the Education and Youth Ministry, while the other deaths occurred the following day, hours apart.

In March, the crime wave engulfed the nation’s overall school population in waves, with several murders of students. Fast forward to the month of May, the education sector is reeling from a new wave of tragedy which now surrounds teachers.

The deaths, mostly developments, sent the teaching profession and the nation at large into a state of shock, with more questions being asked about the conditions in which many of the island’s educators work.

There were calls also for those employed in the teaching profession to take better care of their health.

On Tuesday evening, Education and Youth Minister, Fayval Williams, issued a press release, disclosing that five teachers had died within six days.

They were: Mathematics lecturer at Portmore Community College, Gregory Williams, who died on May 11; principal of Vere Technical High School, Antoinette Banton-Ellis, who died on May 12; Ann Marie Johnson Lindo, Vice-principal of Duncans All-Age School in Trelawny, who also died on May 12; Carlos Gordon, a grade six Teacher of One Way Preparatory School in Kingston, who passed on May 14; and Donnalee Wright of Tarrant High School in St Andrew, who died on Monday, May 16.

In expressing “deep sadness” at the news, Williams described their deaths as “tragic blows to their families”.

Education and Youth Minister, Fayval Williams.

“The sudden death of our teachers whose dedicated service covered the primary to the tertiary level has also been a big shock to the education system,” Williams added.

She noted that Banton-Ellis gave 32 years of service to education, starting at Cross Primary and Junior High as a pre-trained teacher. She worked at a number of other schools before joining Vere Technical High as Principal on October 1, 2017, and served until her untimely death.

Gordon, who reportedly had heart-related complications, taught at One-Way Prep School for 16 years, covering grades four, five and six, while Johnson Lindo was Vice-principal at Duncans Primary and All-age since 2016, having first joined the staff in 1998.

Johnson Lindo taught general subjects to grades four, five and six students, with a special passion for mathematics and science, Williams said.

Gregory Williams joined the staff of Portmore Community College in September 2008 as an assistant lecturer. In 2016, he was appointed permanently as a lecturer. He taught mathematics in the associate degree programmes at the college.

Wright taught English language across several grades since 2019.

“Their inspirational guidance and dedicated service were well appreciated, especially in the discipline they brought to their subject areas and how they interacted with students, parents and colleague educators,” said Williams.

The People’s National Party (PNP) extended condolences to the family and friends of Banton-Ellis and Johnson-Lindo, both of whom passed away on May 12.

“They have helped to change the lives of many students, and helped to create better citizens,” a release from the PNP on Tuesday said.

Jennifer Gidden

Opposition Spokesperson on Education and Training, Dr Angela Brown-Burke, called on all teachers and principals to pay attention to their personal well-being as they grapple with the stressful conditions in the nation’s schools.

The Opposition said it recognises that the pressures from dealing with increased violence in schools and the academic and other challenges of building back better and stronger, place additional stress on teachers and principals.

“We call on the Government to ensure that facilities are provided to facilitate our teachers and principals as they find ways to cope in these high-stress work environments,” the Opposition said.

By Wednesday morning, the nation was rocked by the news that a sixth educator had died.

Jennifer Gidden, Acting Principal of Charlemont High School, died while her son was transporting her to the hospital. She had been ill for some time, it was reported.

She had been teaching at the school since 1988, and came from a family of educators.

In reacting to that news on Wednesday, President of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), Winston Smith, expressed concern about the surge in sudden deaths among teachers.

“This is now the sixth teacher in (eight) days,” Smith said in reference to Gidden’s death in an interview with Loop News.

“Whilst we are not sure of the cause of death, we are extremely concerned because all these teachers have died suddenly with what can be connected to stress or such activities,” he added.

By Wednesday night, Smith confirmed the death of another educator, Amory Tomlinson, who taught at a school in Black River, St Elizabeth. She, too, died suddenly, although there were reports that she had been ailing for a period of time.

“I am not sure of her age, but it seems to be a case of sudden death, based on what I have been told,” Smith told Loop News in the wake of her death.

Earlier in the day, Smith urged teachers to do relaxation exercises to relieve stress, and called for spiritual intervention on behalf of the nation’s teachers.

“The JTA would like to use this opportunity to remind our members to take good care of self by taking time out to relax and treat themselves in whichever way they can, to ensure that they release the stress occasioned by the job as well as financial burdens.

“We express condolences to both the biological as well as professional families of our deceased colleagues while we await the outcome of the autopsies to ascertain the causes of death,” Smith said.

According to the JTA president, teachers can access counselling through the association. He also called, as well, for the Ministry of Education to provide counselling for the impacted schools.

“We are asking for the Ministry of Education to provide grief counselling to the staff of the affected schools, and remind each school that the JTA has counsellors available to them at a beck and call.

“They just need to make contact with their regional officer or the head office,” he said.

Meanwhile, a pall of gloom hanged over social media platforms as news of the deaths circulated.

Speculation was also rife among members of the public as they struggled to understand whether it was just mere coincidence why the island’s educators were suddenly dying in such close succession to each other.

On Facebook, Suzzette Charmaine Brown asked: “Something is seriously wrong here, what is killing these teachers?

“Condolences to all the families and school families,” she said.

Another Facebook user, Daniel Whyte, questioned: “A wonder if a the famous injection a kill these teachers so cause this strange.”

In response to that comment and other remarks seeking to link the deaths of the educators to the COVID-19 vaccine, Tena Williams claimed that, “… At least two of those teachers were cancer patients and not all were vaccinated.

“So do you think the vaccine killed them all? It seems people weren’t dying before the vaccines came about. SIP to those who have gone on before us.

“All the best to those who did not take the vaccine and will live forever,” said Williams, sarcastically.

Still, there were more questions about the deaths.

“Teachers have always been stressed and never died before in droves. So when I look at it, something is really off and odd about these deaths,” commented Wayniejeffwhap, an Instagram user.

Another user, mahrcodan, stated: “Work too hard and nah get pay. Pressure bus pipe.”

On Twitter, there were calls for teachers to take care of their mental and physical health.

“We need to put in measures in place so that teachers have counselling at their fingertips, but still I believe all teachers should ensure that they get their regular check-ups and maintain healthy lifestyles as best as they can,” tweeted @Kerijackxx.

Shared another Twitter user: “All teachers must tek some time off for themselves and relax. Can’t wuk a galang so, because pay not enough and ur easily replaced.”