Every time Texas loses a teacher, we lose potential. Future students are robbed of a chance to know and learn from these educators.
It’s true of coaches, cafeteria workers, counselors, administrators, bus drivers, custodians and any school employee.
When one of them dies, past and current students grieve and that educator’s ability to influence future generation ends.
No government agency is tracking school employees who have died from COVID, so we will likely never have a complete picture of the loss the virus dealt to the Texas education system.
WFAA reviewed news reports, obituaries, social media posts, and online fundraising accounts and found COVID has taken the lives of more than 80 Texas school employees. We believe the count is low because not every death was publicized.
The following list, which shares the stories of some of the educators who died of COVID-19, offers a glimpse into the impact at school campuses statewide.
LeRoy Castro was an assistant principal at Alvin Jr. High School in Brazoria County. He died on Nov. 20, 2020, at the age of 58, after more than a month in the ICU. He worked in Alvin ISD for 14 years. His family chose not to hold a memorial or funeral service due to the pandemic. His wife said LeRoy had been diligent about wearing a mask and following other protocols, and still had gotten sick.
Jose Velarde was a custodian at Akins Early College High School for more than five years. He died in February 2021. In a board meeting on Feb. 11, President Geronimo Rodriguez said Jose was known for always lending a helping hand, going above and beyond in his job, and his unforgettable smile.
Patricia Hernandez died in April 2020, shortly after testing positive for COVID-19. A food service worker at Casis Elementary School, Patricia had joined the district in 2002. “During this time, she was considered a loyal, faithful, and hardworking individual–who found great joy in serving the students of our school and district,” Principal Samuel Tinnon said in a letter.
Diane Goetschius was a teacher at Fletcher Elementary School. She was hospitalized for more than a month and on a ventilator for three weeks before she died. Diane was 60. Friends say her legacy is defined by those she loved most – her family, her students and her colleagues.
Sandra Robinson, a transportation supervisor for the district, died Nov. 16, 2020. The 63-year-old had been part of the transportation team for more than four decades, starting off as a bus driver. Her grandson said contracting COVID-19 didn’t stop her from doing what she loved. "She was actually working from the hospital. She had her laptop, her radio, and her cellphone. So she was doing work."
Carl Anderson, 58, was a social studies teacher and football coach at Southlake High School. Carl died after becoming sick with COVID-19 while on vacation. He and his wife spent their lives serving others, according to a GoFundMe launched to support his family.
Corpus Christi ISD
Jose Gonzalez was an assistant principal at Veterans Memorial High School. He died Dec. 3, 2020, after being hospitalized in the ICU with COVID-19. He grew up in Alice, eventually becoming an assistant principal.
Christina Reyna was a pre-K, kindergarten and first grade teacher at Los Encinos Elementary School. She had taught in the district for 24 years. Christina was hospitalized in July 2020 before she died of complications of COVID-19.
Librado Lee Navarro Jr. was a custodian at Metro Elementary School of Design who died on Dec. 29, according to his obituary. He was 67 years old. Librado worked for the district for 20 years and was known as being devoted to his job, officials said.
Linh Phuong Le was a paraeducator at Kirk Elementary. Linh, 69, died on Jan. 3, after a brief, but rapidly worsening case of COVID-19. She survived the Vietnam War, finally escaping the country in the early 1980s. Linh was described as “a bright light and loved by all, most knew Linh for her sweet smile, kind words, and thoughtful gifts.”
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James Beckers was a bilingual teacher at Cochran Elementary in Dallas. He died on Sept. 29, 2020, according to a GoFundMe set up by his family. They described him as “the strongest, most loving, gentle, cheerful, kindest man we have ever known.”
Eagle Mountain Saginaw ISD
Gerald Money was a social studies teacher and softball coach at Saginaw High School. The 52-year-old died on Jan. 8. He had been at the school for three years. The district said Gerald was a beloved teacher, coach and Army veteran. Dane Johnson, Saginaw’s football coach and athletic director, called Money “an overcomer and a battler.”
Eugene “Gene” Gonzalez, who was an English teacher and assistant baseball coach at Saginaw High School, died on March 16. He had been with the school since 2018, and was well-respected on campus, according to the school. Johnson said Gonzalez was a quiet man who might not say a word, “but you’d feel his presence.”
RELATED: No state agency is tracking the number of Texas school employees who die from COVID-19. So WFAA is.
Ector County ISD
Amalia Gonzales was a teacher at an elementary school in Odessa, who died on Thanksgiving Day. Amalia, who is the mother of WFAA reporter Rebecca Lopez, would have turned 74 in March. The two-time breast cancer survivor loved to travel, loved Texas, and most of all loved her family and friends.
Mary Flores, 68, died on Aug. 8, 2020. She retired after 28 years of teacher in 2001, but continued substitute teaching in Edinburg CISD, according to her obituary
Mary Lee Mosley was a retired cafeteria and custodial staff member, who drove a school bus until Nov. 2020. The 85-year-old had been involved in the booster club and athletic programs at Eula for nearly 43 years. An obituary said that “her absence will be profoundly felt.”
Tia Coleman, 50, died on Oct. 1, 2020 of COVID-19 complications. She had taught for 20 years. Tia’s best friend of 30 years said she will be remembered as kind, loving and compassionate.
Jeremy Morgan, 44, was a football and softball coach at Forney High School, and had previously coached at and was an alum of Waxahachie High School. He died Dec. 6, 2020. "In my estimation, Jeremy Morgan was about as close to a saint as you will find walking in this earthly world," a friend told WFAA.
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Scott Benschneider died Jan. 29 of COVID-19. He taught AP Statistics and Pre-AP Pre-Calculus at Lebanon Trail High School. The district said Scott “was known for the authentic relationships he built with students and for being a tireless advocate of their growth."
Garland charter school
Ihab Muhanna, 55, died of COVID-19 on January 3. He was a school security officer for Brighter Horizons Academy, an Islamic school in Garland. The school launched a fundraiser in his name to build a water well in Mali village. He “was beloved by all and he left a mark on everyone he met,” the school said.
Grand Prairie ISD
Paul and Rose Mary Blackwell the same day in Dec. 2020 of COVID-19. Rose Mary was a second grade bilingual teacher, team leader and mentor at Travis World Language Academy. She had worked at the school for two decades. Paul was a PE teacher, coach and mentor at Fannin Middle School.
Irving private school
Bruce Brown, 59, was the athletic director at Holy Family Catholic Academy, and had coached middle school sports for more than a decade. He died on Jan. 9. His wife Lupe told WFAA that Bruce was “an amazing husband, father and friend. He loved being a coach and teacher! It was his dream job. He was our biggest cheerleader.” The couple was high school sweethearts.
Kelly Balser was a nurse at Morton Ranch High School, and her husband and daughter are teachers there. She died in early September and had been a nurse at the school for 22 years. “Kelly was a compassionate, sweet soul and she will forever be missed by the entire Maverick community,” Julie Hinson said in a statement.
Katy private school
Cary Richards taught band at Aristoi Classical Academy. “His greatest joy was to teach music to children. Music was his life,” his wife Sharon Trimble told WFAA. Richards idolized legendary trombone player Glenn Miller and before earning a degree in music education, he led his own big band orchestra and was a DJ at a Dallas radio station.
David “Scott” Dumler, 55, was a history teacher at Killeen High School who died in March 2021. For over 25 years, Scott captivated students by immersing them in historical periods using music, costumes, and instruments, district officials said.
Cathy Falkner was a science teacher at Ellison High School. The 47-year-old died Jan. 7, 2021. District officials said despite her illness, her “main concern was for her students and their continued success in her class.” Cathy had taught at the school for three years.
Lake Dallas ISD
Bill Cosper, a longtime teacher and coach, died Jan. 30. He was 62. He had taught with the district since 2013, and was an assistant football and track coach. "Coach Cosper was known to our Falcon Family for his devotion to students, with a heart for his athletes as well as the entire student body," the district said.
Evonna Stewart graduated from Lancaster High School, earned a degree in education, and then returned to Lancaster to teach. Her students’ test scores were improving and she was making connections with kids who were sometimes hard to reach, according to colleague Rophietta London. Stewart died one day shy of her 27th birthday.
RELATED: No state agency is tracking the number of Texas school employees who die from COVID-19. So WFAA is.
Ramon Herrera died on Feb. 1. He was an English teacher who had been at Cigarroa High School for 27 years. The school said he unselfishly extended financial support for different school organizations and was a fan in the stands always rooting for our student athletes.”
William Duckworth, 50, died in late January, according to the Star-Telegram. He was a special education aide who had worked for more than four years. In a letter, the principal described Duckworth as an “extraordinary man who always came to work with a heart of service.”
Olivia Lopez-Ramirez died on Dec. 28, 2020, at 44 years old. Her obituary said Olivia was a devoted educator for 17 years, and taught third, fourth and fifth grade at Murnin Elementary School.
Melissa Gutierrez, 45, taught family consumer science at Dobie High School. She had taught at the school for 11 years and also was a Dobie HS graduate. She died Feb. 2, 2021. "She loved everybody. Everybody that was around her felt love for her. A love beyond what a teacher should normally do," one of her students said.
RELATED: 'There are no words to say' | Students mourn Dobie HS teacher who died after battle with COVID-19
Julie Duffy died on Oct. 27, 2020, at the age of 58. She had been an educator for more than two decades at Arapaho Classical Magnet, teaching sixth, fourth, third and first grade, according to her obituary. She was described as “gentle and generous.”
San Antonio private school
Louis Lubbering was an art teacher at Incarnate Word High School, where he had taught for more than 25 years. He was an artist, veteran, brother, husband, father and grandfather. His classroom was known as a safe place to all students, not just the ones who took his class. Louis died in July 2020.
RELATED: A teacher who spelled art 'F-U-N' | Beloved Incarnate Word HS teacher passes away after COVID-19 battle
San Antonio ISD
Carmen Canales, 48, was a special education teacher who died in July 2020. She was the first SAISD employee to die due to COVID-19, according to the district. Canales had worked with the district for three years. “Each day, she gave her best to our students,” the principal wrote in a letter.
Melissa Martinez died in August 2020. She taught kindergarten at Rogers Academy and had been with the district for six years. “She was passionate about her students, creative beyond measure, and always willing to help anyone in need,” the district said in a statement.
Phillip Jimenez was a special education teacher and an assistant football coach at Sam Houston High School. The 49-year-old died on Dec. 19, 2020. Phillip had worked at the high school for 10 years. His family described his as the epitome of a giver, who worked to ensure that his family and students were cared four.
Principal Phillip Perry, 49, died March 24, 2020. He had been the principal at GW Carver Middle School since since May 2019 and had served as assistant principal for three years previously. Phillip was the first person to die of COVID-19 in McLennan County. "Phillip was the type of individual that he would do whatever he could for those students,” said Bellmead Mayor Travis Gibson.
Wichita Falls ISD
Jordan Darnell, 33, died on March 7, 2021. She had taught special education at Hirschi High School since 2015, according to her obituary. She was also part of Big Brothers Big SIsters and coached cheerleading in the Special Olympics.
Have you lost someone to COVID-19? We'd like to hear their story: