[Update below] A Brooklyn high school principal died of complications from the novel coronavirus while another school official from the same building in Brownsville has been hospitalized in intensive care, city and school officials said Tuesday.
Chalkbeat reported the death Monday night of Dez-Ann Romain, 36, who was the head of Brooklyn Democracy Academy in Brownsville.
Romain was "someone who obviously gave (her) whole life to trying to help kids," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference Tuesday. She was apparently the first New York public school educator to die from complications of the novel coronavirus.
Ronda Phillips, the 48-year-old principal of Kappa V Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy has been hospitalized in intensive care, according to city Councilman Mark Treyger Tuesday. The two schools share a building located at 985 Rockaway Avenue in Brooklyn.
When asked about Phillips at the press conference, de Blasio said, "I do not have the details to any connection to any other DOE members."
The Department of Education did not immediately answer questions about Phillips but referred reporters to a statement by Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza on Romain's death.
"This is painful for all of us, and I extend my deepest condolences to the Brooklyn Democracy Academy community, and the family of Principal Romain," Carranza tweeted Tuesday. "We’re all experiencing a deep sense of confusion, uncertainty, and sadness, and it’s more important than ever to provide support to one another. We’ll be there for the students and staff through whatever means necessary during this impossibly difficult time."
Brooklyn Democracy Academy is a "transfer high school" for students seeking alternatives to traditional high school settings.
"She gave her entire self to that community, and it did not matter how incredibly complex a problem was,” her former colleague Courtney Winkfield told Chalkbeat. “She was always rolling her sleeves up to do whatever she could to solve it.”
"It is with profound sadness and overwhelming grief that we announce the passing of our sister, CSA member Dezann Romain, Principal of Brooklyn Democracy Academy, due to complications from Coronavirus. Our prayers are with her family and school community as we mourn alongside them," said the Council of Schools Supervisors and Administrators in a statement. "Please keep Principal Romain in your thoughts and continue to do everything possible to keep yourselves and your loved ones safe during this health crisis."
"I am beyond devastated to learn that Principal Ronda Phillips of Kappa V High School is in intensive care, and I wish her a safe recovery. Principal Phillips led Kappa V at the same campus as Principal Dez-Ann Romain led Brooklyn Democracy Academy. I will continue to keep their families and school communities in my thoughts and prayers," Treyger said in a statement.
Treyger called for mandatory "tracking and reporting positive and presumptive positive cases in our school communities, regardless of the fact that we have moved to remote learning," and added, "we need to move from individual school communities voluntarily notifying their staff and families to mandatory notification. We owe our educators, administrators, school staff, and families more than boilerplate guidance that every New Yorker should act as though they have been exposed under widespread community transmission. That does nothing to allay the fears of parents, teachers, and leaders who are concerned they may have had close exposure and may expose vulnerable and elderly family members for whom they care."
[Update] Romain was last inside the Brooklyn Democracy Academy building on Thursday March 12th and stayed home once she began feeling ill the next day, according to the DOE. The school facilities were deep-cleaned and disinfected on March 12th, and every day since. Romain was admitted to a hospital for pneumonia on Wednesday March 18th. By Friday March 20th, the school sent a letter to students, staff and faculty to notify the community of a "self-reported case" of COVID-19.
The DOE also said "while no member of the Kappa V student body or school staff has a confirmed case of coronavirus, Principal Phillips has been hospitalized. The Superintendent is committed to transparently sharing information and will continue to update the community on the situation."
“The City has been at community transmission for over a week, and it’s impossible to trace the source of exposure, but as of March 13, the City’s Health Department advised that a positive case in the school or workplace environment did not put others at higher risk than did anywhere else in the city. Regardless, we have been deep cleaning buildings daily and supporting schools in notifying their communities of self-confirmed cases. Our thoughts are with Principal Phillips and her family for a speedy recovery, and we’ll support the school community in every way we can,” said DOE spokesperson Miranda Barbot in a statement Tuesday evening.