Coronavirus News: Beloved New Rochelle teacher dies from COVID, family says remote work request was denied

COVID-19 News and Information
NEW ROCHELLE, Westchester County (WABC) -- A family is reeling and demanding answers after their wife and mother, a beloved Westchester County teacher, lost her battle with COVID-19.

Karen Johnson, a special education teacher at the Albert Leonard Middle School in New Rochelle, passed away on February 11.

"Ms. Johnson was a devoted educator who provided reading support and special-education instruction to middle-school students," the district said in a statement. "Ms. Johnson will be dearly missed. The district extends its deepest condolences to the Johnson family as well as to the staff and students of Albert Leonard Middle School. Treasured memories of Karen Johnson will sustain her students, colleagues and friends, and she will remain in our thoughts and prayers."

Husband Robert Johnson and the couple's son Robert Jr. have each other to lean on, as they struggle to move forward.

"She loved the kids that she worked with, every one of them," Robert Johnson said. "There's nothing she wouldn't do for them. This district knows that."

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He said he knew the coronavirus could have fatal consequences for his 57-year-old wife, who suffered from asthma and struggled with her weight.

Her family showed Eyewitness News the correspondence she wrote last August to the city school district, including a note from her doctor that read, in part, "Every reasonable accommodation should be made to allow this patient to work from home."

The family also showed the response that came two months later from the acting superintendent, who wrote, "The district is denying your request for an accommodation to work remotely," adding, "the district would be unable to ensure equity of instruction for all students across all classes, grade levels and buildings."

"This was the one time we asked for anything from the school district or from anyone in the city," Robert Johnson Jr. said. "And I feel like they turned their back on us, and I lost my mother because of it."

The Johnsons cannot prove their loved one contracted the coronavirus at the middle school, but they say Karen Johnson was extra diligent about practicing safety protocols wherever she went, even at home."

"We believe that her working remotely and staying home would have prolonged her life," Robert Johnson Jr. said. "And them forcing her back to work, that was a risky situation."

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When asked for comment, a district spokesperson said it would be inappropriate and unlawful to disclose medical information regarding a staff member.

A family-only virtual funeral service is scheduled for Friday.

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