School counselor Jennifer Susko is one of hundreds of Cobb County teachers and staff who protested over Covid-19 safety concerns during a school board meeting on January 21, 2021.

Teachers have lost colleagues to Covid-19 and worry about being next. But, they say, no one's listening

Updated 10:43 AM ET, Wed February 3, 2021

(CNN)Were it not for the health benefits, Aimeé Gotreaux says she would have already resigned from her job as a special education teacher in Kennesaw, Georgia.

Ever since her school district announced a return to in-person classes last October, the 26-year-old has been frustrated by the decisions made by local and state leaders.
She was angry that she wasn't given an option to continue working remotely, despite being the primary caregiver for a mother with lung cancer. She was uncomfortable with the high coronavirus case numbers in the county, coupled with a lack of testing for employees and students. Then three educators in her district died of Covid-19 within the span of a month, and she was upset at seeing business continue as usual.
"What is the magic number for them?" Gotreaux said. "How many teachers are they going to let die before they say, 'OK, this is a problem?'"
The past few months as a teacher have made her feel disposable, she said. So once her unpaid medical leave expires, Gotreaux plans to leave her job -- and possibly the profession.
Though cases of teachers quitting over Covid-19 concerns are rare, Gotreaux isn't alone in feeling expendable. In districts around the country, several teachers who spoke to CNN reported being at their wits' end: constantly being asked to do more with less while feeling like their anxieties aren't being heard.
On top of all that, they're seeing colleagues getting sick and even dying of Covid-19 -- and worry they or their loved ones could be next.

Hundreds of educators have died of Covid-19

There's no definitive number that records exactly how many teachers, administrators and school employees have died of Covid-19, though new reports of deaths seem to surface with increasing frequency.
There was the third grade teacher in South Carolina who used her musical talents to make learning fun. The two married teachers in Grand Prairie, Texas, who died holding hands. The first grade teacher in El Paso who once went viral for teaching students to be kind. The four teachers in Montgomery, Alabama, who died within 48 hours of each other.
Various unions have compiled their own statistics. The American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation's largest teachers' unions, estimates more than 530 of their members died of the virus last year. But one of the more extensive efforts to track educator deaths from Covid-19 comes from a memorial run by the trade publication Education Week.
"We felt a duty and responsibility to remember and to document as best we could the teachers, the bus drivers, the principals, the key people who keep our schools operating day in and day out," Lesli Maxwell, managing editor of Education Week, told CNN.
As of February 1, the site estimates that at least 707 retired and active teachers, coaches, custodians and other staff members have died of Covid-19.
Crucially, that number doesn't account for whether an employee was exposed to the virus at school or in some other setting. There's also no evidence to suggest more teachers are dying than people in other professions. In fact, recent studies have concluded that in-person classes aren't significantly contributing to coronavirus spread -- an in-depth look at two US schools released last week found that there "was no evidence of student-to-teacher or teacher-to-student transmission" when proper precautions were taken.
Still, the loss to the profession, said Maxwell, is noteworthy.
"Every death in this pandemic matters," she added. "Every one of these people matters and should be remembered."

She finds it hard to sleep on Sunday nights

The deaths so far are enough to worry educators and school staff in some districts.
Cree Hare, an elementary school counselor in the Georgia district where three educators recently died, has been working in person since October.
A colleague of hers was married to one of the teachers who passed away of Covid-19. Hare, who is 43, said she knows how seriously the couple took the pandemic, but it still cost her coworker's husband his life.
For Hare, having three educators die in a month is a clear indication that the school district should be fully virtual for the time being. But she said nothing much has changed.
So each Sunday, as the prospect of making it through another work week looms over her, Hare said she finds it difficult to sleep. The fact that her husband, also an educator, is still recovering from Covid-19 doesn't help.
"You are risking your life every day going to work," she said. "I don't feel like people have compassion towards that or if they truly understand that that is what we do."

She's mourning her colleague's death

For Isabel Alvarado Vasquez, a second grade teacher in San Antonio, Texas, the loss has hit close to home.
Recently, a teacher at another school in Vasquez's district -- a woman she worked with for four years in a previous job -- died of complications from Covid-19. Losing a colleague to the virus encapsulates many of the safety concerns that Vasquez and her coworkers have been feeling in recent weeks.
"What made her life any less than any of these huge companies that are having their employees work from home?" Vasquez asked. "Why are we so insignificant?"
Alabama Teachers Against Covid-19 protest the reopening of schools in Montgomery, Alabama, on July 23, 2020.
The Texas school district where Vasquez works has been conducting in-person classes since September. Parents could choose whether their child attended virtually or in person, but teachers weren't given an option: They had to report to the building.
At first, Vasquez, who is 49, said she was willing to give the arrangement a try. Coronavirus cases in San Antonio were relatively low at the time, and teachers had been assured that schools would go fully online again if infections got out of hand, she said. But when Covid-19 cases began rising sharply around December, that didn't happen.
Dax Gonzalez, division director of governmental relations for the Texas Association of School Boards, said that local school trustees are balancing the competing needs of their communities, administrators and teachers. There's pressure from state leaders, too.
To qualify for state funding, every school district in Texas is required to offer an in-person learning option unless the state makes an exception due to high coronavirus spread. If a significant number of studen