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Ft. Braden Principal announces another school-connected death, calls for the classrooms to stay closed

Published: Jul. 26, 2020 at 1:21 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2020 at 10:06 AM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - In a heartfelt email to faculty and staff at his school, Fort Braden Principal Jimbo Jackson announced the death of an after-school director, and called for the postponement of kids back in class.

Jackson shared the email with WCTV Sunday afternoon. In the email, he writes Karen Bradwell has died, indicating she worked at the school for more than 25 years. She was 53 years old.

“She was a solid rock in our school community as our after-school director,” he writes.

“More importantly, she was a devoted and loving mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, godmother, and mentor to hundreds of students over many years.”

Jackson does not explain how Bradwell died, but connects her death with the recent passing of 19-year-old Jordan Byrd, a school custodian who died due to complications from COVID-19, according to at least one school employee.

Jackson writes that “a single life lost is one too many.” He adds that he’d be lying if he told students and staff they’d be safe attending his school.

He calls for state leaders to postpone the return of students to class until it’s “reasonably safe” to do so.

“Our students, staff, and personnel are not a gamble I am willing to take when lives hang in the balance.”

Read the full letter below:

Faculty and staff,

Sadly, I’m reaching out to you today to inform you of the passing of Karen Bradwell, our after-school director at Fort Braden. Karen and I (and several of you) have worked together at Fort Braden School for 25+ years. She was a solid rock in our school community as our after-school director. More importantly, she was a devoted and loving mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, godmother, and mentor to hundreds of students over many years. Cynthia Bradwell, our Building Supervisor, is her sister but also her closest friend. Not surprisingly, Karen’s children followed her path into serving others as their life’s work. Her family’s commitment to our community is unquestioned. She will be terribly missed by all who knew her and her incredibly positive attitude regardless of the situation. Karen was 53.

Where do we go from here?

I find myself extending my condolences to both the Jordan Byrd and Karen Bradwell families. As you can imagine, they are all suffering through real and painful loss. Nothing I say here will replace the loss of these incredible people who have impacted so many lives in our school community and beyond. I have felt and seen firsthand the effects of this deadly virus as these families grieve the loss of our loved ones gone much too soon. I have no words that can comfort the families experiencing the sudden passing of their loved one. I know this feeling all too well.

Each day for 28 years, I have gone to work at Fort Braden School. In that time, I have served thousands of children and families. Our number one job in schools each day is safety. It is to ensure the physical, mental and emotional well-being of our students, faculty, and staff. In my previous 28 years, we have had many challenges related to threats to school safety, transportation to and from school, repair of dangerous equipment or facilities, and more recently, we engage in monthly drills for natural disasters, evacuation of the school facility, and sadly, responses to the threat of violence against students and staff.

However, now my school community and I face the invisible threat of a deadly virus that can affect us all. Karen had not been on campus regularly since March. The impact on our school community is no less though. It is clear that this virus is not contained by a single site or school but affects the whole community. School leaders all over the nation are faced with this risk. I would argue that my perspective is more real than others. My family and I have experienced the illness firsthand, and watched as not one but two of our school family have paid the ultimate price for making a difference in our community.

A single life lost is one too many. With great respect to our governor and state leaders, I have to look into the eyes of my school family of students and teachers and say I cannot guarantee your safety in this environment. That is a tremendous responsibility and makes me wonder “who’s next?”. I cannot sit idly by and wait to mourn with another family. I want to look myself in the mirror each night and know I have done the right thing to keep our school community safe. Our Leon County School Board and Superintendent Rocky Hanna have been patient and solid leaders that have followed state mandates as they work non-stop and prepare and adapt our re-opening plans to increase student and staff safety. But, as I mentioned before, we are at the mercy of an ever changing pandemic that does not abide by the rules and mandates of policy makers...including me.

As a school leader, I cannot continue to see my school family mourn our friends and then tell them that “I can keep you safe when you come to school. “ That would certainly be a lie and a slap in the face to the Byrd and Bradwell families as they grieve and plan memorial services for angels gone too soon.

With what the Fort Braden School community has already endured, I cannot support a return to brick and mortar school and respectfully call on our state leaders to postpone the return of students to school buildings until such time as it is reasonably safe for all members of our school communities. Our students, staff, and personnel are not a gamble I am willing to take when lives hang in the balance.

Take the time to hug your loved ones today,

Jimbo

Jimbo Jackson

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Bradwell family.

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