Broward County teachers did die of COVID-19, despite claims otherwise

PolitiFact | A report from the Broward Teachers Union said four died from COVID-19 within 24 hours of one another.
Ashley Johnson teaches civics to seventh-graders at Lauderdale Lakes Middle on the first day of school in Broward on Aug. 18.
Ashley Johnson teaches civics to seventh-graders at Lauderdale Lakes Middle on the first day of school in Broward on Aug. 18. [ SCOTT TRAVIS | Staff  ]
Published Aug. 23, 2021|Updated Sept. 1, 2021

Correction: This article has been updated to remove the name of a former Broward County community member who died in early August. The woman was not a Broward County teacher and had moved from the area, and her family said she died from other causes, not COVID-19. This does not affect the rating.

A CNN report on Aug. 13 stated that in a 24-hour span, four Broward County schoolteachers had died from COVID-19 and at least three of them were unvaccinated.

The Broward Teachers Union later corrected the announcement that served as the basis of the report, saying it was three teachers and that the fourth person was actually a Broward County Public Schools graduate who interacted heavily with the school district due to the nature of their job.

But an Instagram post sharing a clip from the CNN report questioned whether any of it was true.

“Ohhh look CNN is doing a story on (u)nvaccinated teachers who died of C0v1d in BROWARD COUNTY FL,” the post said. “But aren’t the schools still closed there? At least until next week.”

Commenters on the post called the report “fake news.” That post has since been deleted, but we found similar claims that also called the CNN report into question.

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) The misspellings of words such as COVID and vaccine are common tactics to evade detection by fact-checkers.

School hadn’t started when the teachers died. But the deaths did happen.

The three Broward school employees who died were Janice Wright, a teacher at Pinewood Elementary; Katina Jones, a Dillard Elementary teacher; and Yolanda Hudson Williams, a teacher’s assistant at Dillard. Each died within 24 hours of each other the week of Aug. 13.

A fourth woman was identified by the teachers union, but she was a nonprofit worker who no longer lived in the area, and her family told PolitiFact on Sept. 1 that she died from other causes, not COVID-19, and in another state.

The CNN report did not say that the four were infected at school, but it called attention to rising infection numbers locally that were causing concern about COVID-19 safety measures in schools.

“To say that we’re lying or faking deaths is just reckless and deplorable and a poor sense of human decency,” said teacher union President Anna Fusco.

Broward County Public Schools did not respond to requests for comment. Schools opened Aug. 18.

Fusco confirmed that Wright, Jones and Williams were not vaccinated. The women were Black and in their late 40s. According to data from Kaiser Family Foundation, vaccination rates for Black Floridians have been much lower than for white Floridians.

The Broward County School Board made headlines in early August when it defied Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order barring schools from requiring masks. The board voted 8-1 to keep the existing mask mandate, even with DeSantis’ threats to sanction the school district.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.
Subscribers Only

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

COVID-19 cases have been on the rise this summer in Florida, with daily cases and hospitalizations reaching their highest levels since the pandemic began. Florida’s Department of Health reported that there were more than 151,000 new cases during the week of Aug. 6. More than 40,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the state.

Our ruling

An Instagram user implied that a CNN news report about teachers who died from COVID-19 was fake because the school year hadn’t started yet.

Broward County Public Schools reopened Aug. 18, a week after the post was made. However, the Broward Teachers Union and additional news reports confirm that the teacher deaths did occur.

We rate this post False.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

DELTA VARIANT: The contagious variant has changed what we know about staying safe from COVID-19. Here's what you need to know.

KIDS AND COVID: Kids are back in school, but COVID-19 is still a problem. Here's what parents and kids need to know.

VACCINES Q&A: Have coronavirus vaccine questions? We have answers, Florida.

GET THE DAYSTARTER MORNING UPDATE: Sign up to receive the most up-to-date information.

A TRIBUTE TO FLORIDIANS TAKEN BY THE CORONAVIRUS: They were parents and retirees, police officer and doctors, imperfect but loved deeply.

HAVE A TIP?: Send us confidential news tips

We’re working hard to bring you the latest news on the coronavirus in Florida. This effort takes a lot of resources to gather and update. If you haven’t already subscribed, please consider buying a print or digital subscription.