A third employee at Lee County Elementary School, counselor Rhonda Estes, died of COVID-19 Monday afternoon, Lee County Superintendent Sarah Wasson confirmed.
“It is with a heavy heart that I confirm we have lost a dear friend and colleague this afternoon due to a covid related illness,” Wasson told the Herald-Leader in a statement.
“Our elementary guidance counselor, Ms. Rhonda Estes, was a special part of the Lee County (Schools) family for over 31 years. We send our deepest condolences to her family. Our staff and community are heartbroken and we ask for your prayers as well as some space and time to grieve in this most difficult situation,” her statement said.
Lee County Elementary custodian Bill Bailey died earlier this month. An instructional assistant at Lee County Elementary School, Heather Antle, also died from COVID-19 in late August.
Also, Matt Cockrell, a Shelby County high school teacher, died Sunday from COVID, according to Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Toni Konz Tatman.
Last week, the educator group Kentucky 120 United had reported that at least 33 Kentucky school employees had died of COVID-19. The latest two deaths raises that toll to at least 35.
“We have lost another Kentucky educator to COVID-19,” Tatman said in a social media post. “Matt was not only a top notch art teacher, he was a coach and club sponsor.”
The Courier-Journal reported that Matt Cockrell and Carly Cockrell, who also worked for Shelby County Schools according to her Facebook page, had married in June.
“My husband went to be with the Lord this morning at 7:58 am.,” Carly Cockrell said Sunday in a social media post. “He fought so hard. I was told 5 different times that he wasn’t going to make it and he kept pushing and kept fighting until the very end. He was surrounded by his family when his spirit was lifted up.”
“We can all have faith that there is no doubt Matt is with Jesus, where all his pain is gone. The last words Matt said to me was , ‘Jesus Saves!’ Matt was my everything,” Cockrell said.
“This is so hard. I’m so sorry for everyone that loves Matt Cockrell. I know his tribe is huge. I will work everyday for the rest of my life to make him proud and to bring his life honor,” she said in the post.
Carly Cockrell had posted earlier this month that her husband had been placed on a ventilator.
A June article on the Morehead State University website about Cockrell, a MSU graduate, said he started his teaching career at a small, independent K-12 school, and he was currently an art teacher at Martha Layne Collins High School in Shelbyville. In 2019, Cockrell received the Secondary Level Art Educator of The Year Award from the Kentucky Art Education Association, the MSU article said.
“Teaching art allows me to share my own personal story about the struggles I had in school, growing up, and how students who are currently struggling at school are not so different from how I was. Sharing my success story and giving students this reality check allows them to see the possibilities,” he was quoted as saying.
The vaccination status of the two school employees was not immediately known.