Principal of Treasure Valley charter school dies after weeklong battle with COVID-19

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The principal of a charter school in Caldwell died Wednesday in connection with COVID-19, according to his family.

Javier Castaneda, who had served as the principal and superintendent of Heritage Community Charter School, was in a medically induced coma when he died, holding the hand of his wife, Maria. He was 48.

The school was closed Thursday and Friday and is expected to be closed through Monday. In a statement, the school’s board offered condolences to his wife and the rest of his family.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Javier Castaneda, our principal, executive director, and leader of the Heritage family,” the statement said. “His passing represents an enormous personal loss to each and every one of us at Heritage — students, staff and parents.”

In a letter to parents, the school’s board said it is committed to providing counseling resources and other support for kids when they return to the classroom.

“The next few days will not be easy for the Heritage family. We have suffered a tremendous loss,” the letter from the board said. “We will, however, follow the example set so well by Dr. Castaneda — to strive to meet our core characteristics of responsibility, diligence/work, compassion, friendship, courage, loyalty, perseverance and honesty. That is what Dr. Castaneda would want from us, and that is what we will do.”

Castaneda was healthy and athletic before he got COVID-19, his wife’s sister, Sonja Larsen, told the Idaho Statesman. He got the coronavirus around Sept. 4 and went to the hospital on Sept. 6.

“He struggled and was eventually put on a ventilator on Friday, September 10,” Larsen said in an email. “After several days on the ventilator, he passed away.”

His family expressed gratitude to the nurses and doctors at West Valley Medical Center who treated Castaneda.

Larsen described Castaneda as a “great father, friend and lifelong learner.”

“He loved the students he served as teacher and then as principal,” she said. “He loved spending time with his family in the outdoors.”

A GoFundMe was set up to raise money for Castaneda’s wife and his seven children. More than $16,000 had been raised as of Sunday morning.

The school’s Parent-Teacher-Student-Organization shared the fundraising page and described Castaneda in a Facebook post as “kind, funny, patient and loyal.”

“He was loved by his students, staff and the HCCS families,” the post said. “His devotion to the students showed when he would greet them in the mornings and make sure to say goodbye to them at the end of their day.”

Comments on the post described the profound impact he had on students.

“Thank you for always knowing my children by name, teaching them kindness and everything you did for every student and family. We will never forget you,” user Krista Antram posted, from “The Antram and Caudle family.”

A memorial for Castaneda will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Mallard Park in Caldwell. People can send notes and flowers to the family at Heritage Community Charter School, 1803 E. Ustick Road in Caldwell. The school has been turned into a mini memorial for Castaneda, Larsen said, with flowers and a banner.

COVID-19 cases have been surging in Idaho, overwhelming hospitals and forcing the Department of Health and Welfare to activate crisis standards of care statewide.

That means hospitals could ration care, and may have to prioritize those patients more likely to survive if there is not enough of a certain resource. Doctors have described dire situations in hospitals, as health care workers do everything they can to treat an influx of patients with COVID-19.

Earlier this month, the West Ada School District lost Mike McCrady, a teacher and coach, after he was hospitalized with COVID-19.

The Idaho Statesman doesn’t have information on Castaneda’s vaccination status.

Becca Savransky covers education for the Idaho Statesman in partnership with Report for America. The position is partly funded through community support. Click here to donate.