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Vaccinated Texas school counselor who ‘had done everything right’ dies after contracting COVID-19

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.

Carrollton’s Trivium Academy, a 600-student charter school, temporarily shut down in August to stop a coronavirus outbreak where 1 in 10 students tested positive.
Trivium Academy
Trivium Academy started classes Aug. 11, and — in step with most schools in Denton County — did not require students to wear masks but “strongly” urged them.(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

By Corbett Smith

From her hospital bed, Sheri Wise went on Facebook to contemplate what went wrong.

Wise, 66, wrote that she “had done everything right,” from getting fully vaccinated early in the pandemic to mask wearing to avoiding touching people.

“Haven’t hugged my mom in 16 months,” she noted.

The one thing that had changed about her routine, however, was her new job. She was working part time as a secondary guidance counselor at Trivium Academy, a 600-student K-11 public charter school in Carrollton.

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“Is that where I got it, who knows?” Wise wrote. “It proves that you can do all the right things and still succumb.”

Three days after Wise’s post, on Aug. 26, Trivium Academy announced it would shutter its campus, attempting to slow a COVID-19 outbreak where 1 in every 10 students had a lab-confirmed case of the coronavirus.

A week after the school’s closure, Wise died from COVID-19 complications.

“Her heart and lungs aren’t strong enough to pull her through this,” Wise’s sister, Laney Arndt, wrote on a CaringBridge page not long after Wise was put in hospice care.

Neither the Texas Education Agency nor the Department of State Health Services tracks how many educators in Texas have died from the coronavirus.

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Using a combination of reader submissions and its own reporting, Education Week has documented at least 1,065 educator deaths nationwide as of Sept. 10, with more than a tenth of that total coming from Texas. The actual number is likely larger, given 656,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and K-12 schools are one of the larger employers in the nation.

Trivium Academy started classes Aug. 11, and — in step with most schools in Denton County — did not require students to wear masks but “strongly” urged them.

When the charter school’s board decided Aug. 25 to shut down its campus, school Superintendent Sheryl Bradley wrote in a letter to parents that because of pending litigation surrounding Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate ban, the district would continue to follow the executive order.

“At the moment, while we could issue a requirement to wear masks, we would not be able to legally enforce it,” Bradley wrote. “We know when worn properly that masks help stop the spread of several communicable diseases such as COVID, strep, and flu. While we are not issuing a mask mandate at this time, we are pleading with you to help protect our Trivium community by having your child wear a mask at school.”

Trivium officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Dallas Morning News. Members of Wise’s family also declined requests for comment.

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Wise had posted on social media that she was fully vaccinated by March. (Her Facebook page was largely made private by the family after interview requests from The News.) She wrote that she had taken an additional preventive step, getting a third vaccine shot just days before she became ill.

Arndt, her sister, wrote that Wise got sick not long after her third shot, and that her health deteriorated rapidly after a few days of flulike symptoms. A doctor confirmed to the family that she had COVID-19 before getting her third vaccine, Arndt wrote.

Breakthrough cases like this are rare. As of Friday, 7,781 breakthrough COVID-19 infections in fully vaccinated people had been confirmed in Dallas County. About 3% of those cases (241) resulted in hospitalizations, with 47 fully vaccinated people dying due to COVID-19.

According to her LinkedIn page, Wise retired after a two-decade stretch as a guidance counselor at Plano Senior High School. She also had worked in Bay City ISD as the school’s theater director.

After a few stints as a substitute teacher, Wise returned to counseling this fall.

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“A good friend need[ed] a counselor ASAP and I needed to feel useful,” her post said.

She closed her message with a plea for her friends to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

“Get vaccinated. Wear masks. Keep your distance and stay away from reckless people who will endanger your life and theirs for the love of a great steak or drinks with friends!”

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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