‘A tremendous loss’: Brooklyn third grade teacher dies from coronavirus

A Brooklyn elementary school teacher described as an “amazing hugger,” and who pushed to make sure her students always had interesting books to read, died from complications of the new coronavirus, according to relatives.

Sandra Santos-Vizcaino, taught third grade at Prospect Heights’ P.S. 9, according to the school’s website. She died Tuesday evening.

“Yesterday was a challenging day for the community as we faced the devastating reality of losing a teacher and a challenging night, as we faced the sounds of our thoughts and fears,” wrote Fatimah Ali, the school’s principal, in a letter to the community.

News of Santos-Vizcaino’s passing spread quickly through the Brooklyn community. Jessamyn Lee said the teacher still stayed in touch about three years after her daughter was in Santos-Vizcaino’s second grade dual language class at another school, Williamsburg’s P.S. 84.

In fact, Santos-Vizcaino kept up with many of her former students, and just a month ago visited  one while he underwent cancer treatment, Lee said. 

“She was an amazing hugger and really generous soul and really a talented teacher,” Lee said. 

Lee said that Santos-Vizcaino had been in the classroom for at least 20 years and was “very much looking forward to retirement.” She had been building her dream home with her husband in the Dominican Republic, Lee said.  

“This is a tremendous loss.”

On an online fundraising page, Santos-Vizcaino said her students “work hard,” and said she wanted to provide them with a “creative and collaborative” classroom that met each of their unique needs. In some of her donation requests, she said she hand-picked books for students based on their interests, and successfully raised money to buy graphic novels and stories about math. 

“I have a class of voracious readers,” Santos-Vizcaino said in a thank you note posted to donors.  

Unlike other city agencies, including the police department, the education department has declined to say how many of its employees have died due to the coronavirus or are infected. A principal, paraprofessional, and school safety agent are among those whose deaths have been publicly reported. 

Asked Wednesday about why the education department has not confirmed infection or fatality rates, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said: “You have to keep in mind that the police and fire department are out right now serving the public.” He added that “there is no mechanism” for the department to track how many teachers have tested positive.

Santos-Vizcaino last reported to P.S. 9 on March 19, the final day of professional development before school buildings shut down. She was hospitalized on the 26th and passed away five days later. Education department officials said the school informed the community that there was a self-reported positive coronavirus case on March 29.

Still, some educators have criticized the department for its shift in policy to no longer confirm coronavirus infections, leaving it to educators to inform each other if they are concerned the infection is spreading within their school community. 

Department officials have countered that because the coronavirus is widespread in New York City, educators were not at greater risk when reporting to school than they were elsewhere in the community.

“This is a devastating tragedy, and Sandra was a beloved teacher at P.S. 9, and our heart goes out to P.S. 9 and that community and her family,” schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said at a press conference Thursday. “We are going to make sure that we honor her.”