As many teachers express fear and concern about returning to the classroom this fall, one Florida educator is using an unusual method to get her point across.
Whitney Reddick, a 33-year-old special education teacher in Jacksonville, Fla., made headlines last week when she wrote her own mock obituary and posted it to Facebook in protest of the Duval County Public Schools’ reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“With profound sadness, I announce the passing of Whitney Leigh Reddick. A loving and devoted teacher, mother, daughter, wife, aunt and friend to all whose lives she touched, on August 7th, 2020,” wrote Reddick. “She left us while alone in isolation and on a ventilator at a Duval County hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. She was in her 33rd year.”
While the idea of writing her own obituary felt “morbid,” Reddick tells Yahoo Life that after speaking in person at a board meeting, she felt the need to make a statement in a new way.
“There was a board meeting this past Tuesday that you could go to and give a public comment, and I thought ‘what would I say?’ The last time I went, I definitely said what I felt. I was reading the news Monday night, and I couldn’t sleep, and I saw this article about some teachers in a state up north that had written their obituaries and sent them to their governor,” says Reddick. “I was taken aback and just thought ‘wow, that’s a lot.’”
But the teachers’ message strongly resonated with Reddick.
“I understood what they tried to do and their purpose and intent. I just kept thinking about it and I was like, that’s very powerful because those teachers that wrote it may not die, but teachers or any sort of school employee — somebody has, and somebody will [die],” said Reddick. “And I thought the gravity of that sadness and that weight that it took on was very powerful and was a message that I wanted to send as well.”
Reddick posted her mock obituary on Aug. 4.
“Whitney was a lover however, that may not have always seemed her motive, but you knew that was the only force by the passion in her voice. She fought with vigor for things she believed in,” she wrote. “She stood up to injustice, embraced those who differed from her and truly listened when spoken to.”
She says she hopes that by sharing her story, it will encourage other teachers and school employees to “get the courage to speak.”
“It’s kind of time for that, that’s where we’re at, because the other tactics hadn’t been working,” she tells Yahoo Life.
While there have certainly been some detractors, ranging from people claiming she isn’t fit to teach to others calling for her resignation, Reddick says the overwhelming response has been one of tremendous support.
“I’ve had a lot of positive feedback, and I’m not gonna let the negative feedback sway how I feel. There are a lot of teachers that are extremely afraid to speak out because of the repercussions on the school level or district level,” she notes. “I am lucky because at my school level, I have the ability to be who I am as a person and as an educator and be respected for both of those.”
Reddick says her ideal vision for the school year would be online education, at least “until our cases have significantly dropped here in Florida, and we can see a downward trend for longer than a few days.” While she recognizes that not everyone agrees, she says it all comes down to what is safe.
“I know making a statement like that is bold, and can seem as though I’m insensitive to different populations or sub-categories of populations of people that we serve, but in the end for me, it’s a safe and a non-safe option,” she says. “I may not pass away, but somebody’s going to. From a bus driver to janitorial or cafeteria staff, I couldn’t imagine it. There are we ways that we could work with different needs and populations within our community.”
Reddick concluded her obituary by saying she “succumbed to the ignorance of those in power,” and asked readers to send their respects to area leadership who determined that returning to a traditional five-day school week was a suitable option.
“Please send your condolences to Governor Ron DeSantis, Mayor Lenny Curry and finally the Duval County School Board and superintendent,” she wrote.
Despite her hesitation to return to the classroom, Reddick has made it clear that she will perform her duty as an educator no matter what.
“Any sort of anxiety or hesitations that I do have about returning to a classroom, those will never supersede my ability to provide an educational environment that is safe and nurturing for the students,” Reddick tells Yahoo Life. “So yes, I do feel strongly about the stance I have taken, however I will be returning and I will be doing what I do on a daily basis.”
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