Mourners lined the streets this week to pay their respects to Donna Coleman, a teacher who died of coronavirus aged just 42.
An inspirational tutor, Donna went back to teaching at Burnley College when schools reopened, despite the fact she didn’t feel safe.
Today, her sister Vicki backs the Mirror’s call for an urgent vaccine for teachers on the coronavirus frontline.
“We need teachers to be vaccinated as soon as possible,” she says.
Donna’s family wants to know why the government is failing to protect teachers.
“Donna told me in September that she was scared,” her sister Vicki, 45, says.
“Don’t get me wrong, she wanted to go back - she loved her job - but she said staff members were terrified.”
Donna had no underlying health conditions.
“If schools and colleges had closed earlier, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” says Vicki.
Donna was rushed to Blackburn Royal Hospital on December 29 with breathing problems.
She messaged Vicki on New Year’s Day - promising to FaceTime her the next day.
“The call never came,” Vicki says.
Donna was already on a ventilator.
“She had messaged friends asking them to look after her family, so she must have been scared.
"My dad and sister went to see her and came home looking shocked, saying, ‘she’s not coming out of this’.
"I went the next day, I held her hand, I said goodbye. That wasn’t Donna, she wasn’t there, she’d gone.”
Donna – known affectionately as DC – was one of those teachers students never forget.
One moving online testimony simply said: “This lady changed my son’s life.”
Donna’s life was filled with family – siblings, Vicki, Dan and Steph, her loving parents and six-year-old Amalee, the daughter of one of her closest friends.
When Amalee’s mother passed away aged 37, Donna became like a second mum.
“Donna has been a huge part of Amalee’s life and the fact she lost her mum and now her Auntie Donna is devastating,” Vicki says.
We still don’t know how many teaching staff have died during the coronavirus pandemic.
Inexplicably, the data has not been reported since June, when the Office for National Statistics data showed 90 teachers and support staff had died between 9 March and 25 May.
During much of this period, most schools were only open to the children of keyworkers.
Yesterday, the ONS said it will give new data on Monday that will include teaching staff.
Alan Fitchett died of Covid in early April 2020, a well-loved FE teacher in Electrical Engineering from Chorleywood, Herts.
His daughter Laura Juniper, is also backing the call for a vaccine for teachers.
After working in education for almost three decades, Alan could have retired at 65 but chose to see out the academic year.
“He didn’t want to let his students down,” his daughter, Laura says.
Instead, her father will never know the grandson she was pregnant with.
“The government should have learnt lessons from this by now,” she says.
“They should have done more. That’s why we need an independent inquiry into the first wave and the way it was handled right now.”
After February half-term, Laura will return to the teaching frontline herself in a secondary school, after finishing maternity leave.
“I have faith in my senior leadership team,” she says, “But it isn’t easy.”
According to figures from the Department for Education on December 16 4.4 per cent of teachers and school leaders were off work because they were sick with Covid, had suspected Covid or were self-isolating.
In special schools these figures were twice as high.
Donna Coleman was among these 20,000 teachers and 15,000 teaching assistants and other support staff – having tested positive four days earlier on December 12.
Yet the Prime Minister has stressed repeatedly teachers are not at greater risk. Even this week, the Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said “teachers are ... not at any greater risk of dying than other professional groups of their age.”
This is surprising given the National Education Union (NEU) used the DfE data to work out that the infection rate is 1.9 times higher amongst teachers than in the general population – and even higher for teaching assistants, and all staff in special schools.
Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, says the figures raise “very serious questions” about the handling of coronavirus in schools and colleges.
“What investigations have the DfE made into these figures? Why have the ministers repeatedly told school staff and the public that there was no reason for concern?”
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation is currently deciding which groups will next receive the vaccine.
The Mirror is calling for teaching and support staff to be vaccinated as a top priority with other key workers.
Meanwhile, when the ONS releases new figures on Monday, there may be further serious questions to answer.
When Alan fell ill in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, “he was still working full-time, he was really fit and healthy,” his daughter Laura says.
But what at first seemed to be a chest infection worsened.
“He was taken to Watford General Hospital and overnight he deteriorated, he was put into an induced coma.”
Laura says. He was successfully recommended for ECMO support at the Royal Papworth hospital to afford him a greater chance of recovery.
“They tried to bring him out a couple of times and it was clearly causing him distress.
"On Good Friday, April 10 2020, we had to make the decision to say goodbye.”
Laura’s baby, Jack, is now nine months old. Meanwhile, her daughter, Izzy, now three, likes to stand on her bed to look out of the window and up to the stars for her granddad.
The Department for Education was contacted for comment