After a Philly student dies of complications from COVID-19, teachers ask for a temporary return to virtual

Alayna Thach (Thach family/Gofundme)

Alayna Thach (Thach family/Gofundme)

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Seventeen year-old Alayna Thach was supposed to graduate from Olney Charter High School next June. Instead, she passed away due to complications from COVID-19.

Soky Chhe is a teacher at Olney Charter who got to know Alayna last year, during virtual lessons. She remembers her as a positive force. “A fearless angel, just positive energy, loving and caring towards everyone.”

An online fundraiser to help the family cover funeral costs spoke about Alayna’s  aspirations to help others. She wanted to be a life coach. “True to her nature, she was always willing to assist those in need,” the authors of the Gofundme appeal wrote.

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While it’s not clear how the student contracted COVID, and minors tend to have much milder coronavirus symptoms on the whole, the current wave of new cases has many on edge.

Teacher Sarah Apt says staff would like to see the school go virtual until winter break, and take other precautions.

“We want to see clear communication, we want a COVID dashboard … so we can see how many people are quarantined and how many people are sick at any given point in time,” she said.

Around 90 staff members signed a letter to school leadership with these demands. An email to the school principal has not yet been returned.

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For all school leaders, balancing risk in schools has been tricky throughout the pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control recently updated its guidance for schools encouraging more testing to limit kids’ time out of school.

Chhe said she hopes her school can hire another nurse and double down on social distancing. She says Alayna’s classmates are in mourning — and that the school needs to do everything it can to prevent more loss.

“Even as a teacher, she inspired me,” she said of the senior. “Because she reminded me to finish what you start.”

WHYY’s Laura Benshoff contributed reporting.

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