LEE COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — A community is mourning the death of their third school employee to COVID-19 since the start of the school year.
Rhonda Estes worked in the district for 35 years and was beloved by many.
"Everybody does know Rhonda. She was always at every school dance. She was a teacher. She was a part of the breast cancer awareness- everything she was there," said former student Celena Collins.
Countless others wrote deep, heartfelt messages to Estes on Facebook.
Lee County Superintendent Sarah Wasson says the entire town is taking the loss hard.
"Rhonda was a calming force to everything that anytime there was trouble she would be our calm, she was our rock," Wasson while holding back tears.
Lee County Elementary's motto is "Lee County Elementary Strong." Wasson says now they need to be strong for each other.
"Our staff is strong, but they're hurting really bad right now," said Wasson. "I think right now, we just need some time, we need time to heal. This is our third loss, and it's people that we loved."
Instructional aid Heather Antle died from her battle with COVID-19 in late August. Custodian Bill Bailey died from his battle with COVID in September.
Wasson says the virus has been brutal.
"We've been cautious since the beginning of the pandemic, put everything in place that we possibly can. We've encouraged vaccination, we sanitize regularly, we clean, we have good ventilation. We do all the things, but COVID is just vicious," said Wasson. "COVID does not care who you are where you are. COVID might come in the schools. We're not sure that all of the COVID was contracted in the schools, but COVID doesn't discriminate."
The district decided to remain in person for now.
Grief counselors and spiritual leaders will be available for those who need support.
"I spoke to the principal last night and I feel like our staff needs each other and our students need us. And we're here for the students and the students are also grieving, so I think that we need to help them through that. And I think that we need to be here and be strong for each other right now, but there may be a time where we need to take off," explained Wasson.