teacher philamena belone-oxygen mask teaching dies covid

Phillip Belone/GoFundMe Tish Yazzie/Facebook

‘This is not a feel-good story’: Teacher wears oxygen mask to teach virtually before dying from COVID

'This is a horror story that you're framing as a fairy tale.'


Eilish O'Sullivan


Posted on Dec 19, 2020

Philamena Belone spent some of her final weeks teaching virtual classes, even though she was battling the coronavirus and pneumonia and had to wear an oxygen mask during classes.

Belone, a 44-year-old third-grade teacher in New Mexico, was hospitalized for three days for the illnesses. When she left the hospital, she went right back to teaching. In addition to teaching behaviorally challenged students during the day via Zoom, she also helped students with no internet at night via phone, according to CNN, which spoke with her brother after her death.

Her brother, Phillip Belone, said she had to wear an oxygen mask to teach virtually after leaving the hospital. Philamena Belone’s condition deteriorated, and she returned to the hospital on Nov. 28, two weeks later. Belone was put on a ventilator and died on Dec. 11, leaving behind three children.

While CNN didn’t outright label the story “heartwarming” or feel good,” many Twitter users are taking issue with the way it’s framed. “This is a horror story that you’re framing as a fairy tale,” one said.

Belone and many of her students are part of the Navajo Nation, a community hard-hit by the virus. She would often drive hours to leave class materials for her students and made customized materials depending on each child’s needs. Her brother said she worked an estimated 70 hours per week.

Many are pointing out how the story highlights society’s extreme expectations of teachers, who are often underpaid and overworked. “Not sure how much of this is a ‘feel good story’ and how much is the expectations of teachers/professors to be machines that neglect their self-care and are only valued based off of how much they give all while being paid bullshit,” another user tweeted in response.

One user, who appears to be a teacher, “fixed” CNN’s description of the story, which read: “Even when she was hospitalized for Covid-19 and pneumonia for three days, Philamena Belone wanted to get home so she could resume doing what she loved most — teaching.”

“Teacher expectations so unrealistic that school districts expect us to teach from our death beds,” the teacher suggested as an alternate description.

Belone’s brother has since launched a GoFundMe to crowdfund for her funeral, headstone, and medical bills. Some COVID-19 patients have reported being thousands of dollars in medical debt after being treated in the hospital, which, many are saying, is all the more reason the U.S. should guarantee healthcare to all.

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*First Published: Dec 19, 2020, 11:07 am CST