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Longtime Duval elementary school teacher Deborah Menendez-Holloway dies at 51

Deborah Menendez-Holloway taught second and third grade Language Arts students at Arlington Elementary this school year.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Editor's Note: Video above is from a story dated Jan. 11 about Florida schools receiving money for COVID-19 relief.

Deborah Menendez-Holloway, a longtime Duval County Public Schools educator, died of COVID-19 on Jan. 11 at the age of 51.

Menendez-Holloway taught second and third grade Language Arts students at Arlington Elementary this school year. Prior to that, she taught at Love Grove Elementary school for 17 years. 

"She was incredibly generous, kind and so, so funny," her daughter, Regina Holloway, told the Times-Union. "She had a very universal sense of humor. Everyone found her funny and relatable and understanding."

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The teacher's brown hair with loose curls and toothy grin greeted Duval County Public Schools students and colleagues for over two decades. 

"She brought love, joy, and kindness to her students and classrooms," a statement from the school district said. "She will be deeply missed by her school community." 

Menendez-Holloway was born Nov. 16, 1969, and raised in Staten Island, New York. She moved to Jacksonville in 2000 and began teaching shortly after.

It's unclear exactly how she contracted COVID-19, her daughter said, adding that Menendez-Holloway was teaching in-person since the beginning of the school year, but that the family was taking the virus seriously. 

"It was a hazard of the job," Holloway said. "She was a front line worker."

According to Holloway, her mom was diagnosed with COVID-19 in mid-December and hospitalized for three weeks.

Love and support from former colleagues, students, family and friends has overwhelmed Facebook feeds since Menendez-Holloway's passing. 

"Seeing everything on social media and seeing how many people she truly touched speaks to how special she was," Holloway said about her mom. "She never realized that."

Local education advocate Latrice Carmichael, of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund’s Parents Who Lead initiative, called Menendez-Holloway "the heart at Love Grove." Carmichael's son, Donovan had Menendez-Holloway as a teacher in elementary school.

"The students knew she did not play," she said, "but they knew she was going to go hard for them."

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Even in sickness, Menendez-Holloway was thinking about her students. 

Just last week, while Menendez-Holloway was being treated for COVID-19 in the hospital, she and Carmichael shared a text exchange. Carmichael sent photos of a group of former Love Grove students, to which Menendez-Holloway replied, "you just don't know how happy that makes me."

"She never mentioned at that very moment she was in the hospital battling COVID," Carmichael said. "She simply thought about students and said 'Give them my love.' This is such a loss for Duval." 

As things took a turn for the worse and Menendez-Holloway remained hospitalized into the new year, text served as a primary form of communication between her and her family, as well. 

Holloway and her mom would talk about next year's Christmas plans, since they didn't get to see family this year. They joked about hospital food, with Menendez-Holloway sending pictures of her meals and would quip about the best and worst dishes she'd eaten. 

"She was definitely a fighter, she was a positive person," Holloway said. "She never wanted anyone to be sad. Our conversations would be funny things."

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Former students, like Obri Richardson, now college-aged, remarked about Holloway putting them on the right path. 

"Love Grove Elementary will never be the same without my fourth-grade teacher, Ms. Deborah Holloway," Richardson wrote on Facebook. "From her comical remarks to her pouring of wisdom, she touched the hearts and souls of those on the margins. I’m glad to say I was one of them who she both taught and touched." 

Deborah Menendez-Holloway is survived by her daughter, Regina, the Menendez and Holloway families, and all of her chosen family and students she knew over the years. A private service and memorial will be held in the future.

Emily Bloch is an education reporter for The Florida Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter or email her.

You can read more from our news partners at the Florida Times-Union.