Death of Fairfield teacher mourned at Westport high school
The Staples High School community is in mourning again this week as news spread over the weekend of the death of teacher Cody Thomas, a popular English instructor and adviser to Inklings, the student newspaper.
Thomas, 27, died Saturday at his Fairfield home, the result of suicide, according to the state’s Office of the Chief Medical examiner. It is the second such death in the Staples community within a month — the Dec. 23 death of Christopher Lanni, a 14-year-old freshman, was also a suicide.
Fairfield police were alerted to Thomas’ death about 11:15 a.m. Saturday by roommates at the home he shared there.
Superintendent of Schools Elliott Landon, who in an initial announcement emailed to parents, called Thomas “one of our very wonderful and caring teachers of English,” said the Staples’ emergency crisis team will be available to support students and staff “at this very difficult time” when classes resumed Monday.
Landon, in another emailed statement Monday, said the following information was shared with students:
“You may have heard by now that one of our teachers, Mr. Thomas, has died. We are all deeply saddened by this news. All of us want you to know that we are here to help you in any way we can.
“We know that Mr. Thomas’ death has been declared a suicide. Even though we might try to understand the reasons for him doing this, we can never really know what was going on that made him take his life. One thing that’s important to remember is that there is never just one reason for a suicide. There are always many reasons or causes, and we will never be able to figure them all out.
“Each of us will react to Mr. Thomas’ death in our own way, and we need to be respectful of each other. Feeling sad is a normal response to any loss. Some of you may not have known Mr. Thomas very well and may not be as affected, while others may experience a great deal of sadness. Some of you may find you're having difficulty concentrating on your schoolwork, and others may find that diving into your work is a good distraction.
“We have counselors available to help our school community deal with this sad loss. If you'd like to talk to a counselor, just let your teachers know. Counselors will be available for students in the Library Media Center classrooms and for teachers throughout the day in the community room. Please remember that we are all here for you.”
Landon also suggested that parents talk about the issue with their children becasue, “How teens react will depend on the relationship they had with Mr. Thomas, their age, and their prior experience with death. Attached are resources you may find helpful in talking with your children.”
The school district, Landon added, is “focusing our support on the immediate needs of our staff and students, and will work with mental health agencies and providers to offer continued support to the larger community.”
Thomas, in addition to his Staples job, was an instructor for the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University, and according to its website, before becoming a teacher had been a journalist. He graduated from New York University’s Arthur Carter Institute of Journalism and had written for the Stamford Advocate and was an editor at Revolver, a rock journal. He also performed with area rock bands.
Reaction to Thomas’ death prompted an outpouring of tributes on social media by shocked and grieving students.
"There is so much I want to commemorate about how incredibly Cody Thomas was ... It is possible to do him justice? I don't know. I really don't, but here's what I want to say right now in this moment: thank you for helping a self-conscious, anxiety-ridden nerd come out of his shell,” wrote one student “... Thank you for inspiriing more students in your few years at Staples than many teachers would be lucky to recall in decades-worth of teaching ... Thank you for always encouraging me to do better, that, like everyone else, there was potential in me..."
"Rest in peace, Mr. Thomas. I learned so much from you that I will never forget. Your stories about your experiences working as a journalist inspired me to follow in your footsteps and aim to become a journalist as well. You taught me how journalism changes the world and how strong the power of writing is,” said another student. “I've never had a teacher who cared so much and put in so many extra hours to make sure his students worked to their potential and were proud of what they accomplished. I always looked forward to and valued your opinion on my writing and loved joking around in class. You will be greatly missed in Inklings and Staples."
Other sentiments included:
"He was the best English teacher I've ever had with the most chill and positive sunshine attitude that the entire class could connect with. Such a great man. We will miss you Mr. Thomas."
"Mr. Thomas may have passed but he's far, far from gone; he's molded too many minds and touched too many people to disappear anytime soon ... To have a positive impact on a person is a victory. Mr. Thomas was a champion."
"The world lost someone great today. Cody Thomas, the best teacher I've ever had. I was never the biggest fan of English classes, but he made them interesting and fun ... Cody believed in me when I didn't even believe in myself. Rest in peace, Mr. Thomas. It saddens me to know that the world will go on without you. I'll be happy knowing you did what you loved."
"Mr. Thomas was one of my favorite teachers at Staples. He was passionate and caring about not only English but also his students. I will always remember the encouraging words you told me and the fun times we had in Irish lit, rest in peace."