An Arkansas school superintendent died Tuesday from the illness caused by the coronavirus, as a White House task force said the state continued to have one of the highest rates of new virus cases in the country.
The Atkins School District announced that Superintendent Jody Jenkins died due to complications from COVID-19. Jenkins, 57, announced on Sept. 13 that he had tested positive for the virus and had been hospitalized for the past several days.
“He loved the community, he loved his school, and he adored all of the students,” the school said in a post on its Facebook page.
Teacher deaths in other states have prompted alarms about the return to in-person classes. Classes resumed in Arkansas last month and the state said there are 717 active cases in public schools. The state is requiring schools to be open five days a week for in-person instruction, though they can also offer virtual or hybrid options.
“(Jenkins’) passing demonstrates, in an especially painful way, the vulnerability of our educators who are on the frontlines of this public health crisis,” Carol Fleming, the president of the Arkansas Education Association, said in a statement.
Jenkins earlier this month told the Russellville Courier that he didn’t know how he had contracted the virus. Atkins School Board President said no one else from the 1,000-student school district who had come into contact with Jenkins had tested positive for the virus.
“We are doing our best to follow the protocols at school but I also get out and about and always follow the guidelines,” Jenkins told the Courier.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has defended the state’s return to in-person classes, said the state is trying to make schools as safe as possible. State Education Secretary Johnny Key said he expected a “redoubling of efforts” by districts to follow safety guidelines.
“The constant lesson is whether you’re at church, whether you’re at school, whether you’re at the grocery store, that it’s possible to get COVID if you’re not careful,” Hutchinson said. “We want to make the schools as safe an environment as possible for the students, for the teachers, and we want to work on that every day.”
Jenkins died a day after dozens of Little Rock teachers didn’t show up for in-person classes over concerns about the spread of the virus in schools. The Little Rock teachers’ union, which had called on teachers to only work remotely, on Monday night dropped its action.