Arkansas Substitute Teacher of the Year dies from COVID-19

Conway, Arkansas – COVID-19 cases continue to surge in Arkansas, including in schools and educators are not immune.

George Yarborough, “Mr. Ron”, joins the list of 12 educators who have passed away from the coronavirus. He was a substitute teacher in the Conway Public School District since 2004 and was actually named the Arkansas Substitute of the Year in 2019. He worked for Kelly Services, but the district contracts all their subs through their company.

“Mr. Ron is very famous. Kids and teachers saw him all over the building so it would be noticeable for them if he weren’t here,” Principal of Theodore Jones Elementary Tammy Woosley said.

“I don’t think you could find a more compassionate servant,” Woosley said. “He never met a stranger. Everybody left away from him with a smile whether it was a kid, another teacher, another staff member.”00:0401:39

Woosley said there was always a line of teachers requesting Mr. Ron to be their substitute and often he was hard to get.

“Teachers knew that if they left their kid in the hands of Mr. Ron, he could go through the lesson plan and he could do everything that they left. Plus, they also knew that their kids would have a good day. They were happy that he entertained,” Woosley said.

Woosley said she was worried about Mr. Ron coming back because of his age.

“He reached out to me and said I will be subbing this year and I said are you sure you know that we will all be wearing mask and that there is a chance of it being in the school,” Woosley said.

Mr. Ron came to teach at Theodore Jones as a full-time on-site substitute teacher at the beginning of the 2020 school year. She said he was at school every day up until he got sick in late October.

“Although I know he didn’t catch it at school there is still some sense of responsibility on me I was his boss in a way,” Woosley said. “I don’t know that I could have totally protected him, but we did try very best by checking on him and we are doing it with all of our staff and all of our kids.”

Conway Public Schools said he was not listed on their school cases.

“When you look at our data collection, we don’t have a lot of cases that originate in the school,” Woosley said.

Woosley said that a fourth-grader who had Mr. Ron in kindergarten brought the staff donuts today for Mr. Ron. She said that they are prepared to answer students’ questions about his death but encourage parents to have that conversation with them.

For retired Arkansas teacher Shelley Smith, Mr. Ron marks the 12th educator death of the school year.

“I know there a contact tracer and they work really hard, but I think that it is really impossible to say exactly where you get it from,” Smith said.

Smith said she has been in a school herself this year and knows that not everyone is social distancing and wearing masks regularly.

“I think they need to do a much better job of policing,” Smith said. She said that if the governor insists everyone returns to school then there needs to be more enforcement of the guidelines.

“People from the department of health just show up and do spot checks and there needs to be some consequences if schools are not doing what they are supposed to be doing,” Smith said.

She said teachers have the option to report rules not being followed to the department of health, but some are scared they will be reprimanded by their administrators or school district.

“It makes me angry because I feel like the governor and the Department of Education are only looking at the numbers and nobody seems to acknowledge how important those individuals are,” Smith said.

Smith said she knows of several teachers who have retired and many more who plan to retire at the end of the semester.

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